LOCAL GOVERNMENT ADMINISTRATION AS A PANACEA FOR RURAL TRANSFORMATION IN CAMEROON
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Local government administration in Cameroon is situated within the ambit of the Cameroon constitution in section 55 (2) , which states that regional and local authorities shall have administrative and financial autonomy and shall be freely administered by elected councils. This general constitutional provision is précised in the following legal texts in Cameroon:
- Law No. 2004/17 on the orientation of Decentralization,
- Law No. 2004/18 on rules applicable to Councils, and
- Law No. 2004/19 on rules applicable to Regions.
The essence of such constitutional provisions in Cameroon just as in any other country is to bring the administration closest to the people, for the purpose of rural economic development. Just as Ezeani (2006) posits, local government is generally seen as a veritable agent of development and grassroots participation in the democratic process. Connected to this view are some of the issues raised as “reasons for the creation of local government thus: “Local Government particularly in developing countries is seen as a veritable instrument for rural development. Consequently, all over the world, local governments have been assigned some functions under the law” (Ezeani, 2006:258)
The research made use of the historical research method, three hypotheses were tested and findings indicate that there is a link between local government administration and rural transformation in Buea.
The genesis of this study is traced to the lengthy and yet unsatisfied period in my academic pursuit, that is to say a period of time during which I have been extensively worried about local development in Cameroon and the Buea local government area in particular. As Szirmai (2005) demonstrated, the post-Cold War era partly experienced challenging debates and concerns on numerous perspectives, theories and ‘deep’ differences in opinion (ranging from policies to strategies and approaches) on various dimensions of development. The aim has been to arrive at concrete recommendations for action that will bring about development. The concept of development can be traced after 1945, when Truman made a global call to improve the living standard of people in the world, especially in the third world countries. To salvage the poor and improve their living conditions, Truman proposed what he called ‘democratic fair dealing’. By this Truman meant a society where nations would respect the rights of men ; where all men have a right to freedom of thought and expression and opportunity to share and participate in the common good. Truman further contended that , democracy alone can provide the vitalizing force to stir the people into triumphant action. By this he meant that a voice should be given to local peoples in deciding their own fate. This in the case of Cameroon and Buea in particular is granted through the institution of local governments which according to the Cameroon constitution are decentralized units of the State a This Trumanian framework also suggests that politics and economics could work together to achieve development and political freedoms.
However, African states were not so concerned with the issue of development at that time because everywhere, they were involved in liberation struggles and wars of independence from their colonizers. But upon attainment of independence, most African states designed and implemented multisectorial strategies aimed at improving conditions suitable to their multi ethnic societies. These strategies were usually based on ‘Five-Year Development Plans’ that set targets to be achieved in each sector of the economy. Unfortunately, these ‘Five-Year Development Plans’ were designed and implemented most often by Paternalistic and Dictatorial One Party and military regimes. The result has been the near absence of some basic services in some rural communities such as schools, health centers, good water supply, and better road networks. Hence, in order to create a balance in development between urban and rural areas, ‘many of these governments felt that substantial state intervention was required to achieve greater equity and poverty alleviation in rural areas’(Potter et al. 2004:452; italics added). Existing literature reveals that most central governments in Africa historically took decisions, designed policies and implemented them without consulting local peoples: those who affect and can be affected in the realization of these policies (top-down approach). This approach more or less failed mainly because of the absence of basic freedoms for local peoples; their exclusion from decision-making processes; and the failure to incorporate local cultures and grassroots concerns in development projects. By the 1980s, Potter contends that ‘development policy reflected a concern for accountability and efficiency, which was translated into limiting the role of the state. Both international donors and governments began looking for alternative institutions to deliver services and foster development in the rural areas’ (2004). This has been followed by discourses centered on development paradigms that involve local people in designing, planning, 3 implementing and delivering projects based on local interests and realities. These discourses are based on the realization that: Rural people in most developing countries have been reduced or relegated to the role of passive recipients of any meaningful development strategies and policies which affect their lives. As such they bear the consequences of the outcomes of decisions they know nothing about (Barraclough and Ghimire 1995:207). In order to limit state powers in development processes and empower local communities within developing countries, Rodrik (2000) proposes the use of democratized political institutions. According to him, these institutions matter in rural socio-economic development because of the propensity of democratic practices to moderate social conflict and induce compromise. One approach to realize this ‘Rodrikian’ perspective can be through decentralization.
The government of Cameroon which had enacted law No. 74-23 of 5 December 1974 creating councils decided to democratize the system in order to devolve power to these decentralized units to champion the planning and implementation of rural development. The law on decentralization part 1, section 2, and articles 1 and 2 under the general provisions states: “decentralization shall consist of devolution by the state of powers and appropriate resources to local authorities; and decentralization shall constitute the basic driving force for the promotion of development, democracy, and good governance at local level”. Local development partly via local institutions was supposedly a scheme to better understand rural communities, and be more responsive to the perceived aspirations and constraints of the rural folk (Santiso 2000: 453). Local Governments were considered to be more successful in promoting local participation and empowerment, democracy and cost effectiveness within the framework of the One-Party System. The devolution of power to Local Governments (LGs) seems to me as one model of development from below adopted by the government of Cameroon. In appraising the functioning and performance of the LGs as institutions which have been given the responsibility to spearhead rural development, ‘Senian’ freedom would be used to illustrate the importance of freedom and empowerment in socio-economic development (Sen 1999). In his book ‘Development as Freedom’, Sen explores the relationship between freedom and development, the ways in which freedom is both intrinsic and extrinsic to development, that is, a basic constituent of development in itself and an enabling key to other aspects such as stability and security. He suggests a focus on what he calls capabilities, that is, substantive human freedom, encompassing processes and opportunities, and for recognition of the heterogeneity of distinct components of freedom. Sen (1999) argues that development consists of the removal of various types of unfreedoms (like political freedom) that leave people with little choice and little opportunity of exercising their reasoned agency. In other words, he argues for a focus on the capabilities of people to do and be what they value. One of the vital points is that one human freedom tends to promote freedoms of other kinds, that is, they are relational. For example, Sen stresses that political freedom (democracy) helps to reinforce others such as economic 5 freedom3 . Economic needs are considered by some to be more important than political freedom, but Sen reminds us that democracy, as well as being an end in itself, plays an instrumental role in giving people a voice and a constructive role in shaping values and norms. He thus asserts that political rights, including freedom of expression and discussion, are not only pivotal in inducing social responses to economic needs, they are also central to the conceptualization of economic needs themselves. It is also important to support the effective functioning of democracy, that formal rules are not enough without good democratic practice. My point of interest from Sen’s work is the issue of democratic freedom or political rights which are the source of empowerment. This forms the core concept of my work. Another focus of Sen’s work is the role of women in development. Here his assertion is that while improving their well-being is expedient, enhancing their agency is just as critical.. The assumption is that decentralization is necessary conditions for successful drive to local development. However, the study also questions whether the concept of decentralization is practical or still myth. This will be investigated with concerns as to how far local governments by the means of decentralization have been able to rural development ;especially in the Buea municipality. Therefore, through efforts to investigate and highlight the role of LGs in rural development, the study analyses the concept of local government as an engine of rural development in Cameroon and Buea in particular
Considering the fact that these mechanisms have been put in place to accelerate the development of the grass roots ,and yet after closed to three decades, the country is unable to boost of a significant level of rural national development is frustrating.
***Local government administration in Cameroon is situated within the ambit of the Cameroon constitution in section 55 (2) , which states that regional and local authorities shall have administrative and financial autonomy and shall be freely administered by elected councils. This general constitutional provision is précised in the following legal texts in Cameroon:
Law No. 2004/17 on the orientation of Decentralization,
Law No. 2004/18 on rules applicable to Councils, and
Law No. 2004/19 on rules applicable to Regions.
The essence of such constitutional provisions in Cameroon just as in any other country is to bring the administration closest to the people, for the purpose of rural economic development. Just as Ezeani (2006) posits, local government is generally seen as a veritable agent of development and grassroots participation in the democratic process. Connected to this view are some of the issues raised as “reasons for the creation of local government thus: “Local Government particularly in developing countries is seen as a veritable instrument for rural development. Consequently, all over the world, local governments have been assigned some functions under the law” (Ezeani, 2006:258).
The problem of local rural development is apparent in all developing countries and even in some parts of developed countries. Cameroon been a country that is currently facing the malice of rural underdevelopment , has adopted decentralization not just as a means to bring government closest to the local people but more as strategy to propel development from the grassroots. The 1996 constitutional amendment introduced decentralization as a tool to accelerate local development. This was later on substantiated by :
Law No. 2004/17 on the orientation of Decentralization,
Law No. 2004/18 on rules applicable to Councils, and
Law No. 2004/19 on rules applicable to Regions
The essence of such constitutional provisions in Cameroon just as in any other country is to bring the administration closest to the people, for the purpose of rural economic development. Just as Ezeani (2006) posits, local government is generally seen as a veritable agent of development and grassroots participation in the democratic process. But looking at the apparent low level rural economic development, one is tempted to ponder as to why despite the transfer of power to local communities, there is still a chronic problem of rural development; demonstrated by low levels of employment, low per capita income, high mortality rate, poverty and a generally low GDP. Even though some authors have investigated the role of local governments in rural economic development in Cameroon, there still exist a fundamental difficulty in understanding relevance of decentraloization as a tool for local development in Cameroon and Buea in particular . This study thus seeks to investigate the raison d’etre for rural underdevelopment in Cameroon and Buea in particular, despite the introduction of decentralization as an engine for rural development; manifested in the creation and empowerment of local governments.
This development oriented study is been guided by the following research questions
Do local governments propel rural economic development in Cameroon?
Does the constitutional and legal provisions of decentralization constitute a veritable force to propel rural development in Cameroon?
How effective is decentralization as a means for local governments to carry out rural economic development in Cameroon and Buea in particular?
The study has the following points of concern as its objectives
To investigate whether local governments empirically propel rural economic development.
To examine the constitutional and legal provisions of decentralization as basis for rural development in Cameroon .
To assess decentralization as a local government tool for rural economic development in Cameroon and Buea in particular.
The researcher developed the following hypotheses to guide the study
- There is a significant relationship between local governments and rural economic development in Cameroon.
- There exist applicable constitutional and legal provisions of decentralization as a basis of rural development in Cameroon.
- decentralization is a veritable and reliable tool for rural economic development in Cameroon and Buea in particular.
READ FURTHER: PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION TOPICS WITH MATERIAL