Molyko, Southwest Region - Buea, Cameroon


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Decentralization involves the devolution of powers from the central administration to local regions to ensure the participation in governance by the people at the grassroots. The process started in earnest in Cameroon with the promulgation of the 1996  Constitution, which replaced the centralized unitary Constitution that hitherto existed. Despite this innovation introduced by this 1996 Constitution, practically the process is still at its inception and may have accounted for the  political crisis currently bedevilling the country. This chapter introduces the Long  Essay by discussing the concept of the devolution of powers in Cameroon, establishes the research problems and associated research questions, discusses the objectives of the research and the justification and significance of the research, it also unravels the scope of the study and defines the key terms used.


      Decentralization or decentralizing governance should not be seen as an end in itself, it can be a means for creating more open, responsive, and effective local government and for enhancing representational systems of community-level decision making. By allowing local communities and regional entities to manage their own affairs, and through facilitating closer contact between central and local authorities, effective systems of local governance enable responses to people’s needs and priorities to be heard, thereby ensuring that government interventions meet a variety of social needs. The implementation of SHD strategies is therefore increasing to require decentralized, local, participatory processes to identify and address priority objectives for poverty reduction, employment creation, gender equity, and environmental regeneration. The past two decades have seen far-reaching decentralization of state functions in many – if not most – countries of the world. Where has this drive for decentralization come from? It is widely acknowledged that, in central and eastern Europe in the early 1990s, there was a real demand from the local level for local democratic control and autonomy, as a reaction against the failures of the centralized state over the previous four decades. (Nick Devas: 2005: 1-5)

         To some extent, the same can be said of several countries in Latin America , and even some countries of western Europe (France, Belgium, Spain, Italy, for example). But whether these trends truly reflected a groundswell of public opinion at the local level, rather than the interests of certain local elites who perceived political opportunities for themselves, is open to question. Within Europe, the process of decentralization has also been encouraged by the European Union, which, in addition to its treaty principle of subsidiarity has actively promoted a “Europe of regions” as a counterweight to the nation states. (Menoca, 2004: 726)

     The drive to empower local authorities and their communities to take charge of their development via decentralisation is not a new phenomenon in African politics nor a not novelty as far as Cameroon is concerned. Its roots could be traced as far back as 1922 with the creation of Native Courts by the British colonialists  in the English part of Cameroon and the 1955 French speaking Cameroon institution of decentralisation with two types of councils  that is “commune de plein exercise” (CPE)councillors were elected and “Commune de Moyen Exercise ” (CME) where councillor were appointed. After the independence and unification the 1st October 1961 constitution provide for a federal state of government with the federated states having administrative and financial autonomy. In the 70s following the unification of the federated states, the 20th May 1972 constitution promulgated which,  however, central government authorities eliminated local autonomy by fostering de- concentration rather than devolution geared at achieving their goals of centralizing power, thereby reducing decentralization through devolution to a shadow of itself. However the was standardization of the legislation of the federated state where by councils were defined as a decentralized local government  a legal person established  to cater for public interest with legal personality and financial autonomy. As a result the Cameroon Government carried out a reform of its decentralization policy through the promulgation of law No. 74/23 of 5th December 1974 which expressly stipulates at article  1(1) that a council shall be ‘ … a decentralized public authority having the status of a corporate body this reform never stamped it identity Centralization led to the progressive and constant ballooning of the central bureaucracy and by the late twentieth century, the government bureaucracy had become too big and complex, leading to a lack of responsiveness and efficiency. (Alima, 2003: 43)

 This backlash against the bureaucracy led to rising trends in empowering local communities by devolving certain discretionary powers to local bodies especially through ‘debureaucratization’. As a creation of the state therefore, local councils established were expected to decongest the national government, act as a hedge against undue centralization, cracking open the blockages of the inert central bureaucracy and giving more direct access for the people to the government and the government to the peopleAs a result of the negative effects of centralisation evidence by the 1990 political uprising  Cameroon like most African states adopted the 1996 Constitution that was pro-decentralisation, which laid the groundwork for today’s decentralisation policy built on Law No. 2004/17 on the Orientation of Decentralisation. These laws however define decentralization as the transfer of authority, responsibilities and concomitant resources from the central government and its external services to semi-autonomous or quasi- independent local authorities (Municipal Councils). This groundwork was corroborated by Law No. 2004/18 laying down Rules Applicable to Councils which established councils as the basic decentralized authority of the state. It is following this preliminary phase characterized by legal and regulatory instruments that this policy process from the 2010 financial year saw its operationalization marked by eye-catching financial arrangements with the pioneer fiscal allocation of nine billion six hundred and ninety four million CFA francs and Seven billion CFA Francs, in the 2010 and 2011 Financial Year respectively, for the partial financing of the decentralization process (Decree No. 2010 /0165 /PM of 23rd February 2010 and Decree No. 2011/0976/PM of 13th April 2011) . This trend was characterized by the involvement of nine Ministerial Departments in 2010 and four additional Ministries in 2011 in the transfer of powers . (Abangma: 2009: 1-6)



             The problem address in the research is whether the is proper implementation of the policy of decentralization as stipulated by the necessary framework governing the policy. Major constraint stems from Law N° 2004/018 of July 22, 2004  which was passed to put into effect Article 55  of the  1996 constitutional provision. The 2004 law laid down rules applicable to councils. Article 115(1) of the latter law puts into question the principle of free administration of decentralised local entities, albeit by the creation of ‘city councils’ with special status.

  • The essence of the autonomy of local authorities emanates from the mode of designation of their leaders by direct universal suffrage and the freedom of the deliberating assembly to define norms that bind them; with the provision that they do not conflict with national law.
  • The appointment of government delegates to head local authorities (even if of large cities.)introduces a unique twist into the classical meaning of ‘autonomy of local authorities. Considering that government delegates are appointed by presidential decree. In such conditions, these municipal administrators are neither mayors nor municipal councillors attached to some local authority.

All the above highlighted issues are questionable in relation to proper implementation as the laws demands .

             The second problem is whether the predicted pace and primary objectives of the policy has been attained.  The 2004 laws simply state in a top-down fashion that the President of the Republic can create, rename, and re-delimit geographical boundaries of local authorities. This approach relegates the participation of the masses in the definition of their own identity, albeit at local level, to the rear. This piece of legislation seems to directly contradict the political intention whereby the objective of decentralisation is to better involve the masses in the process of development. It is submitted that this contradiction and relegation couple with executive interruption  (appointment of government delegate to large cities Councils)  is one of the root causes of the Current Socio-political unrest plugging the Country.


1.3 Research Questions

               This Research seeks to answer the following questions.

  • What is decentralization and what are the legal frameworks put in place for the implementation of decentralization in Cameroon ?
  • What are the practical mechanisms put in place for the implementation of the policy of decentralization in Cameroon ?
  • What account for the slow space of decentralization policy?


1.4.1 main objective

The study has as it main objective to evaluate the implementation of decentralization and challenges stemming it in Cameroon since 1996.

1.4.2 Specific objectives

The specific objectives are

  • To Identify meaning, scope of Decentralisation and the regulatory framework in Cameroon.
  • To Examine the extent of practicability in the implementation of decentralization policy in Cameroon.
  • To investigate the challenges decelerating the implementation of the policy of decentralization in Cameroon.

1.5 Hypothesis of the Study.

Hypothesis 1

H0: The legal frameworks are not the foundation of  implementation of decentralization.

H1:   The legal frameworks are the foundation of  implementation of decentralization.

Hypothesis 2

H0:  Local government accountability do not facilitate Supervisory Reform

H2:  Local government accountability facilitate Supervisory Reform

Hypothesis 3

H0: New reform (new dawn) will not accelerate the Pace of Decentralization

H3: New reform (new dawn) will accelerate the Pace of Decentralization

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