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Local Governments and Rural Development: A Case Study of Mamfe municipality in Cameroon

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Despite the huge revenue that accrues to the local government areas in Cameroon, rural areas are still faced with challenges of development. This study examined the role of Local Government in Rural Development in the Mamfe Municipal Area over a period of March to August, 2021.

The study utilized both primary and secondary methods of data collection. The structured questionnaire was designed and distributed to ten (10) selected communities within the Mamfe Municipal Area.

A four points likerts scale was used to determine the responses of the respondents and the chi-square was also used to test the hypothesis. The findings of the study reveal that Mamfe Council enhances rural development through provision of social amenities to the locality.

The study further revealed that past policies and programmes of the government have improved the quality of lives of rural dwellers in the local government. The study therefore recommended that autonomy should be granted to local government in order to enhance its performance, revenue base of the local government should be diversified and the revenue allocation formula to local governments be reviewed upward




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 (Szirmai 2005). The concept of development can be traced after 1945, when Harry Truman made a global call to improve the lot of more than half of the world’s population living in destitute and poverty in ‘primitive societies’.

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. According to him, democracy alone can provide the vitalizing force to stir the people into triumphant action. By this he meant according a voice to local peoples in deciding their own affairs. 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 germane to their multiethnic 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, 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 3

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.

This study focuses broadly on the impact of democratic decentralization on development in Cameroon between 1993 and 2003. Under pressure from donors (primarily the World Bank) on the one hand for an alternative development paradigm, internal public demonstrations in Cameroon in the 1990s and in response to some critical developments on the other, the government of Cameroon undertook some political, administrative and economic reforms. One of these reforms was the democratization of political life, through the introduction of political pluralism in 1990.The government of Cameroon which had enacted law No. 74-23 of 5 December 1974 creating councils decided to democratise 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 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 local freedom . 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. One notable illustration is women’s literacy and employment levels which are the best predictions of both child survival and fertility rate reduction. This aspect of women empowerment is also discussed briefly in this work to espouse the changing role of women from passive recipients to their gradual involvement and contribution in socio-economic development.

The assumption is that democratic freedom and empowerment are necessary conditions for successful developmental efforts. However, the study also questions whether the concept of decentralization is practical or still remains a theoretical construct. This will be discussed with regards to how representatives the LGs are to the rural populace which is related to the nature of elections, and if this is accompanied by empowerment. Therefore, through efforts to investigate and highlight the role of LGs in rural development, the study analyses the concept of empowerment as a core concept central in development. The concept of empowerment is examined in two dimensions:

(1) Empowerment of the LG through the devolution of power from the central government, that is, the granting of political, administrative and financial autonomy to the LG;

(2) Empowerment of the local masses through democratic political rights. 6

These, however, will not be discussed separately but will be incorporated into the general discussion. Devolution of power should look like what is presented in the power model below on which I base my arguments and analysis.


In line with the current global trend of streamlining the role of the state, the governments of most developing countries have devolved power to grassroots institutions with a view to enhance development. But in reality, such devolutions have in many cases been quite inefficient to achieve this goal. The need to empower the local people responds to the growing recognition that local people in developing countries lack control over resources and opportunity to participate in decision making processes. Unless rural people are empowered to participate in the development process, development efforts will only have partial positive effects if at all they have any positive effect. This work investigates the role of the Local Government (LG); explains the dimension of decentralization; and evaluates this decentralization/empowerment in terms of whether LGs have achieved the stipulated objectives of development. It also explores the performance through an appraisal of their achievements within the democratic framework and offers some suggestions to rethink democratic decentralization and empowerment and overcome its drawbacks in Cameroon.

This study attempts to investigate the role which LGs as decentralized public institutions can play in the development process. It recognizes their importance as possible avenues through which the goal of socio-economic change can be realized in the presence of empowerment. However, instituting decentralization is not a guarantee for progress depending on what kind of decentralization is set in place. In this light, I will explore to what extent democratic decentralization has led to devolution of power to the people and in what sense. Thus, in my analysis of the case of Mamfe I intend to critically explore the process of power devolution and find out why progress in this area is slow (below the expectations of the people). Political decentralization is my focus in examining the implication of empowerment in development, where I mount a sustained critique of the reality or practical decentralization in the Cameroonian context. Questions directed to the level of empowerment are raised and an attempt is made to provide material to reveal to what extent decentralization has really been achieved and if it has actually led to empowerment and the implication on development.


  1. What is the role of the Local Government in rural development?
  2. What impacts does past policies have on rural development?
  3. What factors enhance the lives of rural dwellers?


The study will basically have two objectives; the general objective and the specific objective. The general objective of this study is to investigate the roles of Local government administration in rural development. While the specific objectives are as follows:

  1. To identify the roles of Local Government Administration in Rural Development in Cameroon.
  2. To examine whether there is significant impact of the past policies and programmes of government on improvement of quality of lives of rural dwellers;
  3. To evaluate the factors that enhances better lives of rural dwellers.

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