TRADITIONAL POLITICAL SYSTEM AND DEVELOPMENT IN CAMEROON: CASE STUDY BUEA MUNICIPALITY
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- Background to the study
Political systems are the formal and informal political processes by which decisions are made concerning the use, production and distribution of resources in any given society. Formal political institutions can determine the process for electing leaders; the roles and responsibilities of the executive and legislature; the organization of political representation (through political parties); and the accountability and oversight of the state. Informal and customary political systems, norms and rules can operate within or alongside these formal political institutions. The development of democratic political systems that provide opportunities for all, including the poor, to influence decision-making, is a critical concern for donors.
A democratic system of government, based on liberal ideas is the ideal that was preached by John Locke in 1690. He debunked the theory of Divine Rights of Kings (which held that kings were ordained by God and so whatever the king said was implemented rigorously as law) and the nature of the state as conceived by the English philosopher and political science theorist, Thomas Hobbes. In brief, Locke contended that although a state is sovereign, sovereignty itself did not reside in the state but with the people, and that the state is supreme, but only if it is bound by civil and what he termed “natural” law.
Given that sovereignty means supreme authority and it resides with the people rather than with the King, the latter therefore becomes an individual whom the people have designated to fight for their interest. As such, he acts only in favour of these people who have designated him to represent their own very interest (national interest). Generally, that king who represents the will and interest of his people is “appointed” by the people (the word “appointed” is used here to demonstrate the authority of the people). This “appointment” is carried out through democratic elections whereby each citizen has the right and duty to choose whom he feels can lead the country and can best defend their interests. The consent of the governed is thus central to the concept of democracy. Democracy of course involves other rights such as constitutional limit, freedom of expression, protection of human and minority rights, accountability and transparency, a multiparty system, free market system and the rule of law. Therefore, elections alone are not enough to preserve democracy. But the importance accorded to free and fair elections by the proponents of democracy underscores its relevance. Elections establish the individual’s and the citizenry’s political rights. They constitute the main sign post of democracy. They are the on-going representation of the accord of the governed. It is the forum for citizens to express their will and participate in the political life of their country.
Movements, strikes and even riots have often risen in countries where people feel they are not enjoying this right – the right to express themselves through the ballot box. The Egyptian people who ousted Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and President Morsi in 2013, the Tunisian people in 2011 who ousted Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali etc. all go a long way to show the importance accorded to public participation for the prevalence of democratic practice.
In some societies however, the people are not denied this right of participation. They rather are unwilling to take part. This was the case of Cameroon in the advent of the 2011 presidential elections and the 2013 twin elections. In a country of more than 20 million inhabitants, just over 5 million people take part in the elections.
Voter registration is the primary way of giving one’s consent to participate in elections. Voter registration is recognized in international law as a means of ensuring the right to vote. Voter education is recognized in international law as an important part of the electoral process. In a democratic country, it is the duty of the government to ensure public participation for the prevalence of democratic practice. Article 1 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) guarantees broad autonomy within a state and participation of people in the state’s political decision making process.
The African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance makes it a government’s responsibility to promote the establishment of the necessary conditions to foster citizen participation in democratic and development processes. It goes further to describe participation in stating that the state “shall recognize popular participation through universal suffrage as the inalienable right of the people”. It therefore falls on the government to ensure participation for the sake of the country’s political development.
As a result, ELECAM set a communications strategy that had as main objective to change the behavior of prospective electorate from not registering to registering for elections. In other words, it aimed at causing the electorate to break away with elections apathy and participate in the political life of the country.
Participatory communication is regarded as an instrument aimed at effecting change for the advancement of the development process (Tufte&Mefalopulos 2009). It makes reference to empowering the people on whose lives the development project will have an effect. Owing to the fact that the people on whose lives the development project will impact are an important stakeholder, it goes without saying that they must occupy a central place in the project cycle right from the needs assessment stage. This form of communication had its origins in the 1950s from Paulo Freire, a Brazilian Development Worker who first tried it by empowering landless peasants in North Brazil to identify their needs as liberation and improved living standards. This deviates from Lass well’s linear form of communication: who says what to whom through what channel and with what effect, which gives way for domination rather than participation and complementarity.
Even more pertinent is that fact that participatory communication deals with live skill development. This means that individuals within a community are trained, either formally or informally, to acquire certain skills which will make them contribute positively to the development of that community. This has a lot to do with civic education and political participation. The state, however, should not be confused with a specific balance of powers a particular status quo, a government. Governments may affect massive change in laws and roles while the state remains the same. Changed are the civil order, the polity, the particular law norms and authoritative roles through which the elite manifest their interest. At the outset, then, the political system of a state must be distinguished from the state itself. A political system consists of the formal and informal structures which manifest the state’s sovereignty over a territory and people. It is the civil aspect of statehood. But a state through its life time may have many different political systems, As the political elite exercise more or less coercive power, we can call a state more or less powerful. As ideologies grant a political system more or less power, we can call these ideologies more or less statist. But this is not to confuse the state as a sovereign group with the particular balance through which this sovereignty is manifest.
Over the years the Cameroonian political system has seen a sharp decline in voter turnout. In
1960, over 63% of the Cameroonian population cast their presidential votes, whereas by 1996, there were less than 50% of Cameroonians showing up to the polls. Not only are the domestic voting numbers low, but Cameroon has one of the lowest voter turnout rates among other democratic nations. Analysts say many factors play into these low numbers. For example, in many states felons are banned from poll booths. Also, if a citizen is abroad during the time of an election they are banned from voting as well. In the Cameroonian political system, it is mandatory voters register weeks before the actual Election Day, so many citizens forget to register and are unable to cast their ballots.
A developing country like Cameroon, also called a lower developed country, is a nation with an underdeveloped industrial base, and low Human Development Index (HDI) relative to other countries. On the other hand, since the late 1990s developing countries tended to demonstrate higher growth rates than the developed ones. There is no universal, agreed-upon criterion for what makes a country developing versus developed and which countries fit these two categories, although there are general reference points such as a nation’s GDP per capita compared to other nations. Also, the general term less-developed country should not be confused with the specific least developed country.
Cameroon is an underdeveloped country or developing and as a result, there is criticism of the use of the term developing country. The term implies inferiority of a developing country or undeveloped country compared to a developed country, which many countries dislike. It assumes a desire to develop along the traditional Western model of economic development which a few countries choose not to follow. An alternative measurement that has been suggested is that of gross national happiness, measuring the actual satisfaction of people as opposed to how industrialized a country is. Countries with more advanced economies than other developing nations but that have not yet demonstrated signs of a developed country, are often categorized under the term newly industrialized countries.
- statement of problem
One of the reasons that account for apathy is the fact that Cameroon has a history of elections fraud since elections used to be organized and supervised by the government through the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization. This situation usually led to the contestation and eventual nullification of results such as the 1997 and 2002 elections in the country. This caused the electorate to lose faith in the proper organization of the elections even with the creation of Elections Cameroon, ELECAM, an independent body in charge of organizing, supervising and managing the elections. The general attitude of Cameroonians about the elections is described by some as: “their thing”; or “no need to vote since it would not count”.
According to Transparency International, another source of discontentment and lack of trust in the political system is the high level of youth unemployment in the country and their feeling of humiliation and abandonment by the government and who thus find no reason to go to the polls because the elections do not contribute in any way to their development.
Participation in its most basic sense refers to sharing or taking part in the activities of a group. It means having a share (though not usually equal) in the operations of a group. Technically, there are two main perspectives to participation. These are institutional or project based perspective (involvement of all stakeholders from problem identification right up to monitoring and evaluation) and social movement perspective (equal distribution of power, including knowledge and resources)
The absence of participation retards development efforts in a country given that development is not only limited to economic furtherance but also political advancement. The very act of participation, besides providing a sense of belonging, is in itself advantageous because it empowers citizens, strengthens the spirit of patriotism and engenders citizens to develop great concern in the decisions taken about them. In a society which sees the prevalence of participation, decision makers can therefore take informed decisions.
- Research questions
The study is guided by the following research questions;
- what are the parameters for democratic election?
- To what extent has the role of government to promote democratic elections be achieved
- what are the challenges faced by the government in organizing democratic elections
The objectives of the study comprise the general and specific objectives
- General research objectives
The general objective of this study is to assess the practice, problems and process of traditional political system and the development in the Buea municipality
1.3.2 Specific research objectives
In specific terms, the study seeks to;
- Identify the parameter for democratic elections
- Examine the role played by the government in promoting democratic elections .
- Assess the challenges faced by the government to organize democratic elections
FURTHER READING: PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION PROJECT TOPICS WITH MATERIALS