Gerontocracy and youth Political Apathy in Cameroon
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By the early 1960s Cameroon among many other African states had attained independence from British and French rule. This resulted in great optimism regarding the future of the nascent democracies on the continent. A buoyant populace transformed their memories of harsh political struggles into images of heroism and confirmed the victory of the national movement for liberation. Youths also had much optimism to actively participate in national issues which unfortunately is today a call for study. This study therefore underscores the concept of Elitism in Cameroon and investigates youth political socialization in relation to the rule by the old. This research is principally focused on how gerontocracy and its tentacles has deterred youth from active political participation and finding possible solution for an inclusive governance, providing alternative solutions for a rotational government which contain all age groups and making available possible ways in which youths in Cameroon could do in order to contribute actively in policy formulation. The findings of this research is limited to Cameroon and the target population are youths of voting age meanwhile the sampling size is one hundred. Relevant data is collected through questionnaires via stratified probability sampling and the data is then analyzed. Findings show that youth political socialization is catalyzed by those who rule and their philosophy of development. They key recommendation given in this research is a call for demographical representation in governance and for youths to form national youth-led forums for the advocacy of youth voices and quest for inclusive governance
1.1 Background to the Study
The term “gerontocracy” is most conceivably a political concept in Western sociopolitical thought, gerontocracy is a political system or a form of oligarchical rule, whereby a small group of elderly individuals are in control of power. Unpopular due to its peculiar nature, it is, in short, a rule by old men. It was a common political practice in the communist states, especially the then Soviet Union (Gerder and Hedlund, 1993:346), where individuals who were significantly older than most of the adult population were in leadership positions. But gerontocracy is not restricted to socio-political thought alone. There has continuously been a twist of knowledge between age and wisdom; are old people wiser, and is such wisdom that comes with time applied to statecraft? Meanwhile the standard definition of a youth as drawn from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as persons with ages between 15 to 24years without prejudice from other definition from member states whereas the African Youth Charter for purposes of implementation of local community youth programs considers youths as persons with ages between 15 to 35 years. It is a common terminology in Cameroon that ‘youths are the future of the country’. From the 1960s right up to 2019, youths are still referred to as the future of the country giving one an impression that youths were in a sort of an incubator whereby they are being trained to be handed the mantle of leadership someday which is probably when they also are in their 50s. The relegation of youths to the background in Cameroon politics and the resulting feeling of being unable to make meaningful contributions to the decision making process of the country has caused youths to show an apathetic nature to political participation from voting which is the formal form of political participation to more of informal forms of political participation such a protests and strikes as an attempt to make their own contributions to public policy formation.
During the later summer of 2017, a historical event occurred where France elected the 39-year-old Emmanuel Jean-Michel Frédéric Macron as its President. Not necessarily a guarantee that youth leadership produces good governance and development but is a positive remark that youths could have a space in the decision making procedure.
Emmanuel Macron’s victory at the polls set a fresh agenda for public debate in Africa. While global leaders sent congratulatory messages to the newly elected president one of which included President Paul Biya of the Republic of Cameroon who became President when Macron was barely five years old. The question of youth’s involvement in mainstream politics moved to the front banner of public discourse. He was barely two years old when TeodoroObiangNguemaMbasongo of
Equatorial Guinea assumed power close to four decades ago, and the same age when Jose Eduardo dos Santos assumed office as president of Angola in the late 1970s.
Recent elections on the continent do not oer much hope of a generational shift.
President MuhammaduBuhari has been re-elected as Nigeria’s president in 2019 at the age of 77; Ghana’s president Nana Akufo-Addo was also 73 years old at the time of his election in 2017; Malawi’s president, Peter Mutharika was elected in 2014 aged 74. The call for concern in this research is not really the fact that the President and his government is a gerontocracy but the fact that the will of the youths which constitute the majority of the population does not seem to be reflected in terms of the results of presidential elections and so therefore youths believe that whether they vote and participate in political discourse, the results are already known and therefore, voting is a waste of time and rather giving more political legitimacy to a regime that derives its legitimacy from its instituted mechanism for manipulating the electoral process. Cameroon has a record of wild post electoral protest for dissatisfaction in the results especially that of October 2018 presidential elections where all major opposition leaders filled petitions to the Constitutional Council for several instances where the electoral process and votes were tempered with.
It suffices to add that there have been attempts by younger men to vie for political offices across the continent but with little or no success. For example, in the 2014 general elections in South Africa, expelled former youth leader of the African
National Congress (ANC) Julius Malema, then aged 33, led the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to third position in the overall election. The October 6th presidential race in Cameroon also witness 39 years old Cabral Libii Li Ngue who vied in for the Unity Palace of Cameroon. He was nation-wide referred to as the ‘Macron of
Cameroon’ and as a candidate and savior for the youths in Cameroon. His campaign rallies had a significant turnout of youths especially in Douala, the economic capital and Yaounde the political capital of Cameroon. Cabral Libii of the Universe Party emerged 3rd position with 222 020 votes. His position no doubt was as a result of his over one-year campaign of 11 million citizens where he actively brought youths into developing a liking for politics. In Cameroon, 35 in the minimum running age for the presidential race and with a deposit of 30 million XFCFA. This among other political constraints constitute the problem of gerontocracy and youth political apathy and resulting effects in Cameroon.
The central argument of this research is that, for many reasons, Cameroon’s youth have not shared in post-colonial governance. These range from political apathy and passivity on the part of the youth, to governments that are skewed to prevent new entrants into mainstream structures and a culture that silences the young. This study examines the role played by the founding fathers of Cameroon’s independence and their political understudies (godfathers) in the emergence of a generation of acquiescent youths. These young people are frequently used to perpetrate violence before, during and after elections, rather than participating in any real political decision-making and governance. Youth political apathy in Cameroon is fast moving from the effects of gerontocracy to becoming a political culture which started from the gerontocracy as is being handed to the next generation gradually as less interest is developed in anything political.
This study involves content and textual analysis of both primary and secondary data regarding the political involvement of the youth in Cameroon. The findings result from a study conducted in Cameroon and it would be imprudent to extrapolate these to experiences in the rest of the African continent.
1.2. Statement of the Problem
It is now more glaring than the case has ever been in Cameroon of how the political system is purely a gerontocracy. When a government has the old, youths and women well represented in public offices, that government gains credibility and support from all age group towards local mobilization for development and youths get motivated to actively participate in politics knowing they can also assume public offices and give meaningful contributions to nation building whereas the Cameroonian system which does not only exclude youths from holding positions in the government but totally make sure that they do not have an opinion in policy formulation. Although appointment into public offices is at the discretion of the head of state, it becomes problematic when only a particular age group forms the ruling class and as a result, youths who obviously are the less choosy tend to feel misplaced in the political context especially when there is the cycling of same persons in public offices whereas young vibrant youths are being kept waiting.
The second and most pertinent problem this research addresses is in the area the will of the youths as reflected in public opinion. Public opinions as it should be in any democracy is made loud by way of vote cast which either gives a government legitimacy over the people or proves that a regime is illegitimate and therefore power is handed to the next regime. When the will of youths are reflected in the result from the ballot, the regime gains legitimacy and support from the population and as a result, economic growth is fostered because the mobilization of human and economic resources for the achievement of set goals is easier. The public becomes powerless when the outcome of elections fails to reflect their will and they therefore express dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction coupled with the handicapped nature of the judicial system creates a frustration within youths causing them to give up hopes of any near possible change and therefore assume that no matter how much they advocate for change through voting, their votes do not count and so prefer not to vote.
The third problem raised in this research is the inability of the gerontocracy in Cameroon to move parallel with the technological trend of the 21st century. This exclusion of youths from politics has blocked the room for innovation of ideas which hopefully would have led to the creation of more advanced manufacturing industries and as a result, the creation of more jobs for the highly unemployed youths in Cameroon. This exclusion has witnessed one and the same developmental ideas and as a result, high rates of unemployment. Unemployment has caused the loose of trust and hope in the political system of Cameroon and youths are doubtful if participation can ever produce any change and therefore develop less interest in politics.
1.3. Research Questions
This study is guided by the following questions:
- Why has it been near impossible for a generational change of guard in
Cameroon, from the old to the young or a blend of age groups?
- What has been the outcome of Gerontocracy on national development and the effects on youth participation in politics?
- What must Cameroon youths do in order to have their wills being expressed in electoral results and to also actively participate in the process of decision making?
1.4. Research Hypotheses
In this research, it is hypothesized that:
- The presidential mandate in Cameroon is seven years’ renewable indefinitely helping one and the same persons to remain in power.
- Cameroons GDP has dropped from 7.1 in 2016 to 4.6 in July 2019 with more youths losing interest in the political system.
- Youths in Cameroon must galvanize behind a leader of their choice with very high turnouts at the pools to have their will expressed undeniably.