For many years this country has been a beacon of stability for Africa. However, the International Crisis Group’s (ICG) latest report claims that this peace is coming under threat in the run up to presidential elections scheduled for late 2011.
The ICG report examines the country’s development after 28 years under the leadership of President Paul Biya. Their assessment concludes that Biya’s party is becoming weak because of intense internal rivalries over control of resources and there are disagreements over positioning in the post-Biya period.
Some years ago Biya eliminated constitutional limitations on the number of presidential terms in order to stay in power. The ICG suggests that it is likely that Biya will wish to stay in power, but he continues to be elusive as to whether he will stand for office again.
Biya is both feared and opposed within his party and his eventual demise, the ICG suggests, could possibly trigger a major crisis.
Although the elections are still some way off Richard Moncrieff, ICG’s West Africa project director, believes that ‘the 2011 elections could easily lead to conflict if they are poorly organised or lack transparency. The organising body has no legitimacy and has already made a bad start in the preparations’.
And security forces the organisation say may be of little use in quelling potential conflicts. The ICG says that the forces, usually a pillar of support for the regime, are divided and unfairly catered for; there exists small elite units that have good training and equipment while others lack resources.
The military are apparently also suffering from tensions between generations, not least because older generals refuse to promote junior officers. Furthermore, a number of members of the security forces are thought to be involved in criminal activities. The ICG say that a large part of the army is aggravated and is said to be at the brink of a major crisis.
Yet these are not the only problems the country faces. There exists constitutional and legal uncertainty; rivalries between the regime’s leading figures; widespread poverty and frustration; extensive corruption; and the rupture of the political contract between leaders and the population. What is more, the government is attempting to control the electoral process, the ICG alleges.
Nonetheless, the organisation has suggested some ways in which the government can stem potential disaster. Biya and his government must
institutionalise an impartial fight against corruption; restore the independence of the body responsible for elections; and ensure the military’s political neutrality. Furthermore, the country’s most influential allies, France and the US, need to actively support measures that will prevent unrest.
The ICG concludes that Biya’s long era of leadership has been characterised by his manipulation of ethnic identities, corruption and criminality among the elites, which has generated serious dissatisfaction. The serious unrest of ‘08, when economic grievances, political protest and elite manipulation resulted in dozens of deaths, gives an indication of the risks of violent conflict. A chaotic situation could lead to a military takeover, note the ICG, which would undoubtedly produce detrimental effects in the region.
If democratic political change is not an option, ordinary citizens, politicians and the military may eventually choose violence as a way out of the current impasse, which seems typical of the doomsday theories propagated by the Crisis Group.
‘In the medium term, Cameroon faces numerous challenges to improve management of public resources, an issue which lies at the heart of its problems’, says Donald Steinberg, ICG’s deputy president. ‘But in the shorter term, urgent actions need to be taken to avoid a crisis around the 2011 elections’.