I write this article against the backdrop of popular demand to clarify public opinion on the two concepts of Decentralization and Federation and how decentralization will not be the solution to the Anglophone problem in Cameroon.
I base my submission on what I see as the most comprehensive definition of the Anglophone problem articulated by the Bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province of Bamenda. The Key issues highlighted by their definition are:
The failure of successive governments of Cameroon, since 1961, to respect and implement the articles of the Constitution that uphold and safeguard what British Southern Cameroons brought along to the Union in 1961 (Legacy),
The flagrant and constant disregard for the Constitution, The cavalier management of the 1972 Referendum which took out the foundational element (Federalism) of the 1961 Constitution.
The 1984 Law amending the Constitution, which gave the country the original East Cameroon name (The Republic of Cameroon) and thereby erased the identity of the West Cameroonians from the original union, The deliberate and systematic erosion of the West Cameroon cultural identity which the 1961 Constitution sought to preserve and protect by providing for a bi-cultural federation.Decentralization is a political system which is the direct opposite of Centralized government. From 1972 to present, Cameroon has been a centralized state. This means power in concentrated at the center and all services are delivered from there.
Over the years this system has failed to satisfactorily deliver services to Cameroon explaining the unrest of the early 1990s. In 1996, the government grudgingly gave to the mounting pressure and introduced a decentralized constitution. This was followed by the decentralization laws of 2004.
These measures have not been able to solve the problems Cameroonians are facing talk less of the specific problems faced by Anglophones in Cameroon. Bad governance has persisted, corruption has been unabated, chasing of files has become more complicated, unemployment has been increasing, moral values have decayed, tribalism and nepotism have been upheld, and you name the rest.
Decentralization which was introduced as a panacea to solve problems of centralization has therefore not produced the desired results.
The reasons are not hard to find. Decentralization means the agenda is determined by the top and devolved or passed down to the decentralized units. By implication therefore, decentralization is top down. It is the top that decides how much power it wants to release to the lower levels. The decentralized units there just execute the policies and accountability is to the top. Decentralized units do not have constitutional safeguards and can be dismantled by the central authority.
This system does not meet up with the demands of democracy where power is with the base and accountability is to the people and not the leaders.
Let us examine the typical case of Cameroon where several political parties run the councils. Leadership of the councils is elected by the population. As such accountability is normally supposed to be to the electorate. However, with the practice of decentralization, the leadership of the councils (Mayors) are forced to implement the agenda of the party in power which defines polices at the top. Parties of the opposition therefore have to implement policies that are defined by the party in power. The population is deprived of the power of citizen control.
Some mayors find themselves in the difficult position of fulfilling the promises they made to their electorate since they have to be accountable to the top and not the bottom. This makes accountability difficult and betrays the argument that Cameroon is a democracy.
The central authority also uses the powers at the center to distribute resources. Decentralized units which belong to the opposition parties are openly discriminated in the allocation of these resources.
Federalism on the other hand is a political system where the central government and regional governments share power and decision making. The autonomy of regional units is constitutionally rooted in federalism. So, federalism is about the autonomy of the regions. Federalism allows regions a constitutionally legitimate basis on which they can disagree with the center or indeed with other regions. It is therefore not surprising that countries formed through a union of autonomous entities like Southern Cameroons and La Republique in 1961 would more likely want to maintain their autonomy within a federal structure.
That is the case with Cameroon. Southern Cameroons came into the union as an autonomous entity and sort to protect such autonomy through a federation. If Southern Cameroons’ forefathers of reunification were not given guarantees that they were to retain the legacy they brought into the union, they would likely not have gone into the deal. That is why they see any move that does not protect this autonomy as a threat and a betrayal of confidence by the other party to the union.
In federal systems, the central government cannot overrule the federated states because power belongs first to the regional states. It is the regions that give power to the Federal government to manage issues of national security and foreign relations. The Federated states have the authority to decide on their programs and run them, determine the leaders to rule them and are accountable to the electorate. Sovereignty is shared between the Federal structure and the Federal government at the central level.
With the Federal system, you will agree with me that the guarantees being asked for by the Anglophones would be guaranteed by the constitution. They will develop their programs, run their affairs, consolidate their legacy and participate fully in public debate. Accountability will be to the electorate and leadership will be legitimate. Constitutional change will be the subject of a referendum and not a decision of the central authority as we have today.
I therefore conclude on the note that Federalism and only Federalism will solve the problems of the Anglophones in Cameroon. Decentralization will be administering malaria treatment to a patient suffering from Diarrhea.