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Cameroon; 1966-2011: From a Totalitarian to a Competitive (Advanced) Authoritarian Regime Masked as a “Democracy”


Cameroon; 1966-2011: From a Totalitarian to a Competitive (Advanced) Authoritarian Regime Masked as a “Democracy”


In this paper, I argue using empirical evidence from history, the current situation in Cameroon and also relating studies that have been done on political reforms in Cameroon, to posit that, unlike what the Cameroon government asserts itself as an advanced democracy, (the words of president Paul Biya), it is rather more of a competitive form of authoritarianism or advanced authoritarianism. It is just short of a totalitarian or full scale authoritarian regime. However, the persistence of the competitive or advance authoritarian regime in Cameroon has been equally supported and sustained by a rather also lacklustre and equally advanced authoritarian and competitive authoritarian opposition


Background on Cameroon

Cameroon is a country in Africa. Located in the Central-West part of the continent, it shares boundaries with Nigeria, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Congo Brazzaville, Chad, and the Central   African Republic. It was a colony of Germany from 1884 until 1916, when the Germans were defeated in the First World War.   After the war, the League of Nations then placed Cameroon as a mandated territory administered by Britain and France.  These two regions became UN Trust Territories after 1945 and East Cameroon (Republic of Cameroon) under France, obtained independence on January 01, 1960 and the West or Southern) Cameroons  got hers on October 01, 1961 from Britain (Konings 2004:4). The two merged on October 01, 1961 to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon which has witnessed multiple changes to be called the Republic of Cameroon today. French and English are the official languages though there are also over mostly unwritten 250 dialects,   spoken by the estimated 250 ethnic groups in the country (Sama 2010:2). Cameroon is divided into ten regions and two of the regions (North West and South west) are English speaking.

Essentially, Cameroon was more of totalitarian rule since 1966, six years after gaining independence, with the dissolution of political parties, civil right movement and the virtual absence of media organisations. It was until 1990 when some changes were made with regards to political freedom and liberalisation. But what has been described as a democratic process still remains terribly wanting, though unlike its neighbours or most African countries, Cameroon has never experienced any post independence war.


Since 1960, Cameroon has had just two presidents.  The current president is Paul Biya. He assumed power on November 06, 1982, from Amadou Ahidjo. The  latter, who had been in power since 1960, unexpectedly resigned allegedly due to pressure from France after he fell out with the former colonial master due his nationalistic tendencies (Eyinga  in Les Cahiers de Mutations 2007:8-9).

Press freedom and freedom of association were virtually absent in the first 3 decades of independence. Media organisations and freedom steadily grew from 1990s but much still remains to be done. There is relative political stability (absence of war) as compared to neighbours but power is extremely centralised in the hands of the president who rules by decrees. (CIA World Fact Book, Cameroon, 2010).


The history of Cameroon and its democratisation/authoritarian process is laden with political struggles though in a rather “peaceful” environment. Peaceful here interpreted as the absence of outright war.   It was in 1990 that the   law on political and press freedom was promulgated and that immediately gave birth to the creation of hundreds of political parties which are often myriad of derivatives. Political parties are created in Cameroon on a rampant basis as the country presently has over 200 legalised political parties (CRTV2010, Sama 2010).  However, only 6 are represented in the National Assembly. Cameroon has a population of 19.4 million people (Le Messager 2010) according to the 2005 census whose results were revealed in April 2010.


Cameroon’s historical democratisation process or the authoritarian metamorphosis can be divided into phases in my view. 1960-1966, 1966-1982, 1982-1990, 1990-1993, 1993-Present.  Below is a brief look from the historical perspective after which we shall get into the details of those aspects that clearly specify under which regime the current Cameroon government can be classified. The historical perspective permits us to get into the dynamics of what type of regimes or mixture of regimes which have led Cameroon since independence and how the current regime can be reflected. Is it a totalitarian, authoritarianism, democracy, aristocracy, transitional democracy, competitive authoritarianism, pseudo democracy etc? These among other theories shall be examined with respect to the situation in Cameroon.  However, after the historical perspective I would borrow from Juan Linz to argue that Cameroon now has a diminished authoritarian regime Juan Linz (2000), or in the terms of Steven and Lucan that Cameroon is a competitive authoritarian regime Steven and Lucan (2002) or, in my own terms, an advanced authoritarian regime.


Historical Mutations of Regime Types in Cameroon

1960-1966:- Authoritarian rule: The French speaking part of Cameroon obtained independence in 1960 from France and inherited the French system of governance as well as political and legal system. The English speaking part of Cameroon got its independence in 1961 and joined La Republic du Cameroon. During the early days of independence Cameroon was administered as a Federal Republic and there were therefore more democratic values in the English part of Cameroon. However, the French speaking part of the country which makes up the majority of the population thought that the federal system was not working well and it needed to be abandoned.  Bearing in mind the bloody fight they fought against French Cameroon nationalists ahead of independence, the president of Cameroon Amadou Ahidjo harped more on national unity and wanted the two Cameroons to be under one body, without any federal structure whereas Anglophones preferred a rather loose and less decentralised federal structure (Konings 2004). The concept of national unity was ground for Ahidjo to centralised power and kill the democratic or revolutionary tendencies (Mbuagbo and Mbe 2002, Konnings1996: 247).

In the English part of Cameroon (Southern Cameroons) powers were clearly divided among the legislative, executive and the judiciary without any branch having absolute powers over the other. However, that was not the case in the East. President Ahidjo then decided to forcefully convince all political leaders to kill their political parties and this was accomplished in 1966 when there was just one party. All powers were then concentrated in the capital Yaoundé and Ahidjo began building a hegemonic rule (Konings 1996:148).  I place 1960-1966 different because at this time was some degree of freedom before Ahidjo accomplished his plans which changed everything in 1966.


1966-1982: Totalitarian rule: This was certainly the worst time in Cameroon in terms of political freedom, freedom of association, religious worship etc. Paradoxically, it was when Cameroon experienced real economic growth but at the price of freedom. There was just one party that contested elections and those who grumbled could only do so in the dark. .  A serious personality cult was built around Ahidjo and he was seriously feared and almost venerated in some circles. He was considered father of the nation and criticizing him either in private or public was suicidal (Mbuagbo and Mbe 2002)


In 1972, president Ahidjo further dissolved the federation and created the United Republic of Cameroon. This move was made to centralise power further (Konings 1996:247)   and destroy all elements of the federal structure under the bogus claim that it was costing so much to run. This moved again has been highly regarded as totalitarian and undemocratic because it increased the power of the president and executive. The referendum which led to the abolition of federal structure took place in all of Cameroon whereas it was to be the prerogative of the Southern Cameroon whether to leave the federation or not. However, in 1982 president Ahidjo unexpectedly resigned and gave power to his constitutional successor Paul Biya, who is the current president. This happened peacefully.


1982-1990: Totalitarian+authoritarian: President Paul Biya came to power unelected but immediately he assumed power his slogan was rigour and moralisation. He promised freedom. He was relatively young and immediately he came the climate of fear began dying down and people began voicing their concerns though still in relatively very quiet moods. In 1984, he unilateral changed the name of Cameroon from United Republic of Cameroon to The Republic of Cameroon, the name with which French Cameroon got independence. English speaking Cameroon saw this as a very undemocratic move and they considered it the suppression of minorities (Mbaku and Takougang).

President Paul also survived a failed coup d’ etat in 1984 which he attributed to his predecessor Amadou Ahidjo though the latter vehemently denied. After the coup, he became more hard-line and dictatorial. The failed coup d’état was an opportunity for Paul Biya to re-impose the police state. This was done through the implementation of full censorship, enhancement of a secretive government and the use of the powerful police force BMM to restrict freedom and democratic ambitions (Konings 1996:251). However, economic crisis was already hitting the nation after he could not transform his slogan of rigour and moralisation to real development. Internal and international pressure began mounting and series of protests erupted in the 1990. Giving the unbearable pressure, he succumbed to the democracy wind and signed decrees ushering political parties and freedom of the press.


1990-1993: Attempted democratic transition: This was the time Cameroon experienced the highest degree of freedom though it came at a price because some democracy activists were  killed like the six people who died on the occasion of the launching of Cameroon post 1982 first opposition party the Social Democratic Front (SDF) on May 26, 1990  (Konings 2004:2).  Ahead of the liberalisation of the political arena, hundreds of members of the ruling Cameroon People Democratic Movement took to the streets calling on the president not to heed to internal and external pressure to liberalise the political sector. However it seemed what was considered then as the wind of democracy was unstoppable. Following the liberalisation of the political and media sector, hundreds of political parties were created as well as hundred of newspapers launched (Takougang and Mbaku 2004). That notwithstanding, the prohibition on the audiovisual media remained until 2000.

With the wind blowing over Cameroon, legislative elections (March) and presidential elections in October 1992 were conducted. The main opposition parties the Social Democratic Front (SDF) together with The Cameroon Democratic Union (CDU) boycotted the legislative elections because of the government’s refusal to create an independent electoral commission (Nyamnjoh 2002, Mbaku & Takougang 2004, and Konings 2004). That was the first and the latest free and fair elections in Cameroon in my view and those of many other scholars. That is the reason why I call this era, the freest in the political arena and also reasons why I decided to treat the short period as a special time. Elections campaigns were carried out void of much corruption or fighting but under tension. The opposition candidate allegedly won the 1992 presidential elections but the Supreme Court declared incumbent Paul Biya “winner” after the president of the court, Alexis Dipanda Mouelle spectacularly admitted that “his hands were tied” meaning he acknowledged the victory of the opposition but could not declare them winner certainly for fear of his life. (Mbaku &Takougang 2004, Konings 2004) This again made Cameroon to slip from an emerging democracy to a competitive authoritarian rule.


1993-today: Advanced/competitive authoritarian rule: 1992 was when the first ever democratic elections were held in Cameroon and the controversial victory of Paul Biya had to make him review the way he treated the wind of change that was blowing across the country then. The regime of President Paul Biya has never admitted that it is an authoritarian regime. Instead, Paul Biya coined what he called ADVANCED DEMOCRACY to describe the values of,   and the degree of people-power and universal suffrage in Cameroon (Ngoh 2004).  He was not sincere as most Cameroonians who had been subjected to totalitarian rule under Ahidjo,  wrongly thought that Paul Biya, the university of Sorbonne-France graduate unlike his predecessor Ahidjo, would usher in the Westminster-style democracy (Ngoh 2004:428). Unfortunately, since then, all elections have been allegedly rigged and the president has always refused to create an independent electoral commission (Nyamnjoh 2002, Mbaku and Takougang 2004, Mbuagbo and Neh Fru 2003). Corruption has accelerated and making Cameroon to be classified twice and the most corrupt country on earth by Transparency International (Transparency International 1998, 1999)

Ironically, several political parties continue to be created in Cameroon. Some analysts have described this strategy as a way by the ruling party to kill the opposition by applying the colonial tactics of divide and rule. Some describe it as state-of-the-art polite corruption and coercion which was applied by Ahidjo and continues to be applied by Paul Biya (Konings 1996, Sama 2010). Some scholars however see the myriad derivatives of political parties in the country as a sign of a very healthy democracy (Ngolle 1996).  

The quasi-totality of the political parties in Cameroon are parties without political power or political leverage. Some political parties are corrupted to join the ruling party even when the ruling party has never scored less than 75% of the votes according to constantly disputed results published by the government Ministry of Territorial Administration then the government National Elections Observatory that have been conducting and monitoring elections till date (African Elections database). The admission of “opposition” parties in government is often done to camouflage the existence of democracy and coalition rule in Cameroon.


In the year 2000, the audiovisual media was liberalised and that   gave birth to a plethoric of radio and television stations. However, most of these radio and television stations as well as newspapers are still owned or financed by politicians and this has greatly stifled the development of democracy in the country. A superficial look at the media in Cameroon and even freedom of association will give the impression that Cameroon is an extremely democratic country however the three wings of the government, that is, the legislative, the executive and the judiciary remain highly centralised. The government has constantly ignored what is written in the press by not investigating it further. This has made the country slip into total disorder though avoiding outright war (US Embassy Report)

The personality cult which Ahidjo created in totalitarian system and which made him to be near venerated is not different from the way President Paul has developed his own personality cult albeit in a more civilised way to sell his advanced democracy which is actually advanced or competitive authoritarianism. The personality cult is strong (Mbuagbo 2002, Konings 1996, Nyamnjoh 2002). President Paul Biya is regarded as the father of modern Cameroon and the father of democracy by his admirers and any criticisms towards him are likely to earn sanctions.  During the 2004 presidential campaigns in Douala, the economic capital of Cameroon one of the ruling party senior supporters in Douala, Longo Oscar described Paul Biya as the god of Cameroon. It might have been considered a joke but it was far from it. In 2010, Cameroon ace scholar and Minister of Higher Education Professor Jacque Fame Ndongo said they were all creatures of Paul Biya (Le Jour April 2010). The arena was no campaign area and it went a long way to confirm the glorification of a man who is presently one of the oldest serving African rulers. The declaration raised a lot of controversy among the university core in Cameroon.

Once again, the Minister for Higher Education Fame Ndongo in 2004 angered the scholarly community when he engineered the writing of a motion of allegiance and support to Paul Biya by the Cameroon intelligentsia. Hundreds of university lecturers claimed not to have been consulted before their names were added in the said letter. This brought some tension in the university milieu. In fact a similar motion brought so much tension and divided the higher education community in Cameroon in August 2010 made some university scholars to liken such practices by supporters of the Biya regime as those of a full scale authoritarian regime (Le Jour August 2010).

As a state-of-the-art autocrat President Paul Biya commissioned a renowned French author for public relation book. In 2009 Francois Mattei came up with a book called The Biya code which was highly publicised and reviewed by the state media for months. Writing about the book in the state media, Cameroon Tribune, President Paul Biya was described as a man of probity in public action, a man with high disdain for corruption, a man of high international standing, a man with a rallying capacity (Cameroon Tribune 13, July 2009).  All these qualities greatly contrast with the reports of Cameroon civil rights movements, like Nouveau Droit de L’ homme NDH, as well as international bodies like Transparency International and Freedom House, Amnesty International, International Pen  in the pre and post 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011 reports.

As a test of the regime advanced authoritarianism and in direct response to The Biya Code, Cameroonian civil rights and pro-democracy activist Bertrand Teyou wrote a book contradicting all the points raised in The Biya Code by Francois Mattei. His, was The anti-code Biya published in November 2009. Typical of all dictatorial regimes Mr Teyou was arrested while launching his book and more than 94 copies of the book sized and burnt (Mutation March 2010). He was subsequently charged with circulating tracts, conspiring, revolution etc. The charges were later dropped.

However the author of The Anti Code Biya again in early 2010 published another book on the first lady title La Belle de Republique Bannaniere: Chantal de la rue au palais or The beautiful one of the banana Republic: Chantal from the streets to the palace. This was again considered a taboo for daring to write about the first lady. Again why launching the book, he was arrested charged with insulting the first lady. Hundreds of copies of his book were burnt. The court found him guilty and sentenced him to 2 years or a fine of 2.30 150 FRS approximately 4500USD. Unable to pay the fine he was thrown in jail in November 2010 and only released when Pen International paid the money in April 2011. Earlier calls of Amnesty international fell on deaf ears. In the same domain, in the 1990s the judiciary sent Cameroon ace journalist to jail for daring to write about the health of the president which is unofficially considered a state secret.

Paradoxically still in 2011 the government published the second volume of a book called Paul Biya: The Peoples’ call, a compilation of motions of support sent to Paul Biya. In such motions, his supporters claim that he is indispensable to Cameroon and that he was their natural candidate for re-election for 2011 presidential elections (Cameroon Tribune April, 2011). Such glorification and the suppression of dissident voices are common in Cameroon. While the state media considered the book and its content as genuine call, the private press, the opposition and civil society considered it as pure demagogy on the parts of the aristocratic class which has taken the country hostage as they had criticised the first volume (APA December 2009)


It is only in countries like Cameroon where dictators create jobs through decrees and not through sound economic policies. One of such decrees was in February 2011 when President Paul Biya ordered the recruitment of 25000 employees into the public service, which is already over staffed according to World Bank (2000). After the decree youths, some as young as 10 years old were coerced to match on the streets and pose for the camera in his support of the ever generous and most democratic leader.

Resisting Change ahead of 2011 elections

Ahead of the 2011 presidential elections to be held this year, Cameroon opposition clamoured for an independent electoral commission that would be in charge of registering voters, carrying out the elections and declaring results. The government went ahead to create a body known as Elections Cameroon (ELECAM) whose members in quasi-totality, are all senior militants of the ruling party. The body was even prohibited from giving electoral trends, a prerogative which the government says it belongs to the Supreme Court.  The Biya’s regime habit of not creating a conducive atmosphere for free and open elections but at the same time permitting a degree of freedom for opposition leaders is consistent with the competitive authoritarian spirit ever since he almost lost the presidency in 1992 but was declared victorious by the Supreme Court. He earlier refused to create an electoral body and instead created the powerless National Election Observatory to supervise the 2002 and 2007 elections.

Political anarchy and inertia has given room for rampant corruption, impunity, suppression of ideas in the media, such as the suspension of Radio and Equinox Television in 2008.  In the same 2008, and precisely between February 25- 28 thousands of Cameroonians took to the street against the rising food prices and the pending government bill tabled to parliament urging for the abolition of the term limits clause in the constitution so as to allow incumbent president seek re-election in 2011. The strike was violently suppressed and over 200 people were killed (ACAT 2008). Though the strike completely paralysed the country for three days, it did not stop the government controlled parliament from changing the constitution in April 2008 and allowing president Paul Biya already in power for  27 years and who is already 76 years of age to stand for elections again. While critics considered it as affront to democracy and to the people of Cameroon, others claimed elected representatives in parliament have the right to change the constitution anytime in so far as it is the will of the majority. But others again counter that the majority in parliament remains illegitimate inasmuch as elections are not conducted in a free and fair manner (Nyamnjoh 2002).


The above is a brief on the kind of system under which Biya has ruled Cameroon. It therefore makes Cameroon difficult to fit squarely into one category. Some call it aristocracy giving that the majority of people who have money in the country can do what they want and virtually go scot-free. It is still the tiny wealthy political and elitist class that virtually rules the country. Others call it an authoritarian regime because several political parties and media still exist and air their views as they liked though they are sometime censored. However their views have no meaning since even if they were to take cases to court, the cases would be thrown out as it has always been the case. Others claim that Cameroon is an emerging democracy and that it is doing well given that people can express themselves as they want. This last group argue that it is the too much freedom, couple with greed that has confused political parties and made them not come up with concrete proposals to canvas votes from the masses (Ngolle 1996).


That said, it must be mentioned that the first five leading political parties in Cameroon have leaders who have been in power for the last two decades. From the ruling party to the opposition it is has been the same thing. This has made some analysts to conclude that the undemocratic way in which affairs are handled within various political parties is a reflection of the general polity. Everything is decreed by so called elected officials. Even in the academic milieu in Cameroon where some critical thinking ought to be allowed, all heads of state universities, rectors, chancellors, vice chancellors, head of faculties, head of departments among others are either appointed by presidential or ministerial decrees. This is the clear manifestation of anti democratic values at best and has adversely affected the system because not the best are appointed since nominations are based on political loyalty or subservience.


African Elections database on its part admits that Cameroon does have a restricted democratic process. Describing the supposed electoral democratisation process since 160, its stipulates

1960-1966: Restricted democratic process

1966-1990: One party state

1990-1992: Multiparty transition

1992-Present: Restricted democratic process.    (African Elections Database-Cameroon)



The polemics of a democratic, authoritarian, competitive authoritarian or a hybrid regime.

The definition of democracy by former US president Abraham Lincoln, as “government of the people, by the people, and for the people" is what best describes a democratic regime. The definition may be broad but it entails what democracy should be. So many countries which parade today as democracies and claiming to teach other lessons on democracies are not themselves democratic though the mainstream media which they control will never admit that.  Most of these governments are nevertheless elected through very free and fair elections hence they represent what can be called a government by the people but however, once the aspiration of the people are not met in terms of economic development, human rights etc and even if the incumbent government is voted out of power in the next elections, it does not make the system democratic. This is because it fails to fulfil the notion government of the people and for the people.  Most are therefore some kind of electoral or representative dictatorship. Some are government by the people for the corporations and of the elites which I call in my own terms capitocracy or corporatocracy.  Capitocracy and corporatocracy is a system where the interest of multinational companies and other businesses are placed ahead of the common good of the citizenry. This is in regard to the provision of the  basic facilities to tizienr like health care, education, affordable housing etc.  In such a system most congress, senates and parliament  had ever do anything that goes against the interests of multitinals and the elite business class The United States of America is a typical example. This does not however make the regime similar or in any way authoritarian, hybrid, totalitarian or competitive-authoritarian regimes given the fact that the electoral process remains extremely free and relative fair rights of people and civil liberties much more respected as opposed to the latter group. Cameroon, is therefore definitely not a democracy nor is it an authoritarian or totalitarian regime and the reason and supporting theories to buttress the points are substantiated below.



What then is a democratic regime?

There are certain basic tenets which any country that calls itself a democracy must meet. Steven and Lucan (2002) outline some of the tenets to be;

I)                   Complete separation of power from the three branches of government which include the executive, the legislative and the judiciary.  Members of the executive must be chosen through free and fair elections and open to all adults of voting age. In this case only prisoners who have lost their right to vote may be legally exempted from participating. This is not the case with Cameroon because neither is there any real separation of power and elections have always been rigged and voters claimed of disenfranchisement.

II)                In a democracy, political and civil rights must be respected. These rights among others include total press freedom, freedom of association, freedom to criticise without fear risking a prison sentence. In Cameroon there are myriad and duplicity of civil right movements and non-governmental organisation thereby making it look as fulfilling this condition. However most of the civil societies are weakened by the government or they are arms of the ruling government. There are several media organs but this does not translate to freedom giving that most media organs have to trade professionalism for survival and bribery to exist because of the unwillingness of the government to help put order in the sector. So the weak media environment is therefore an added advantage to the government.


The UN watch- Freedom House in its freedom index rankings of 2009, 2010 and 2011 insists that Cameroon is not-free at all neither is there press freedom. In its 2010 rankings, Cameroon occupies the 146 position together with Cote D Ivoire, Morocco and Qatar out of a sample of 192 countries with a score of 66. The same 2010 Freedom House rankings which focus on Africa South of the Sahara ranked Cameroon in the 38 position out of 48 and concluded that Cameroon is definitely not free. Furthermore, on the rankings released on January 03, 2011 under the title The Authoritarian Challenge to Democracy, Freedom House rated Cameroon as not free with regards to civil liberties and political rights. Using a scale of 1 being free, 3 partly free and 7 not free, Cameroon scored 6 both on civil liberties and political rights thereby making it not free according to Freedom House. However The Mo Ibrahim Index on governance concerning African countries gave Cameroon a human right score of 54.7/100 which the Cameroon government uses to debunk studies of others like Freedom House.

III)             In a democracy, elected authorities must possess real power to govern in a way that they are not subject to some military, religious or to much executive control. Steven and Lucan do not mention corporate control and I think they might have got in wrong there because, most so called democracies and givers of lessons in democracy are now almost totally controlled by lobbies and corporations. The power of these CEOs and their companies especially in free market economies have gone a long way to undermine the values of democracy and the influence of the multinationals in Africa and national politics  have been nefarious.


In Cameroon for example, there are elected mayors in councils but these mayors cannot properly govern and carry out their duties because of the presence of super mayors called government delegates.. These so called government delegates are appointed by the president and they override and often undermine elected mayors. If Cameroon were to be a real democracy the governours of the ten regions as well as so called divisional and sub divisional officers would be elected. This is not the case and the parliament remains a rubber stamp with elected MPs under the mercy of appointed ministers.


iV) : The rule of law, transparency and the fight against corruption are equally supposed to be the hall marks of any democracy given that is not only a government by the people but above all, a government for the people. Cameroon is far from being a jungle but the rule of law and transparency are also far from being its watch word.  In 1998 and 1999 Transparency international successively ranked Cameroon as the most corrupt nation in the world. This negative publicity pushed Cameroon to making some negligible efforts in combating corruption. This did not still go well in the eyes of Transparency international because 11 years after with the release of the 2011 corruption index, Cameroon was ranked 146 out of 178 countries and scored 2.2/10 a mediocre performance indeed.  Still in that respect The Mo Ibrahim Index of Governance in Africa in its ranking  released in 2008, Cameroon was ranked 25th  position out of 48 countries and had a below average score point of 48.3/100 on the rule of law, transparency and corruption.




Competitive authoritarianism or advanced authoritarianism or Hybrid regime

In view of the above then, Cameroon is certainly not a democracy though President Paul Biya coined the phrase ADVANCED DEMOCRACY in the early 90s to describe the type of regime in Cameroon.

It is true that democracy means different things to different people given that in a real democracy, no monarchy living on taxes payers money should be accepted though it often said these monarchies are ceremonial heads. Against that background democracy should not only be elective-government by the people, but must be a government for the people and of the people. Some burning issues must be put on referendum for the people to decide rather than for the elected representative and their lobbies to dictate. This may concern issues that deal with constitutional modifications or certain economic and political reforms that may deem to have far reaching ramifications on the people.


Many scholars have written volumes on types of regimes and especially mixtures of regimes with some referring to these mixtures as semi-democracy, virtual democracy, hybrid regimes, pseudo-democracy, liberal democracy, transitional democracy, electoral democracy, soft authoritarianism, semi-authoritarianism. Freedom House also came up with free and partly free. (Steven and Lucan 2002:1) It is true that most of the scholars have carried their own studies with a degree of what Steven and Lucan call democratisation bias.

With regard to the first types of democracies, I would argue that they are not democracies because they fail to meet the standards of democracy. It is incomprehensible that a so called democracy be in transition or hybrid for decades.  Some scholars in Cameroon argue that the country has been a democracy or a transitional democracy since Paul Biya took over power and relaxed certain repressive tactics (Ngoh 2004). But that does not make the country a democracy because what has taken place is just a different type of authoritarian rule which falls short of a full scale authoritarian rule but the meets the principles of a competitive authoritarian regime (Steven Lucan 2002).


Distinguishing an authoritarian regime from an advanced authoritarian regime

Generally, competitive authoritarian regimes   play around with democratic values so as to give the impression that they are full scale democracies or that they are making commendable efforts toward democratisation. However, within the four principal areas of democratic contestation as outlined by (Steven and Lucan 2002), there is a clear distinction between authoritarian and competitive authoritarian regime.

i)                    The Field of Elections:  Elections do not exist in authoritarian regime and in cases where election exists, they are undermined, not seriously contested and often, international observers are not welcome. On the contrary, in competitive authoritarian regimes, elections may be free and fair but however, once in power, officials loot with impunity. Various political parties contesting elections never receive even near equal media coverage and public officials may use bribery and corruption to cajol opposition party leaders. This is exactly the case in Cameroon where there are heavy accusations though without proof that the main opposition leader John Fru Ndi has been having secret dealings with the government. Even the accusations have been carried by senior opposition party officials. (The Post 2011, Koings 2004, Le Messager 2002).  In the same light, scholars argue that political governance in Cameroon is aimed at the ritual of holding elections all of which have been heavily rigged or marred by seriously irregularities and blatant disregard for the fundamental principles of democratic electioneering (Nyamnjoh 2002).

Divide and rule colonial tactics are greatly used by competitive authoritarian regimes which masked as democracies or so called emerging democracies.  Opposition parties are divided and this division is encouraged by the government through bribery, coercion. This therefore destroys any possibility of sound political debates and the emergence of forces that can provide a viable alternative to power or a threat to the current system of governance.  Hence the system is founded on constitution without constitutionalism (Mbuagbo and Mbe 2003). It was in this same atmosphere that the opposition in coalition in Cameron disintegrated in 2004 at the final stages of putting up single candidate to challenge Paul Biya in 2004 presidential elections. From outside it could be considered that the opposition was weak which is true but again, the power of bribery and the reward of dissident opposition figures in with government senior managerial or ministerial position played a great role. This was again the case in 1992 when two leading opposition figures Dakolle Daisalla broke ranks and joined the government, since then his party has gone into the oblivion.  It was the same thing with Bello Bouba of UNP and Augustine Kodock of the Union des population du Cameroun- UPC.

To further present a perfect face of   an advanced authoritarian regime, the Cameroon government has always allowed national and international observers although it pays little attentions to observers whose conclusion are not in line with the government. In 2004, the Cameron government paid a group of six US Ex congressmen to come and monitor and validate the elections. The hope of hiring the American ex-congressmen was done with the notion that America represents a democracy and the validation of elections in Cameroon by US former congressman would downplay any cry the opposition (New York Time 2005 and Post Watch 2010).

With the increasing cry of the opposition for the creation of an Independent Electoral Commission, the Cameroon government initially came up with The National Elections Observatory I, and II whose job was highly criticised by national and international election observers. Further calls made the Cameroon government to come up with Elections Cameroon (ELECAM) which is charged with registering and conducting the 2011 elections. However, its members are not only mostly polite bureau members of the ruling CPDM, but also a further government bill adopted in parliament in early 2011 prohibits the body from announcing elections trends. These make Cameroonians wonder if their government is really ready to relinquish power through open, free and fair elections.  These cosmetic electoral changes therefore make Cameroon to fit squarely as a competitive or an advanced authoritarian regime.

However arguing on a paper titled Democratisation and Multipartism in Cameroon; Challenges and prospects ( 1996) Professor Ngolle then lecturer at Cameroon International Relations Institute (IRIC) and currently a government minister asserted that the rule of law is a reality in Cameroon with elected representatives, civil rights respected, majority rule, protection of minority, separation of power, multitude of political parties. According to him, the elected officials take the liberty to make the choice for the people. This may be reason why in 2008 the parliament modified the constitution that gives the president immunity for crimes committed while in office and above all, removed the term limit clause from the constitution. Just as a scholars like Ngolle Ngolle considered it totally a democratic right and duty for the MPs to change the constitution on term limits, others see it as moves towards an even full scale authoritarian rule where the opposition and political  parties exist but are worthless.


However, Konings and Takougang support the assertion of Ngolle when they hold that SDF, the main opposition party in Cameroon and the rest of the parties like in most of Africa are deeply divided in policy and strategy and characterised by opportunism (Konings 2004, Takougang 2002). Konings further adds that most opposition leaders in Cameroon lack a clearly defined message and based their campaigns on simple slogans and populism (Konings 2004).

The lack of a consensus among the opposition to present a single candidate to face Biya has been a measure challenge. Here, I agree that the competitive advanced authoritarian regime in Cameroon has also been supported by competitive authoritarian opposition political parties. All the main opposition parties  and their leaders in Cameroon like John Fru Ndi of the SDF, Adamou Ndam Njoya of CDU, Bello Bello Bouba of UNDP, Frederick Kodock of the UPC have remained unchallenged candidates and leaders of their parties. Some have stayed in position for more than 20 years and seem to see nothing wrong with that. It was in this regard that Cameroon ace artist, civil and political activists who was imprisoned in 2008 said in April, 2011 shortly after his release from prison that the main blockage for democratic transition in Cameroon was not only the absence of an independent electoral body but the refusal of Paul Biya and other octogenarian opposition party leaders to leave the stage for new ideas (The Post April 2011).

Two successive secretary generals of the SDF, Dr Siga Asanga and Professor Tazoacha Asonganyi left the party because of the uncompromising nature of the SDF leadership and the personality cult being built around Chairman Fru Ndi as well as allege secret deals between Fru Ndi and the Paul Biya. These resignations and other high profile resignations have significantly weakened the party and reduced it to an ethnic party. This ethnicisation politics is confirmed when Cameroon is described as the laboratory of ethno-regional politics by Sama Walters (2010). Given the little tolerance of debate within the opposition Nyamnjoh succinctly puts that “Cameroonians have multipartism but the one party logic still exists” Nyamnjoh 2003).

Cameroonian jurist and politician Nsoe Atangana leader of Grand Cameroon Party seem to have presented a more mind boggling democratic platform which unfortunately has receive less media or scholarly attention. He argues that development democracy must not only seek to limit mandates of presidents but also those who hold elective positions such as  members of parliament, mayors, senators, councillors and governours. He argues it is ironical that some western MPs and senators who have been in office for 11, 15, 20 and 25 years and even more in some cases, have the audacity to come to Africa and give lectures on democracy. Nsoe posits that the recurrent “re-election” of the same people as president, MPs, governours; mayors, senators etc have gone a long way in undermining real democracy and creating an elitist class. Scholars on democracy have not given much, if not, any attention on such a proposition ( Ka wa Lai May 2011).


Analysis of elections results in the advanced authoritarianism in Cameroon

Steven and Lucan further argue that regimes where its leaders are elected with a score of over 70 percent are certainly non competitive or may even be considered full scale authoritarian.  Shortly after the 1984 failed coup d’etat, presidential elections were organised in Cameroon in which Paul Biya scored 99.98% as the single contestant (Ngoh 2004).  With the introduction of multi party politics in 1990, Paul Biya scored 39.98% and his immediate challenger John Fru Ndi got 35.97% (African Election database-Cameroon) in 1992 presidential elections which actually were considered to have been won by Fru Ndi (Konings 2004). That is the closest percentage that Cameroon has ever had because subsequent elections  have seen Paul  Biya landing over 70 percent of the votes in the presidential elections 1997 (95.57%) , 2004( 70.92%) (African Elections data base-Cameroon). The case has not been different with Municipal and legislative elections of 1997, 2002, 2007 (see table below) where his party has always taken at least 75 percent of the seats in parliament as well as more than two thirds of the councils. Ngolle Ngolle however argues that such a victory has not been necessarily because of fraud but rather because of the tact of the ruling party and the incompetence of the opposition.





Legislative Elections in Cameroon 1992-2007









































































    Compiled by Aloysius Agendia with data from Africa Elections database and AFP.

What has been behind the unprecedented “success” of the ruling CPDM after government’s attempt to usher in democracy has been principally  the rigging of elections, disenfranchisement of opposition voters, and voter apathy due to the lack of confidence in the electoral process. However, the opposition is partly blamed for their own woe such as party infighting, reliance on ethnic politics etc (Konings 1996, 2004).


II) The Legislature: Another area of contestation where the competitive (advanced) authoritarian indicators of the Cameroon government can be drawn is in the Legislative.  In authoritarian regime the legislative may not exist or they are totally controlled by the ruling party. There is hardly ever any conflict between the legislature and the executive (Steven and Lucan 2002: 5). This description aptly applies in Cameroon where it is a taboo to hear that the National Assembly has rejected a bill tabled by government or seriously modified the said bills. Almost all bills are always passed as presented by the government.  However, I would rather agree with the notion that the Cameroon legislature is rather too weak. It is at least made up of some opposition parties members who sometimes stage walk outs to express their frustration after several fail attempts to call the government majority run assembly to order.

Cameroon government inherited two distinct political, social and cultural systems after they merged in 1961. The legislature in Southern Cameroon which was under British control operated differently from than that of the East Cameroon which was under French control. In actual fact, the two merged as two equal states under a federation and any efforts to thwart the federal nature of the union has been considered authoritarian and undemocratic by scholars. The Southern Cameroon House of Chiefs and the Southern Before reunification in 1961, the Southern Cameroon parliament wielded considerable autonomous powers and greatly influence executive decisions. Such independent structures never were in existed in the East Cameroon and  quest for what was described national unity and political stability under Ahidjo and national integration under Paul Biya made the two successive presidents to systematically stifle Southern Cameroon legislature and bring the legislature under their total control ( Mbuagbo and Mbe 2002 & Piet Konings 1996).  The allocation of legislative seats to various regions remains very arbitrary irrespective of population growth. The legislature remains a tool of the ruling party. In 2008 Cameroon artist Pierre Lambo aka Lapiro de Mbanga was sentenced to jail for composing a song title constipated constitutions. The song was aimed and castigating the legislature who fiddled with constitution of Cameroon to allow president Paul Biya stand re-election. (The Post 2010)


iii)                The Media. Media plurality is aspect of any democracy. Steven and Lucan argue that in authoritarian regimes media are completely state owned. In the case of private ownership, they are heavily censored or systematically repressed. This is not the case for Cameroon because as a competitive and advanced authoritarian regime the plurality has been its focal point to an extent. That explains why there are over 80 radio stations in Cameroon (CRTV 2010), several hundreds of newspapers and tens of television station. The plurality in the media sector in Cameroon however contrasts with the economic agony of the media. This atmosphere is all created by the Cameroon government to keep media organs under its control. Media organs are starved of adverts and government systematically threaten private companies which advertise with opposition private media (Le Messager 2010). However the same government covertly encourages politicians to develop close ties with the press and in the course of this relation a lot of ethical values are compromised. Media organs therefore sing praises to the government or politicians in order to survive. The government has again deliberately delayed to promulgate the convention regarding the payment and treatment of journalists. This is because the government wants the press sector to remain poor and in such poverty they can be easily manipulated by politicians. More so the plethoric media organs in Cameroon are owned by politicians most with direct connection to the ruling party.


One of the most important factors of a free media in a democracy should be free access to information for journalists. This has never been the case in Cameroon and it is common to see journalists arrested and briefly detained on charges of disturbing the peace of civil servant if those journalists insist on getting some information. Some are even told never to access some public buildings. In an interview with the Minister of Communication Isaa Chiroma Bakary on the occasion of 2011 World Media Freedom Day he argued that private journalists cannot accompany the head of states in his multiple visits out of the country because of the fact that the private media criticises the president too much.


Some scholars argue that the state of Cameroon has used the media as willing or unwilling allies to asphyxiate the civil society and political developments. For over three decades the Cameroon government has therefore consolidated its supremacy, through maximising personal powers and centralising the government (Nyamnjoh, Wete & Fonchingong 1996: 47, Bayart 1985:141).  The public media in Cameroon since independence till today has been an integral part of the civil service and considered as the mouthpiece of the government. According to Nyamnjoh et al, the government of Cameroon has made sure the public media is considered as an integral part o government and ruling party administration than a separate institution guided by the canons of ethics and professionalism (Nyamnjoh et al 1996: 49).  The scholars further argue that the general environment under which the press operates in Cameroon is very repressive through draconian press laws and this has prevented journalists of the private press from behaving differently from that that of the government.

Out of the over 80 radio stations and tens of television stations, only 3 have licences and the rest operate under what the government calls administrative tolerance. This is a clause that allows private media to operate without meeting up the requirement among which is the deposit of FCFA 50.000.000frs approximately 112000 US dollars in the government treasury. The sum is too much for private media organs to pay and the government can then use its administrative tolerance clause to order a radio to shot down or suspend it on grounds that it is operating illegally. This was the case in 2008 with Equinox radio and television, a private media organ with very high audience which was so much engaged in political education and awakening of Cameroonians. The Cameroon government closed it ahead of the modification of the constitution to change term limit clause on mandates. The suspension has since been lifted but the media now operates with a lot of caution and fear. This and a lot more are definitely not grounds for a democracy but rather advanced authoritarianism.

iv)                The judiciary: The judiciary is one of the key arms of a democracy. In any case, where the judiciary is not independent, the values of democracy are comprised. The rule of or judicial decisions must not be based on race, party affiliation, sentiment, religion, ethnicity etc. This again put to question  the values of the so called democracy as a whole because with increase globalisation and movement of people to settle in different  areas, several judicial decisions of so  called democracies have  not be based or the rule of law. In the case where they have been based on the rule of law, they are selective. In authoritarian regimes there is almost no distinction between the executive and judiciary. At times, the executive tries to stifle the judiciary through secret killings and impeachment.  In a competitive and advanced authoritarian regime like the case of Cameroon the judiciary is presented as free but judges face serious back door intimidation, extortion and bribery. Some are punished through punitive transfers and other sent on early retirement.


The ongoing fight against corruption in Cameroon dubbed Operation Hawk which began since 2000 has been heavily criticised by democracy and human right activists. They argue that inasmuch as most of the former senior government and ruling party officials arrested may have been involved in corruption, the government is more concerned with targeting political rivals.  In a rare interview with French television channel France 24 in 2006, (President Paul Biya, who seldom grants interviews to the public or private media in Cameroon.  Two interviews in 10 years may be too much) he asserted that if he were to follow the grievances of Cameroonians, almost everybody would be arrested and sent to prison. The declaration of the Supreme Court leader in 1992 that his hands were tied while reading the results of the 1992 presidential elections in Cameroon is proof of the fact that the judiciary remains heavily remote controlled.



A government by the people is not certainly a democracy. It must be a government for the people and of the people.  Irrespective of the form, be it democratic or not, a government must serve the interest of the people. That has not really been the case in Cameroon because the government was seemingly forced in 1990s through internal, external and world bank pressure not only to liberalise the political sector but also the economic sector (Derrick1992). The liberalised economic sector in Cameroon has paradoxically brought more poverty with free market driven policies and the focus of the government for high earning export revenue to settle foreign debts (Mbaku &Takougang 2004). With the increase in poverty the citizenry are easily manipulated hence a defeat of democracy itself. Konings (1996) argues that the experience in Cameroon as elsewhere in Africa suggests that there is no automatic linkage between political and economic liberalisation (1996:263). This is the false impression that so called western democracies have been making people to believe.  Political freedom in poverty is certainly not democracy and riches in political authoritarianism itself are not democracy. Hence, the interpretation of democracy is different to different people. Mbuagbo and Mbe (2002::8) argue that the concept of democratisation and social order borrowed from political doctrines drawn from and by neo-liberal economic policies and politicians with the hope of promoting civil society and the private sector (World Bank) have woefully failed not only because such policies are dubious but also because of assumptions which do not take into consideration social, historical and above all cultural context of the society. This has been the case with Cameroon. Noam Chomsky concludes by positing that the assigned role of Africa in the world economic ( I add political) order is restricted to policing their working  class and superfluous population  while transnational and multinationals corporation to gain free access to their resources ( Noam Chomsky 1991). Breton Woods institutions such as the IMF and world Bank which were originally created to help revamp international trade have transformed themselves into channels through which elites are integrated into the government of the poor and weak states of Africa, Middle East, Latin America into a global economy control by huge transnational companies (Danaher 1994:2, Bernstein & Boughton 1994) Cameroon has suffered through these institutions structural adjustment programs  which have made Cameroonians poor and easily manipulated by the authoritarian regime. The institution has become a too strong player in the political and economic arena (Mbaku and Takougang 2004:399).

President Paul Biya has a record bloody crackdown of any political or civil agitation. The only difference between his method and that of his predecessor is that his is less bloody. Such crackdowns have seriously undermined democratic agitations among youths especially students. In 1991, a strike of university students was brutally cracked down during which over 8 students were reported dead. (Cameroon Post April 1991) A few years later in was in the University of Buea.  In 2005, 2006 and 2007, University of Buea students went on strike against the poor conditions of studies. Just as an advanced authoritarian regime would do, the successive strikes were violently cracked down and over 10 students were killed in the process. Those who killed the students remain free. The strike extended to other universities in the country and the reaction of the state was to infiltrate students unions and urge other students to stage counter strikes. These record repressions have created a reign of fear among students.


In line therefore with the literature, I conclude that Cameroon is a competitive or advanced authoritarian regime which merely falls short of being a full scale authoritarian regime. However, in the same light, those who give lessons on democracy are not themselves democratic because democracy must not end at being a government by the people. I therefore think it is high time national sovereignty is respected and nation-states allowed to conduct their business in the way they want. The end result should be having a government for the people not bogus democracies imposed from outside. It is therefore undemocratic and a gross human right violation for some countries to use their military and economic prowess to reign sanctions or attack sovereign states under the bogus claim of promoting democracy or  protecting civil  liberties. Democracy cannot be imposed on people. Such aggressions have only increased hatred in invaded countries and made it more authoritarian, volatile and easy for economic exploitation by invading forces.

I would further argue that the crafty nature of the Cameroon government and its skills at promoting political clientele and above all its refusal to accept and provide a level playing field in the political arena has been mostly responsible for the stalled democratisation process. Such strategies by the government rather enhanced a smooth transition from a totalitarian rule in the pre 1990 to an advanced authoritarian rule which we have now.


However blaming everything on the government may not be appropriate given the fact that the  promotion of ethnic politics, opportunism, corruption, growing intolerance in the opposition parties as well as the intermittent accusations of overt and covert acts of connivance of some opposition parties with the ruling government  and especially those levied on the frontline opposition party the SDF has disillusioned and destroyed the hopes of Cameroonians who thought that of a Westminster style of democracy with the euphoria under which the SDF was received in 1990. Furthermore, the disintegrated civil society, the double standard of  western powers in their rhetoric in “promoting democracy” as well as the poverty aggravating nature of Breton Woods policies have their own quota of blame. Beyart (1989), Takougang (1996), Nyamnjoh, Wete and Forchingong (1996), D, Eyoh (1998) Nyamnjoh (2002), Konings (1996), Konings (2004). Mbaku and Takougang (2004), Mbuagbo and Mbe (2002), Ngoh (2004) Sama (2010). Therefore the problems and the solutions of the envied democratisation process are multidimensional. A reversal of the shortcomings above will solve the problem. The main obstacle is the lack of will.



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Dickson Eyoh (1998) Through the Prism of a Local Tragedy: Political Liberalisation, Regionalism and Elite Struggles for Power in Cameroon.

Francis Nyamnjoh (1996): Mass media and Democratisation in Cameroon, Yaoundé. Federich Ebert Foundation.

Francis Nyamnjoh (2002): Cameroon: Over twelve years of cosmetic democracy. News from Nordic Africa Institute No 3 October 5-8

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Newspapers consulted online

All Africa (Cameroon Tribune)

Cameroon Post (Scribbles from the Den)

Ka wa Lai ( May 2011) (

Le Jour (August 2010),27138,7,universite-d-etat-une-motion-de-remerciement-a-paul-biya-divise-les-enseignants.html

Le Jour Newspaper (2011)

Cameroon online (Cameroon Tribune April, 2011)

Freedom House 2009 Report

Freedom House 2010 Report

Freedom House 2010 Report

Ibrahim Index of African Governance 2008


Post Watch Magazine

The Post (Mountain Up station)

Transparency International 2010 Report



AGENDIA ALOYSIUS. Cameroon; 1966-2011: From a Totalitarian to a Competitive (Advanced) Authoritarian Regime Masked as a “Democracy” November 2011.






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