The Essence of Good Governance in Maintaining Sustainable Peace and Security in Cameroon
Author: Joseph Agbor Effim
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 01/23/2012
Cameroon is considered an island of peace in a sea of turbulence in the Central African Region. This is because all its neighbouring countries have been involved in war or civil strife in one way or the other safe Cameroon that has stood aloof from such degenerating feats of conflicts. However, the fact that there is absence of war in Cameroon does not mean that the country is a haven of peace. Cameroon has been grasped by a cold war, psychological warfare and strikes, especially by the university students, and sometimes civil unrest that has been suppressed with ruthlessness and abuse of human rights. This has been due to the fact that the stakeholders do not yet know the essence of good governance in conflict management and resolution. Until consultations and negotiation are respected at the genesis of every misunderstanding, effective resolution will never be harnessed in Cameroon, and peace and security will be mortgaged.
During the 1990s, Cameroon faced an acute economic crisis and the escalation of a long standing constitutional dispute between Anglophones in the southwest and the Francophone majority, culminating in calls for separation (Bamber, 2011). When these issues arose, the government did not seek to redress the situation by involving the parties involved on the drawing board. Instead it sought to downplay the importance of the dispute and eventually resorted to repression of dissenting groups. Articles 5 and 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights state that:
· No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
· No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
These articles were all violated as a means to resolve the conflict and the people were refused their rights to expression.
In 2006 and 2007, the students of the University of Buea went on a rampage after the university authorities refused to listen to or respond to their complaints. When these problems erupted, the university authorities and those of the Ministry of Higher Education began groping for a solution. The consequences of these neglects were enormous: there were major replacements at the helm of the university administration, loss of property and lives (Fonchingong & Gamandze, 2009). The university administration and the government authorities were found wanting as they struggled to respond. As (Fonchingong & Gamandze, 2009) put it:
Consequently, targets were struck (whether rightly or wrongly) and some citizens of the community either bore the brunt or reaped from the misfortunes of others.
All these came as a result of authorities taking decisions without consulting other parties involved in the running of the university. The effects of this experience in bad governance ensued that many were marginalised or became scapegoats – something that ought to have been prevented at the start (Konings, 2009).
In 2008, barely a year or so after the student uprising in the University of Buea, there was a series of nationwide strikes in the country, beginning with a strike by the urban transport union representing bus, taxi, motor-taxi and lorry drivers. The union was angered over the rise in fuel prices and the poor working conditions in Cameroon (IRIN, 2008). Further political turmoil had been caused by President Paul Biya‘s announcement that he wanted the constitution to be amended to remove term limits; without such an amendment, he would have to leave office at the end of his term in 2011. Large groups of youths, whom the opposition Social Democratic Front (SDF) political party and the government blame one another for organising, took to the streets of Douala, Yaoundé, Bamenda, and other major cities, looting and vandalising property. The government sent in troops to crack down on the unrest, and protesters and troops alike were killed.
The government again failed when it did not take multiple stakeholders, such as the union of transporter workerss into consideration when it was about to take the decision of increasing the fuel prices. This had just to aggravate the other problems that were suppressed in the people for a long time. As it is said that the last straw breaks the Carmel’s back, these let loose the anger that had been boiling in the Cameroonians. If the people had been consulted or involved in any decision that was to be taken for their wellbeing, things ought not to have escalated in that dimension.
The Essence of Good Governance
Governance can be defined as “the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented)” (UNESCAP, 2012), and applied in several contexts such as corporate governance, international governance, national governance, and local governance. Good governance focuses on the formal and informal actors involved in decision-making and implementing the decisions made and the formal and informal structures that have been set in place to arrive at and implement the decision in a way that strengthens ligitimacy, as well as peace and security. If the government of Cameroon could have taken this concept practicable it could have prevented these series of conflicts.
Social responsibility is a prerequisite to good governance. This means that governments, institutions, people and organisations must behave ethically and with sensitivity toward social, cultural, economic, and environmental issues. In this light, good administrators should be ethically responsible in serving the institutions that they are serving with a human face and patriotism. As George Bernard Shaw cited in What is Social Responsibility says:
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live.
It is from this precept that the seeds of governance are sown for a better foundation of mature democracy. If institutions in Cameroon could look at the people that they administer from this perspective, they will be able to avert any misunderstanding that may destabilise the sustainable peace and security that is earnestly needed in Cameroon.
The successful maintenance of peace, security and sustainable development in every society depends on the involvement of both men and women in decision making. Participation could be either direct or through legitimate intermediate institutions or representatives. It is important to point out that representative democracy does not necessarily mean that the concerns of the most vulnerable in society will be taken into consideration in decision making. Participation needs to be informed and organized. This means freedom of association and expression on the one hand, and an organized civil society on the other hand. These are necessary ingredients that most institutions in Cameroon, especially during this period of democratisation, are still wanting in.
The Rule of Law
Good and effective governance entails a fair legal structure that are put in place and enforced with fairness. It also requires an entirely full protection of human rights (UNESCAP 2012). From the perspective of the numerous uprisings and strikes that have taken place in Cameroon, the legal framework has been fairly on the side of the administration. The law believes that the administration is always right and that is why the perpetrators of these strikes and protests have always gone unpunished. Most often they are promoted to better administrative positions.
As a result of this the full protection of human rights, particularly those of the minorities and the oppressed is not respected. According to the US State Department (2009):
During the February 2008 riots, security forces arrested 1,671 persons around the country according to March 2008 figures released by the Ministry of Justice (see section 2.b.). NGOs claimed the number was higher and reported that security forces arrested scores of onlookers not directly involved in demonstrations or rioting. More than 500 bystanders, who were previously detained, have since been released. However, approximately 220 people were still detained at year’s end because their prison terms exceeded the presidential amnesty.
These incidences clearly demonstrate that the government administration shelves the issue of human rights when events like these ones occur. Furthermore, the impartial enforcement of laws, which is a prerequisite of an independent judiciary, is still very remote in Cameroon.
According to UNESCAP (2012), transparency means that decisions taken and their enforcement are done in a manner that follows rules and regulations. It also means that information is freely available and directly accessible to those who will be affected by such decisions and their enforcement. This ideal situation is essential in good governance but is still a dream in Cameroon. The manner in which information is disseminated in Cameroon is highly bureaucratic and, most often, the government gives permission before any information is released. Moreover, before the information gets to the audience, it is often thwarted to meet up with the whims and caprices of the administration. Unfortunately, the information from the government media is generally believed to be most relevant by the citizenry, and any contradictory information is considered defamatory (Alobwede, 2006).
UNESCAP (2012) believes that “good governance requires that institutions and processes try to serve all stakeholders within a reasonable timeframe”. Responsiveness is also important to enhance peace and security in all sectors in Cameroon and to resolve conflicts that may arise in the community before they escalate. Responsiveness should be through open dialogue rather than the use of brute force and repression. The Cameroon government took the opposite approach during the 2008 uprising and decided to ban street protests in the Littoral Province (Takwa, 2008). As the situation grew worse in terms of property lost, injuries, and deaths, President Biya “reduced the cost of fuel, raised salaries of civil servants and military personnel, reduced the duties paid on cement, and suspended duties on essential goods such as cooking oil, fish, and rice” (Takwa, 2008).
From this dimension one will notice the slowness and the unorthodox ways in which the government of the country managed the conflict that was at hand. It could only come to the mediating table when the situation was already out of hand and casualties had been inflicted. In a sense, they used the right method in conflict resolution, but only as a last resort.
There are several actors and as many view points in any given society. Good governance requires mediation of these different interests to reach a broad consensus on what is in the best interest of the whole community and how this can be achieved. It also requires a broad and long-term perspective on what is needed for sustainable human development and how to achieve the goals of such development. This can only result from dialogue and communication based on mutual respect.
Equity and inclusiveness
A community’s well being is harnessed on ensuring that all its members feel that they are stakeholders in the decision making and participate actively and fully in the implementation of the decisions that they have made (UNESCAP 2012). From that premise, if the decision is to make or mar the community, no one then has a cause for complaint. This initiative is wanting in most institutions in Cameroon. As I have mentioned above, if the decision of increasing fuel prices in 2008 was taken in consultation of the representatives of drivers’ union, they would not have staged a strike action.
From the above analysis we can conclude that the absence of good governance, which is admittedly difficult to achieve fully, has been at the root of recent instability and insecurity in Cameroon. If Cameroonian society could make some strides towards achieving good governance in its institutions, it will begin to resolve some of the misunderstanding between the institutions and the public. This will consequently contribute to sustainable peace, security, national cohesion, and development.
Bio: Joseph Agbor Effim, Esq. LLB (Buea); BL (Sierra Leone); Hon. Master and Registrar of the High Court Judiciary of the Gambia – Banjul.