On January 1, 2010, Cameroon was first in the list of the 15 French-speaking African states that during the year would mark the 50th anniversary of their independence. In his New Year’s speech, President Paul Biya emphasized the importance of nation building and consolidation after independence. He cited the national football team The Invincible Lions as a good example of Cameroon’s success in creating national unity and national pride.
On the economic and political level, the anniversary year began a new phase, where development and power consolidation are central. A number of significant development projects and an intensified fight against corruption contribute to optimism and can give prospects for increased economic growth. Political life is characterized by preparation for the 2011 presidential election, which makes the political climate unstable.
Presidential Election 2011
President Biya, who has been in power since 1982, made a constitutional amendment in 2008 that extended the president’s term and allowed him to once again be president of the Rassemblement démocratique du peuple camerounais (RDPC). The opposition is broken and more than 180 political parties are registered. However, less than 10 parties have any significant support, and only five are represented in the National Assembly. The RDPC has an overwhelming majority, with 140 out of 180 seats.
The largest opposition party, the Social Democratic Front (SDF), which has its constituency in the English-speaking provinces and in the big cities, has 14 seats. The second largest opposition party is the Union démocratique du Cameroon (UDC), led by Adamou Ndam Njoya. The other key opposition parties include the country’s oldest political group, the Union of Population of Cameroon (UPC), and the Union National pour la democratie et le progrès (UNDP). The opposition has put forward a manifesto with a number of demands to ensure a free, fair and democratic presidential election. One of the requirements is the replacement of the members of Elections Cameroon(ELECAM), an electoral commission that organizes and monitors the country’s elections. At the founding of ELECAM in 2008, the members were appointed by the president, the majority of whom were affiliated with the RDPC.
Cameroon’s complex ethnic and religious diversity, as well as the English-language and French-language divisions, have made it difficult to gather the opposition around a joint presidential candidate. John Fru Ndi, leader of the SDF and Biya’s main political challenger through 20 years, is politically weakened. The party had its largest turnout in the 1990s and has since lost voters. Internal division, a murder case in which Ms. Ndi, among others, was accused of being involved, as well as the suspicion that the party leader had failed, has weakened Biya’s main opponents.
Mboua Massock, leader of a small opposition party, The New African Nationalist Dynamic (NODYA), launched his presidential candidacy in early 2009. He has been arrested several times during his electoral preparatory march across the country. Massock’s party does not have much support, but he was one of the initiators of the action villes-mortes (“dead cities”), a general strike that paralyzed the country for several months in 1991. The authorities are therefore closely following him during the migration through the country’s 10 provinces.
Operation Perching Shouts
Following pressure from financial institutions, the government launched a new offensive against corruption in 2004. The anti-corruption campaign, called “Operation Spurvehauk”, has since gone on several stages with arrests of prominent politicians and senior public servants. Over a hundred people have been locked and beaten, suspected of public finances. The few who have been convicted have received severe penalties. At the end of 2009, Paul Biya announced that his aim was to eradicate all corruption and followed up with further arrests in the New Year. This time, two former ministers, the director-general of the state-owned company operating the international airports, Aéroports du Cameroun (ADO), as well as some thirty collaborators were accused of corruption and imprisonment.
The operation has been popular in Cameroon, which has widespread corruption and is number 146 out of 180 on Transparency International’s corruption list. However, critical voices suspect President Biya for pulling the strings behind the campaign. It is alleged that Biya is using the hunt for corrupt to get rid of political challengers. Both the constitutional amendments that make it possible for Biya to stand for election, Operation Spurvehauk and the replacement of government members are perceived as purposeful, electoral preparatory measures.
Cameroon has seen steady economic growth since 2005. High oil prices and international companies’ significant investments in mining contributed to the growth. However, the financial crisis in 2008 led to a dramatic reassessment of investment risk and to increased prices for a number of basic commodities. Oil export revenues shrank, making it difficult for mining companies to get credit. As a result of the economic crisis, Cameroon has had to raise new loans in the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Better framework conditions with interest-free exemption in 2011 will make the loans manageable.
Forests are the country’s second largest export item after oil. Timber production is dominated by large foreign companies, despite attempts to incorporate Cameroonian companies. Forestry, agriculture and fishing account for just under a quarter of Cameroon’s gross domestic product. Small farmers dominate agriculture, except in rubber and palm oil production. Food production includes maize, millet, sorghum and rice. The most important export agricultural products are cocoa, coffee, palm oil, bananas and sugar. Cocoa production has had good times as a result of higher international prices. Despite a varied range of agricultural resources and a high degree of self-sufficiency, Cameroon was forced to import maize after the financial crisis.
Cameroon’s economic development is hampered by inadequate infrastructure, corruption and a decline in oil production. However, a number of new, larger development projects are planned to contribute to economic growth. The development of power stations to increase the country’s electricity production, as well as the development of rail, road networks and dams, are expected to contribute to economic growth.
Great harbor and urbanization in Kribi
The most prestigious of the development projects is implemented in Kribi, the coastal town which is known for its beautiful white beaches and is one of Cameroon’s most important tourist cities. The resort is also the country’s second largest port city, and since 2003 has been the terminal for the oil pipeline that transports oil extracted in Chad to the coast of Cameroon. The city is now facing a new development phase with the construction of a deepwater port. The port project will make the city a core area for industrialization and trade. The expansion is expected to create 20,000 new jobs and probably as many indirect jobs. In addition, the area will be further urbanized with an estimated growth of 100,000 inhabitants. The cost framework for the port itself is estimated at 457 million euros, which includes the establishment of an almost three kilometer long protective ditch. The development is expected to lead to increased utilization of bauxite, iron, cobalt and nickel. With major port in Kribi, goods transport will increase between Cameroon and the two neighboring countries of the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Freedom of speech and human rights
Journalists and human rights defenders who speak critically to the authorities are at risk of censorship, harassment, arrests, imprisonment and torture. Gay practices are banned in Cameroon, and gays are at risk of harassment and imprisonment.
Area: 475 442 km2 (23rd largest)
Population: 19 million
Population density per km2: 40
Urban population: 56 percent
Largest city: Douala – 1.9 million
GDP per capita: USD 1218
Economic growth: 3.5 percent
HDI Position: 153