Cameroon rejects election monitors


Mark Huband in Yaoundé

The Guardian, 10 October 1992


THREE foreign observers planning to oversee Cameroon’s first multiparty presidential election were refused entry to the country on Thursday, three days before a poll which few diplomats and no anti-government parties believe will be conducted fairly.

The refusal to admit the observers, an American and two Beninois, coincides with newspaper reports that the Cameroonian government has now decided to prevent all but a few foreign journalists entering the country to report on the election.

Internal tensions within Cameroon have led to the establishment of a highly repressive regime under President Paul Biya. His fear of instability and an almost successful coup attempt against him in 1981 have turned the election into a crucial test of how far political reform in Africa has developed as a way of creating alternatives autocracy without resulting in further instability.

The difficulty of unifying more than 200 tribes within a population of 7.6 million without encouraging tribally-based political parties, coupled with a split between northern Muslims and southern Christians, is compounded by the division of Cameroon along linguistic lines.

While 80 per cent of Cameroonians are French-speakers, 20 per cent are English-speakers who have long been excluded from senior posts in government, business and the armed forces.

While there are over 70 registered parties, most of them support one of seven presidential candidates.

President Biya, who came to power under the one-party system in 1982, has support from the numerous small parties which allow his ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement to control the  national assembly. But in elections in March the CPDM failed to win an absolute majority and was forced into a coalition.

The main opposition candidate, the English-speaking Social Democratic Front leader, John Fru Ndi, had led a boycott of the March election after manipulation of the voters’ register in the government’s favour.

Now the SDF is faced with having failed to register’ many of its supporters who were left of the official lists due to the boycott, although it is still expected to attract up to 30 per cent of the vote.

However the boycott allowed the growth of a second important opposition party, the northern, Muslim-dominated National Union for Democracy and Progress, led by Bouba Bello.

Opposition non-registration, which has led to up to 1.5 million people being disenfranchised, is seen as a reason for the government calling an October election. Under the constitution voters can only be registered between January and March of any year. The SDF boycott means, the government is at an advantage, which it has done nothing to remedy to ensure a fair contest.

Government officials have also been televised handing out overdue payments to farmers for their produce. Diplomatic sources said yesterday that the money being used in this way comes from the European Community Stabex fund, the main source of development finance provided by the EC.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited