Dual power bid in Cameroon



 

Mark Huband in Nairobi

The Guardian, 7 April 1993

 

OPPOSITION leaders in Cameroon intensified pressure on the government of President Paul Biya to introduce radical reforms by announcing yesterday that they plan to hold a national conference with powers to take over the running of the country.

The announcement comes two days after representatives of the country’s English-speaking minority issued their first joint declaration demanding a return to the federal system of government which recognised the separate traditions of French- and English-speaking Cameroon when the two colonies were joined at independence in 1961.

The government announced on March 23 that it will hold a national debate on constitutional reform by the end of May. The debate was forced on the Biya administration by domestic and foreign outrage at the results of the country’s first ever multi-party election, held on October 11, which were condemned as having been rigged by the government.

Yesterday’s announcement of a national conference by John Fru Ndi, leader of the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Front (SDF), marked the expiry of an SDF ultimatum demanding that decisions made during the constitutional talks be submitted to a referendum.

Mr Fru Ndi said yesterday that this refusal stemmed from the government’s desire to find an “excuse to consolidate its electoral coup d’etat through the physical elimination of opposition figures, the disbanding of genuine opposition movements and the derailing of the democratisation process”.

The SDF plan for a national conference aims to wrest control of the reform process from the government. The move comes amid continued arrests and imprisonment of opposition figures.

Cameroon’s French-speaking majority controls state institutions and the centres of power and has done little to ensure the equal development of the country’s anglophone regions.

English-speakers, 20 per cent of the population, regard the unification of the two separate parts of the federation in 1972 as having resulted in francophone domination.

While the October election remains the clearest area of contention, the increasingly vociferous demands for the autonomy of English-speaking Cameroon, which was not an important election issue, have revealed the extent of anglophone disappointment with the democratisation process.

 

© Guardian Newspapers Limited