Cameroon: Lessons in Human Rights and Good Governance
My name is Joe Groff and I am a 3L at Pepperdine University's School of Law. I am currently in the African country of Cameroon working with a human rights and democracy organization called the Global Network for Good Governance (GNGG). We are based in the seaside town of Limbe in the English-speaking South West Province. I wanted to take this opportunity to share some basic information about Cameroonand the reasons why I chose to come and volunteer for five weeks.
Cameroon was initially colonized by the Germans in the late 19th century, but was almost immediately conceded to the Western powers at the end of the first World War. The majority of the country became a French colony, while the two provinces that form Southern Cameroons fell under a British protectorate. They remained this way until 1960 when the Republic of Cameroon declared independence from France, followed shortly thereafter by Southern Cameroons in 1961 when the two united and federated under the name the United Republic of Cameroon. The government has since been transformed into a unitary democracy, dominated by one political party, the predominately Francophone, Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM), led by President Paul Biya, who has held the post for the last 27 years.
But Cameroon is hardly democratic. Pres. Biya has virtually full control of every organ of the state, including the Election Commission (ELECAM). Politics are dominated by the Francophone population to the exclusion of the Muslim North and the Anglophone NW and SW provinces. Corruption is rife throughout every level of government and government owned businesses, of which there are plenty. Bribery is a fact of life here if you want anything that requires government documentation to get done.
Top Five Fun Facts about Cameroonian government:
1) Pres. Biya spends the majority of the year outside of Cameroon (200-250 days),
primarily in France. So much so, that the French one year warned him that if he didn't
go back within the week that he was going to constitutionally lose the presidency.
2) Biya has the discretion to determine how many members of Parliament will represent
certain areas of the country. His home region of about 330,000 people is represented
by 11 members of Parliament. The entire Anglophone South West Province, population
3.4m, has 9 members. For those of you doing the math, that is 10x as many people
and 2 less representatives.
3) To change the Cameroon Constitution to allow him to run for another 7-year term of office in 2011, he merely had to have Parliamentary approval. Those would be the same folks that he gerrymandered into office.
4) Election officials have changed the results of elections right in front of opposition candidates.
5) Political opponents are jailed on a regular basis, particularly on the day of a planned protest.
I came across GNGG's website and was interested in their dual goals of addressing human rights and democratic reform. They have put together a terrific Human Rights and Democracy Training Manual implemented at a number of Secondary and High Schools (approx. ages 11-18). I proposed as a complement to that education program that I would come and try to help them establish a Student Government Program for these same children. With corruption as systemic and widespread as it is here, I believe the best chance for change is to teach young people how to reject these practices through education and practice. This program will hopefully inspire a new generation of leaders, active citizens who care about transparency and accountability. We hope to provide them with a modest budget in order for them to come to a consensus and conduct a community service project. In addition they will be encouraged to organize student volunteer days and draft resolutions expressing their opinions and concerns regarding public issues and forwarding them on to their public officials.
Five weeks is such a short time to try to address such a large problem, but we hope to build a sustainable program that can be carried on by the GNGG's Youth Empowerment Officer. To Change the World, You Start with One Step.
- Joe Groff