One-Party Government and Political Development in Cameroon
Cameroon is a one-party dominant state with the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement in power. Opposition parties are allowed but are widely considered to have no real chance of gaining power.
THE ONE-PARTY POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT
THE POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT of East Cameroun, formerly a trust territory under French rule, has followed an unusual course. Its national movement, the Union des Populations du Cameroun (UPC).
In contrast to those in most English-speaking and some French-speaking African countries failed to reap the fruits of its struggle for independence and was forced into illegality by the clumsiness and intransigence of the colonial administration.
Through the latter’s maneuvering, the moderates were able to seize power: following M. Mbida in 1957, M. Ahidjo became prime minister in February 1958.
The UPC, driven underground from 1955 onwards, carried on guerrilla opposition against what it regarded as puppet regimes; nor did its attitude change when in January 1960 Paris handed over power to M. Ahidjo at independence.
Yet the part played by the UPC was substantial: its pressure forced the moderates to take over and progressively put into effect the nationalist program: independence, the reunification of French and British Cameroun, and subsequently the establishment of a unitary state.
British trust territory
Meanwhile the British trust territory of West Cameroun, following the lead of Mr. John Foncha, in 1961 rejected incorporation in Nigeria and opted for union with East Cameroun within the framework of a federal republic.
From that time to 1972, Cameroun political life has resolved itself into two main and closely linked themes: the maximization of the power of M. Ahidjo, the president of the republic, and the growing centralization of government.
The period From 1961
From 1961 to 1966 M Ahidjo’s Union Camerounaise (UC) in East Cameroun (where multi-partyism ceased to exist after 1962), and Mr. Foncha’s Kamerun National Democratic Party (KNDP) in Western Cameroun worked in collaboration at the federal level.
After much political maneuvering and bargaining, the two leading parties decided to merge in the Union Nationale Camerounaise (UNC), sweeping away in the process such opposition as remained. The single party—or in official parlance the ‘united’ party—was born.
It should be appreciated that in East Cameroun the UNC is essentially simply the continuation of the old UC party; the analyses that follow the UNC’s machinery and functions hold generally true for both.
Events leading up to 1972 unitary system
In fact, it is only in West Cameroun that there has been a real break. Between 1968 and 1970 the extension of federal legislation, and the discarding of Mr. Foncha and his colleagues as too ‘particularist’ in favor of the ‘federalist’ Mr. Mouna Tandeng; in 1971 the formation of a single central trade union the organization, Union National des Travailles Camerounaise (UNTC).
These were the chief stages leading up to the establishment in 1972 of a unitary state by way of a referendum. Is this indeed the apotheosis of M. Ahidjo’s regime, with its much-vaunted outstanding degree of stability?
It is perhaps worth looking beneath the surface appearance of overwhelming political support for the regime to examine its roots, to take a look at the hidden mass of the iceberg.
Jean-Francois Bayart has been working for three years on a doctoral thesis on the Cameroun political system, at the Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques in Paris.
He has written articles on various aspects of Cameroun politics in the Revue Francaise de Science Politique and in the Revue Frartfmse d’Etudes Politiques Afrkaines.
The editors of African Affairs, having—rashly—undertaken the task of translation, must accept responsibility for any shortcomings in the rendering of this article. These have at least been reduced by the generous help of several Francophone Africanist colleagues.