Public and Private Press in Cameroon

III. Cameroon today -- May 1991

"Strange country, Cameroon! Turbulently intellectual, a wealth of ideas on one side and a political monolith on the other." -Axel Boiro, Voix d'Afrique Magazine [5]
This set of new rights, especially that of multi-party politics, did not calm opposition demands for change. Instead the new freedoms opened the field of political activity and debate just enough so that the remaining restrictions and inequalities in the system were felt even more strongly. A continuing economic crisis also heated the political climate. The government blamed this crisis on the international recession, while the opposition blamed the government's financial management. Multi-party politics, which were greeted enthusiastically when first legalized, proved problematic in their implementation. Twenty-one parties had been legalized as of May, ranging from some of Ahidjo's old friends to new socialist movements. These parties had trouble getting their message across to the people due to the state/CPDM monopoly on radio and television, and found their only real outlet in the private press.

The Biya administration has tried to maintain its control over the pace and manner of changes taking place, including all aspects of the first multi-party elections. The opposition parties, which doubt the legitimacy of the government's intentions, continue to demand a national conference in order to rewrite the constitution and conduct an open debate on the course of Cameroon's future. The government's response has been that the country's situation is not grave enough to merit a national conference, and that Cameroon can not afford the time and money for such a meeting. It is also unclear what form such a conference would take, who would be its leader, and what it would mean for the Biya regime. On April 25 Biya revived the position of Prime Minister and appointed Sadou Hayatou to the post, whose role thus far has been to meet with any group or person who has problems with the current situation, including political party heads, religious leaders, and journalists of the private press. But strikes, violent demonstrations, military crackdowns, and opposition ultimatums have increased tension to the breaking point.

This tension also threatens to increase the divisions in the country that have caused 'national unity' to be one of the constant themes of government propaganda. Besides the problem of the dissatisfied anglophone minority in the West, tribalism remains a major concern. Over 200 different ethnic groups exist in Cameroon, and political appointments are made not on the basis of qualifications as much as by an unofficial system of tribal quotas. No tribe is a majority but two have great influence on the current situation. The first is the Beti people, the President's tribe and thus the tribe of many high-ranking officials. They are often accused of stealing public funds and enjoying other benefits of their privileged position. The second is the Bamiléké, a highly aggressive people from the West that has succeeded remarkably well in commercial enterprises, provoking the jealousy and wrath of other tribes. Civil disturbances and a host of other problems are often blamed on the allegedly over-ambitious, uncivilized Bamiléké. Rumors of potential tribal warfare between these two groups have circulated recently.

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