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The Failed Old-Boys Quarter: How Cameroon’s National Assembly Precipitated the Territorial Crisis Facing the Country

Yaounde (National Times) – Cameroon is engulfed in territorial crisis from several angles. In the Southwestern part of the country, thousands of Anglophones are demanding and sacrificing their lives for an independent state or to separate from the other eight French territories.

In the northern part, Bokom Haram forces are coming back, after the government turned its attention on the Anglophone regions. And multinational companies are reaping the country of billions of dollars each year, while France controls its monetary and security infrastructure. In fact, Cameroon’s survival and sovereignty have never been as threatened as they are today.

So far, (and justifiably so), the blame has been set on one person, President Paul Biya. It is true that Cameroon’s President Paul Biya should shoulder the majority of the blame for the territorial crisis facing the country. His economic, social and administrative policies have been a disaster. More than 80% of Cameroonian youths are underemployed, while police and military repression has turned the purported democratic country into a police state. Corruption is more common among government officials than patriotism and putting the public interest first.

But it is Cameroon’s National Assembly, its legislative arm, which I believe should take more blame for its growing disintegration. Cameroon has three arms of government, executive, legislative and judiciary. The functions of the legislative arm goes beyond passing laws. They serve as check to presidential abuses and indolence, they check the judiciary to ensure the country’s legal system and processes are functioning, and they also ensure that all treaties signed by the government with foreign governments or entities do not breach the country’s national laws, and national interest.

But Cameroon’s Parliament, which is composed of a House of Senate and National Assembly, has failed to perform any of these functions. For example, the legislative arm has watched quietly as the government adventures into a terrible security policy to end the Anglophone crisis. The National Assembly in particular, has also fold its hands as the government continually allow France to control the country’s monetary and security policies. It is not enough to say they are just handclappers or only after their interest. There is more to it.

Evolutionary biologists have extensively studied why some groups cooperate while others do not to address pressing social and cultural issues. Lack of cooperation has shown to precipitate the fall of powerful civilizations, as in-group fighting creates a suitable climate for foreigners to attack and dominate the group. Some of these evolutionary studies have also found that lack of cooperation undermines the coordination of limited resources, and a group’s ability to foresee and deal with external and internal threats. In sum, the reason why Cameroon’s National Assembly, and broadly the parliament has failed to identify and deal with the country’s growing threat is more structural, than merely resulting from the impulsive actions of its leaders.

The ineffectiveness and failure of Cameroon’s National Assembly can be traced to three factors. First, In-group favouritism. In-group favouritism is the tendency where group members believe “in the supremacy of one’s group or, at least, distrust anyone who is not a member of this group”. As a result of this distrust or sense of supremacy, the group in power fails to cooperate or listen to the voices of non-group members. For example, former Social Democratic Front (SDF), Honourable Joseph Wirba told the country’s National Assembly in a famous speech that it should urgently debate and intervene to resolve the Anglophone crisis, for failure to do so will be devastating for the country. But top authorities at the National Assembly ignored Wirba’s call and instead gave the government a freehand over dealing with the Anglophone crisis. In-group favouritism is a widespread problem in Cameroon’s National Assembly, and even in most advanced democracies. But it is also one of the biggest threats to inter-group cooperation, and also to national security and even the unity of the state.

The second problem is intolerance for dissent and strict adherence to party line. Most CPDM Members of Parliament from the Anglophone region, and even some elected legislative members from other regions in Cameroon have continuously refused to speak publicly about governments actions in the South West and North West regions, and other parts of Cameroon because the CPDM party, and the National Assembly generally does not permit any form of dissent. Top National Assembly members see dissent as a threat to the party and to the President of the Country or the party. The case of Ayah Paul’s repeated warnings that the government was not administering the Anglophone regions well, and that mismanagement will lead to insecurity, is a good example. Ayah Paul was booted out of the party and even the National Assembly.

Today we are living Wirba and Ayah Paul’s predictions. We can’t say with certainty what would have happened had the National Assembly listened to them, but we can be sure that things wouldn’t have been as bad as they are today.

The third factor that has made the National Assembly underprepared to deal with Cameroon’s territorial integrity is the absence of a “knowledge economy”. This term often refers to an economy that operates based on scientific knowledge or other forms of evidentiary knowledge. But here I refer to a social system that is based on the endless quest to acquire and use research or other method derived facts.

Cameroon’s National Assembly should have been one of the most informed and equipped institutions in Cameroon to handle and deal with the territorial crisis facing the country. For several reasons. First, its members come from all parts of the country. They are experienced political statutes vested with the controversial debates in their communities. Moreover, its members are well connected with grassroot and international organisations. However, the absence of the quest to know everything that pertains to the country’s interest, and to use modern day learning and research equipment to evaluate the seriousness of these threats, the best ways to handle them, and how to invite different communities to discuss their grievances has made the institution one of the least prepared to deal with any of Cameroon’s growing territorial problems.

All too often, we blame the executive arm of the Cameroon for the problems facing the country. But if Biya is to go down in history as one of the least effective presidents in Cameroon’s history, the National Assembly should also be recorded as the “failed old-boys quarter”. The institutions inability to engage in constructive intergroup cooperation and debate, its intolerance for dissent, and inability to accumulate and use scientific facts to address the country’s security problems, is something that should alarm most Cameroonians.




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