Decentralization in Cameroon: Between Ethno-Regional Logics and National Interests

Introduction

Decentralization is a system of administration authorizing a human community or a public service to administer itself in compliance with legality. When decentralization involves the administration of a human community or territorial community, it is territorial decentralization. And when it comes to public service, it is a question of functional or technical decentralization.

Territorial decentralization is defined by the legislator as “the transfer by the State to the Territorial Collectivities, of special powers and appropriate means ” (Article 5, paragraph 1 CGCTD). The State, therefore, makes a choice among its powers and transfers them to the infra-State entities (municipalities, urban communities, regions) that it has created and to which it grants a certain administrative and financial autonomy.

The powers it transfers are not exercised exclusively by these local authorities but rather in complementarity between the State and the latter. The Local Authorities exercise the powers transferred to them with respect for national unity, territorial integrity, and the primacy of the State (Article 2, paragraph 2 of the CGCTD). The primacy of the state presupposes that the interests of the state, or even the national interests, will systematically have priority when, on a given territory, local interests and national interests clash.

I. Territorial Decentralization and Functional Decentralization

If territorial decentralization is a process of recognition of the existence within the State of specifically local affairs and, therefore, of specifically local interests, the fact remains that the general and national interest remains the priority of the state and is binding on all. In functional decentralization, decentralized entities are public establishments responsible for managing a public service (universities, public hospitals, national museums, public and parapublic companies). These entities benefit from legal personality and their own resources but only have powers of attribution, which correspond to the very purpose of the public service transferred to them.

In analyzing the political discourse and identity claims observed since 2008 in relation to recruitment in universities, an impression emerges. That impression suggests that citizens of good faith or those with limited understanding confuse functional decentralization and territorial decentralization. This is to the point of thinking that a university created in a region would be the University of that region. These various claims observed in recent years around universities seem to want to make them the arch of “triumph of ethno-regional logic.”

Expressions such as, “There are not enough nationals of Adamaoua employed in the administration or recruited in the research cycles of the University of Ngaoundéré” seem to reinforce this logic. Similarly, when the Higher Teacher’s Training College in Maroua was created in 2008, there was a strong mobilization of elites from Adamaoua, the North, and the Far North to challenge the quotas allocated to these regions as the result of the first competition organized for the admission of student teachers in this new school. This dispute resulted in the recruitment of almost all the candidates from the Far North.

During the competition for the 2009 session, the elites demanded that the quota for nationals of the three northern regions be set at 50%. Very recently, with the creation of the universities of Garoua, Ebolowa, and Bertoua, the speeches of the elites and the “sons and daughters of the region” must have first priority and primacy in all recruitment procedures for administrative jobs, teaching, and research jobs and in research cycles for students. However, the public universities are State Universities, and the higher education policy is a national policy, and the guidelines in this area are national guidelines that the heads of university institutions have an obligation to follow and implement work.

II. Decentralization and the Issue of Ethno-Regional Balances

The fact that the State has created one university per region should not be confused with a policy of regionalization of higher education. State universities are at the service of the general interest and in no way come under local public affairs. Recruitment in these institutions cannot be carried out by giving any scoop to those “natives” of the region but rather by implementing a balanced and rational manner the policy of ethno-regional balance applied at the top of the State and in all major schools like ENAM, IRIC, and EMIA. Those schools are in “unique pieces” and must receive all Cameroonians from all sides, regions, and 250 ethnic groups who make up the national whole.

On the other hand, for local institutions, regions, and municipalities, recruitment is primarily favorable to “sons and daughters of the region,” the skills that are transferred to these entities having the vocation of generating employment for the members of the community. It is, therefore, up to the elected officials in charge of administering these communities to create activities that generate jobs and income for the local populations. The limit to their action is, on the institutional level, the absence of a statute for the local civil service, which would give visibility to career profiles in territorial professions.

Local councilors have every interest in mobilizing and working actively for the development and adoption of a local civil service statute as provided for in Article 22 (3) of the CGCTD. That article states that “the State sets up a local public service whose status is determined by a decree of the President of the Republic.” In this regard, decentralization would be an opportunity to restructure public employment and a solution to increase the State’s supply of public employment. It would promote the emergence of new jobs and new career profiles, which would considerably limit ethno-regional conflicts around access to public employment, and this increasingly heightened challenge to the methods of implementing the principle of balance ethno-regional. It is urgent for the State to proceed with a restructuring of public employment by drawing up and adopting the statute of the local civil service (Articles 22(3) cited above and 498 CGCTD).

The issue of the ethno-regional balance must be revisited for better application with a view to better social cohesion and taking into account local specificities in the construction of the national whole. Indeed, it should be noted that the ethno-regional balance constitutes for the State an instrument allowing it to implement this provision of the preamble of the Constitution: “The State ensures the protection of minorities and preserves the rights of the population’s natives in accordance with the law.”

Local authorities must, as co-responsible with the State for social development, take this provision into account and also ensure, at the level of each locality, that all the ethnic groups that make up the region are integrated into local management. The specification of local affairs does not give local officials the freedom to disregard national guidelines.

Decentralization suggests a specific declination at the local level of the regional balance and the protection of minorities. With regard to regional balance, Decree No. 82/407 of September 7, 1982, recognizes the Minister for the Civil Service’s freedom to define the quotas allocated to the regions. Also, Article 2 of Ministerial Order No. 10467 for the Civil Service of October 4, 1982, amended on August 20, 1992, provides for:

  • 5% in Adamaoua
  • 18% in the Far North
  • 7% in the North
  • 15% in the Center
  • 4% in the East
  • 4% in the South
  • 13% in the West
  • 12% in the Littoral
  • 12% in the Northwest
  • 8% in the Southwest

The basic criteria justifying this distribution are not clearly defined. The most recent text in terms of regional balance is decree no. 2000/696/pm of September 13, 2000, establishing the administrative competition system. According to Article 60, paragraph 1 of this decree, “an order of the Prime Minister sets the quotas of places reserved during the administrative competitions for candidates from each region.”

In the absence of such an order, the quotas of the order of the Ministry of Public Service and Administrative Reform (MINFOPRA) are systematically applied. It is, however, clear that this 1982 distribution system can no longer be relevant and logical if we take into account the growth in school enrollment rates and the mass of graduates by region in search of socio-professional integration.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The identity withdrawals and the underlying identity conflicts resulting from the poor distribution of the State’s rent in terms of public employment require that the basic criteria and the keys to the distribution of public employment between regions and within a region. It should be noted that, even if the quotas are respected by region, within the regions, there is a great imbalance between the ethnic groups making up the region.

The great reigning families monopolize the vast majority of the positions available for the region. Even if it is necessary to favor the natives of the region, it is necessary to take into account all the sociological components of the said region: the departments, the districts, the ethnic groups, the religions; everything must be taken into account for there to be a true balance.

The quotas must, therefore, no longer simply be distributed by region, but they must also be equitably distributed by the department and by an ethnic group within a region in proportion to the rate of schooling and demography.

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Pr. NGO TONG Chantal Marie is a Research associate in Governance & Democracy at the Nkafu Policy Institute. She holds a Ph.D. in Political Science, obtained from the University of Nantes (France). Pr. NGO TONG is also a Senior Lecturer at the University of Ngaoundéré. She is a reviewer and co-editor of the African Development Perspectives Yearbook and a member of the Research Group on African Development Perspectives, Bremen since 2019.

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