Decentralization is a process by which the central state entrusts competencies and means of public action to local authorities enjoying democratic legitimacy (Nay, 2008). It is a tool for preventing insecurity and improving governance because its purpose is to bring decision-making powers closer to the local population. This would justify the option taken by the Cameroonian authorities, who, in order to put an end to the claims that have led to the Anglophone crisis since 2016, will accelerate the decentralization process. The close link between democracy and security has been widely demonstrated in a recent study, in 2015, on the perception and representation of the state/region relationship. This study, conducted by the Paul Ango Ela Foundation, aimed to make the complexity of the new challenges of the decentralization process in Cameroon intelligible.
The initiative was encouraged by the observation that the creation of the Ministry of Decentralization and Local Development in 2018, the promulgation of Law No. 2019/024 of December 24, 2019, on the General Code of Decentralized Territorial Authorities, and the organization of elections for regional councilors on December 6, 2020, reflect the government’s desire to complete the decentralization process inaugurated with the constitutional revision of January 18, 1996. This contribution analyzes the decentralization process in Cameroon and the issues it raises in relation to security.
The Progress of the Decentralization Process in Cameroon
The indivisibility of the Republic, proclaimed by Article 1(2) §2 of the Constitutional Law of January 18, 1996, does not exclude the existence of decentralized territorial authorities that share its territory. In fact, as one author states, “indivisibility does not in any way prevent decentralization, even if it is extensive.” The essential thing is that the lower level of government holds its powers from the state and that the state can always take them over. The legal tradition accommodates the existence of territorial communities by seeing in them decentralized territorial persons, that is, the recognition by the state of territorial public persons managing their own interests. The republican tradition sees in them a guarantee, or a school, of democracy.
It is obvious that a Constitution cannot contain everything, just as it cannot indicate everything. This is why the Constitutional Council always provides for the intervention of the legislator to complete or clarify its work. Thus, with regard to the regional and local authorities, the Constituent of January 18, 1996, after having made the regions and local decentralized authorities, provides, in Article 55 (1) § 2, that “any other type of decentralized authority is created by law.” The verb “to create” must here be interpreted according to the context. This constitutional provision refers to another category of collectivity, not to a specifically named collectivity. This is the case of the urban communities created by law no – 87/15 of July 15, 1987. The question then arises as to whether the legislator can create a single territorial authority?
The question may seem surprising insofar as it confers a decentralized character on the unitary state of Cameroon. Thus, the Regions and Local councils are recognized as decentralized territorial authorities, enjoying administrative and financial autonomy to manage their interests. The new General Code of Local Authorities, promulgated in December 2019, following the laws of July 22, 2004, (law on the orientation of decentralization, law on the rules applicable to the communes, and law on the rules applicable to the regions) therefore, traces the main lines of this decentralization.
It redefines its actors, its issues, its tools, its strategies, and even its objectives. Through this law, we move from a more or less authoritarian conception to a more democratic and dynamic conception of territorial decentralization. In fact, the project of effective decentralization and especially regionalization is a demand for democratization, for political decongestion, in other words, for the liberalization of the national political space.
One of the main innovations of the Constitution of January 18, 1996, and re-enacted in Law No. 2019/024 of December 24, 2019, on the General Code of Regional and local authorities, is the creation of the Region. On reading these texts and the one on the administrative organization of Cameroon, it appears that the Region is an institution with two faces: it is, on the one hand, a decentralized territorial authority, and on the other hand, an administrative district.
Stakes of Decentralization, Challenges of Conflict Regulation
At the current stage of decentralization, the resurgence of ethicized identity and community tensions is a reality. It closely overlaps with the political issues that actors use in the context of electoral deadlines and various strategies for political repositioning. It follows that the relationship between democracy and insecurity is also a function of the way in which decentralization is conceived, implemented, and reappropriated by the various political, administrative, social, and cultural actors. Already, the tensions that followed the October 2018 presidential elections reinforce the urgency of rethinking the state/region relationship and the indigenous/allogenous dialectic in the dynamics of state-building in Cameroon.
There is a clear contrast between the formal establishment of a series of legal and judicial mechanisms that are supposed to accompany the decentralization process and the slowness or cumbersomeness of its concrete implementation. On the one hand, with the outbreak of the Anglophone crisis, the question of autonomy for the northwest and southwest regions, but even more so that of the form of the state and its management, is being raised with acuity. On the other hand, the resistance to transferring powers to the regional and local authorities and the vagueness of many local actors as to the true meaning and scope of the upcoming regionalization process are potential threats to political stability and indicators of new forms of insecurity on the horizon. It is up to the various actors to be sufficiently aware of this.
The challenge of the new reforms is certainly to improve governance by shifting the center of decision-making from central institutions in Yaoundé to the Regional and Local authorities to better boost economic and social development. It is also about giving a significant place to the population in the management of local public affairs. The challenge is also to empower local authorities in relation to the central state, in a balance between the principle of the uniqueness of the state and the expression of socio-political and cultural diversity.
As a result, decentralization appears to be a mechanism for integrating regions rather than crystallizing them, including the behavior of some. It is at this level that the articulation of the democratization process with the threat of security informs the dynamics of state-building in Cameroon.
One of the main innovations of the Constitution of January 18, 1996, and re-enacted in Law No. 2019/024 of December 24, 2019, on the General Code of Regional and Local authorities, is the creation of the Region. In a context marked by the Anglophone crisis, the effectiveness of decentralization could constitute a modality, a policy for ending the crisis. One of the demands made by the parties to the conflict is its effectiveness.