Freedom in the World
You are here
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
As was widely expected, President Paul Biya won another seven-year term in elections in October 2004 that international observers reported lacked credibility but nevertheless reflected the will of a majority of Cameroonians. The opposition denounced the results as fraudulent and took legal action to have the results annulled. Meanwhile, a dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria over the Bakassi Peninsula continued during the year.
Cameroon was seized during World War I, in 1916, and divided between Britain and France after having been a German colony from 1884. Distinct Anglophone and Francophone areas were reunited as parts of an independent country in 1961. For three decades after independence, Cameroon was ruled under a repressive one-party system.
Prime Minister Biya succeeded Ahmadou Ahidjou as president in 1982. In 1996, the constitution extended the presidential term to seven years and allowed Biya to run for a fourth term. His reelection in 1997, with 93 percent of the vote, was marred by serious procedural flaws and a boycott by the three major opposition parties.
The ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM) dominated legislative and municipal elections in 2002 that were no more free and fair than previous polls, despite the creation of the National Observatory of Elections. In the June 2002 parliamentary elections, the ruling CPDM increased the number of its seats in the 180-member National Assembly from 116 to 149. The main opposition, the Social Democratic Front, won 22 seats, down from 43 it had held previously. Smaller parties won the remainder. Municipal elections, which had been postponed from January 2001, were also dominated by the CPDM. The Supreme Court ordered a rerun of municipal elections in six constituencies where massive fraud was proven in 2002, but that vote, conducted in June 2004, proved to be equally flawed, according to observers, with the ruling CPDM winning the same five seats.
Biya easily won presidential elections in October 2004 with 75 percent of the vote, although the polling was marred by low voter registration and allegations of multiple voting by supporters of the CPDM. The two opposition candidates charged fraud and appealed to the country's Constitutional Council for the election to be annulled. Although turnout approached 80 percent, only 4.6 million of the estimated 8 million Cameroonians over the age of 20 who are eligible to vote were registered, and many others attempted to cast ballots but were turned away because their names did not appear on the voter rolls. Cameroon does not have an independent electoral commission.
Wrangling between Nigeria and Cameroon over the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula dragged on in 2004 despite a ruling by the International Court of Justice awarding the territory to Cameroon. The two countries have occasionally clashed militarily over the region, and Nigeria maintains a troop presence there. At the last minute, Nigeria postponed the formal handover set for September 15, citing logistical problems. Most Bakassi residents consider themselves Nigerian and have staged public protests over the court ruling. A lawsuit filed in Nigeria by Bakassi natives to declare the handover unconstitutional promises to further delay any resolution.
Privatization and economic growth in Cameroon have progressed, with the government renewing its commitment to the IMF to sell off the state-owned water and telephone companies, and the country near to qualifying for significant debt relief. However, graft and the absence of independent courts inhibit business development.
Although Cameroon's constitution provides for a multiparty republic, citizens have not been allowed to choose their government or local leaders by democratic means. Presidential elections have been devalued by rampant intimidation, manipulation, and fraud, and legislative elections have also been fraudulent. However, some observers say the peaceful conduct of the most recent presidential election, in 2004, indicates that the country is on a more democratic track. Approximately one-fourth of Cameroonians are Anglophone. The administration of President Paul Biya remains largely Francophone, and the government's main opposition is from Anglophone Cameroonians. The linguistic distinction constitutes the country's most potent political division.
Cameroon was ranked 129 out of 146 countries surveyed in the 2004 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. A survey by the group found that more than 50 percent of Cameroonians admitted to paying a bribe in 2003, the highest figure in the world. During the campaign, President Biya vowed to crack down on official graft, which would be a condition for Cameroon's entry into the Highly Indebted Poor Countries initiative.
The constitution provides for freedom of the press, but criminal libel laws have often been used to silence regime critics. Several private newspapers publish regularly. Eleven years after the National Assembly passed a bill liberalizing broadcast media, Biya signed the legislation into force in 2001. However, the government continued to drag its feet in granting broadcasting licenses, forcing many stations to operate illegally. There are at least six national Internet service providers, some of which are privately owned. The government has not tried to restrict or monitor Internet communication.
Repression of the media remains a serious problem. In December 2003, the government shut down 12 independent radio and television stations on the grounds that they were operating without licenses. Radio Veritas, a Catholic station founded by Cardinal Christian Tumi, an outspoken critic of the government, was closed in November 2003 but was allowed to resume broadcasting the following month under a license restricting its content to religious programming. In July 2004, two journalists from the BBC were detained and placed under house arrest by Cameroonian security forces in Bakassi, where they had traveled to report on the handover by Nigeria. They were accused of spying, but were released without charge five days later.
Freedom of religion is generally respected. Although there are no legal restrictions on academic freedom, state security informants reportedly operate on university campuses and many professors fear that participation in opposition political parties could harm their careers.
Numerous nongovernmental organizations generally operate without hindrance. Trade union formation is permitted, but is subject to numerous restrictions. Workers have the right to strike but only after arbitration, the final decisions of which the government can overturn. In April, the government arrested six trade unionists, including the president of the Confederation of Cameroon workers, on sabotage charges.
The courts remain highly subject to political influence and corruption. The executive controls the judiciary and appoints provincial and local administrators. Military tribunals may exercise jurisdiction over civilians in cases involving civil unrest or organized armed violence. In the North, powerful traditional chiefs known as lamibee run their own private militias, courts, and prisons, which are used against the regime's political opponents. Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners and detainees are routine. Indefinite pretrial detention under extremely harsh conditions is permitted either after a warrant is issued or in order to "combat banditry." Inmates routinely die in prison.
Various intelligence agencies operate with impunity, and opposition activists are often held without charge or disappear while in custody. Security forces routinely impede domestic travel, repress demonstrations, and disrupt meetings. Cameroonian political and civil society groups have taken steps in Belgium, under its universal jurisdiction law, to institute legal proceedings against Biya for crimes against humanity.
The London-based human rights group Amnesty International called for an investigation into reports that dozens of extrajudicial executions were carried out in 2002 as part of an anticrime campaign. A military court in July 2002 acquitted six of eight gendarmes accused of killing nine young men who disappeared in January 2001 after having been detained by an anticrime squad called the Operational Command; two others were given suspended sentences.
Cameroon's population consists of nearly 200 ethnic groups. Slavery reportedly persists in parts of the North, and discrimination exists against indigenous Pygmies and other ethnic minorities. The Beti and Bula dominate the civil service and state-run businesses.
Violence and discrimination against women is widespread. Women are often denied inheritance and landownership rights, even when these are codified, and many other laws contain unequal gender-based provisions and penalties. Cameroon is a transit center and market for child labor and traffickers.