Freedom in the World
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President Paul Biya, who is serving his fifth consecutive term in office after winning a seven-year term in 2004, appeared to have made only limited progress on his pledge to combat widespread corruption in Cameroon. Meanwhile, the long-running dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria over the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula remained unresolved.
Previously a German colony, Cameroon was seized during World War I and divided between Britain and France. Distinct Anglophone and Francophone areas were reunited at independence in 1961. During the three decades that followed, Cameroon was ruled under a repressive one-party system.
Prime Minister Paul Biya succeeded Ahmadou Ahidjo as president in 1982. In 1996, the constitution extended the presidential term to seven years and allowed Biya to run for a fourth term in 1997. He won with 93 percent of the vote, though numerous irregularities and a boycott by the three major opposition parties compromised the credibility of the election.
The ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM) dominated legislative and municipal elections in 2002 that lacked transparency, 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 party, the Social Democratic Front, won 22 seats, down from the 43 it had held previously. The Supreme Court ordered a rerun of municipal elections in six constituencies where massive fraud was proven in 2002. Observers claimed that subsequent voting in June 2004 was equally flawed, with the ruling CPDM winning the same 5 seats.
Biya won the presidential elections in October 2004 with 75 percent of the vote. International observers reported that the polls lacked credibility but reflected the will of the voting population. The two opposition candidates charged fraud and appealed unsuccessfully to the Supreme Court for the election to be annulled. Although turnout approached 80 percent, only 4.6 million of the estimated 8 million Cameroonians eligible to vote were registered. 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.
The struggle between Nigeria and Cameroon over the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula continued in 2005 despite a 2002 ruling by the International Court of Justice in favor of Cameroon. In June 2005, President Biya accused Nigeria of launching attacks on the peninsula after talks between the Cameroonian president and Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo failed to reach agreement on a timetable for a Nigerian troop withdrawal or on the demarcation of the maritime border. 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 could further delay any resolution.
Privatization and economic growth in Cameroon have progressed slowly, while corruption continues to be a significant obstacle to economic growth. Biya appears to have made limited progress on his 2004 campaign vow to crack down on official graft. Prime Minister Ephraim Inoni launched an anticorruption drive upon taking office in December 2004, and in March 2005, his office announced the discovery of widespread corruption in the Ministry of Finance, where approximately 500 officials were accused of either awarding themselves extra money or claiming salaries for "ghost" workers.
Citizens of Cameroon cannot change their government democratically. Rampant intimidation, manipulation, and fraud have marked both presidential and legislative elections. Cameroon's centralized government is dominated by a strong presidency. The president is not required to consult the National Assembly, and the judiciary is subordinate to the Ministry of Justice. The Supreme Court may review the constitutionality of a law only at the president's request. President Paul Biya's current seven-year term will end in 2011.
The unicameral National Assembly has 180 seats, 149 of which are held by the ruling CPDM. Members are elected by direct popular vote to serve five-year terms, though the president has the authority to either lengthen or shorten the term of the legislature. Legislative elections are scheduled for 2007. Cameroon's constitution calls for an upper chamber for the legislature, to be called a Senate, but it has yet to be established. A mandated Constitutional Court exists in name only.
There are more than 180 recognized political parties in Cameroon. However, political and civic organizations have little effect on public policy or government decision-making processes.
Approximately one-fourth of Cameroonians are Anglophone. The government is dominated by Francophone Cameroonians, while the government's main opposition is from Anglophone Cameroonians. The linguistic distinction constitutes the country's most potent political division. At least one Anglophone group, the Southern Cameroons National Council, advocates secession from the country.
Cameroon was ranked 137 out of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 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.
The constitution provides for freedom of the press. Several private newspapers publish regularly, and there are a growing number of private radio stations around the country. However, repression of the media remains a serious problem, and criminal libel laws have often been used to silence regime critics. The government shut down 12 independent radio and television stations in December 2003 on the grounds that they were operating without licenses. In July 2004, two BBC journalists were detained and placed under house arrest by security forces in Bakassi, where they had traveled to report on the handover by Nigeria; they were accused of spying, but released without charge five days later. In April 2005, a court fined and sentenced the editor of L'oeil du Sahel and a journalist colleague to five months in jail after they published a story about abuses and extortion perpetrated by the security forces. 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.
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.
Government security forces regularly restrict freedom of assembly and limit freedom of association by members of nongovernmental organizations and political parties, often violently. 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 2004, the government arrested six trade unionists, including the president of the Confederation of Cameroon Workers, on charges of sabotage.
The courts remain highly subject to political influence and corruption. The executive branch 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. Various intelligence agencies operate with impunity, and opposition activists are often held without charge or disappear while in custody. Indefinite pretrial detention under extremely harsh conditions is permitted either after a warrant is issued or in order to "combat banditry." Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners and detainees are routine, and inmates routinely die in prison. Amnesty International called for an investigation into reports that dozens of extrajudicial executions were carried out in 2002 as part of an anticrime campaign. Despite repeated requests, the Cameroonian government has refused to grant entry to Amnesty International representatives. In the north, traditional chiefs known as lamibee control their own private militias, courts, and prisons, which are used against the regime's political opponents. 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.
Cameroon's population consists of nearly 200 ethnic groups. The Beti and Bula ethnic groups dominate the civil service and state-run businesses. Slavery reportedly persists in parts of the north, and discrimination exists against indigenous groups and ethnic minorities, particularly the Baka. Anglophone groups claim systemic discrimination, though some Francophone groups complain of similar treatment.
Security forces routinely impede domestic travel, extracting bribes at checkpoints and roadblocks.
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. Abortion is prohibited, except in cases of rape.