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Heavy on the Politicking, Light on the Substance in Cameroon's Elections

While some candidates running for seats in Cameroon's National Assembly [fr] and municipal council are doing their best sway voters with sweeping but vague promises typical of elections, others are trying to buy it with money and gifts, such as beer and pistachios.

Either way, many of those running for elections on 30 September 2013 are falling short of providing a well-defined platform so voters know where the candidates stand on the issues. Since the start of the electoral campaign 15 September 2013, many Cameroonians tuning into the races haven't heard anything concrete coming from the numerous candidates.

As Crescence Nyindi stated in an article [fr] published on the site Echos des Grands Lacs:

proposer des programmes cohérents n'est pas la chose la plus aisée pour certains partis politiques engagés dans la course.

Proposing coherent platforms is not the easiest thing for some political parties in the race.

Les départements au Cameroun par région - Domaine public

Departments of Cameroon by region – Public domain

Some political parties’ manifestos are lacking in ambition and innovation, leaving something to be desired. 

In an article [fr] on his personal blog, blogger Mathias Mouendé Ngamo presents the manifesto of the Cameroon People's Party (CPP) by Edith Kah Walla, “which aims for 132 seats in these municipal elections” in some administrative constituencies in the country, including that of Douala 1st district. The manifesto is divided into three main areas of focus: political, economic and social. As an example, the party intends to [fr]:

former par an 1000 jeunes en informatique, « afin de qu’ils correspondent au nouveau profil de l’emploi recherché par les entreprises.

Provide IT training to 1000 young people every year, “so that they can acquire new skills required by businesses.

The candidate seems to suggest that the country does not have enough trained and competent young people in these fields yet.

The same assumption seems to agree with this Social Democratic Front candidate, who promises [fr]:

 du travail aux jeunes et une éducation plus accrue notamment.

Work for young people and more education.

Certain candidates from the Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (Rassemblement Démocratique du Peuple Camerounais), the leading political party, don't see the need for innovation either. They prefer to continue along the same track as the previous manifestos. This is notably the case for the CPDM candidate running for Mayor of Yaoundé 4th [fr], who wants to continue the work she began during her previous term. 

Vue sur Yaoundé, Capitale du Caméroun -Domaine public

View of Yaoundé, capital of Cameroon – Public domain

The worst offenders are those candidates who use unorthodox practices bordering on corruption to attract the sympathy of the electorate. They prefer to seduce them with beer and food, rather than with a plan of action worthy of the name, transforming their so-called electoral meetings into parties, as Joseph Olinga explains in this post [fr] picked up by cameroun24.net:

Un candidat à un siège à la représentation nationale bien connu du bataillon, est en campagne dans un marché de la ville de Douala. Après un tour des installations sommaires sur fond de youyous, le candidat à la députation interpelle une vendeuse de mets de pistache et lui achète tout son plateau. Un exploit qu’on ne vit pas tous les jours. La vieille dame visiblement éberluée promet «solennellement» d’accorder son suffrage au candidat. Les mets achetés sont aussitôt distribués aux badauds qui ont envahi le théâtre. Et, puisque que la consommation du piment nécessite une bonne bière, notre candidat visiblement au fait des us locaux débloque, séance tenante, une centaine de mille pour l’achat du « précieux liquide». Youyous, valses d’applaudissements et fin du meeting. Le tout dans une ambiance de bénédictions au bénéfice du candidat que la clameur confie à Dieu.

A well-known candidate for a seat at the national level is campaigning in a market in the village of Douala. Following a brief tour of the facilities, to a background of ululating cries, the candidate spoke to a market trader selling pistachios, and bought the entire tray. Something we don't see everyday. The old woman, visibly perplexed, “solemnly” promised her vote to the candidate. The food he bought was immediately given out to the bystanders nearby. And, seeing as these nuts always need good beer, the candidate, clearly aware of local customs, spent 100,000 CFA francs [about 1,134 US dollars] on buying the “precious liquid”. Ululations, waves of applause, and the meeting ends. All in an atmosphere of benediction to the candidate's benefit, entrusted to God by the crowds.

Recurring scenes during the campaign season, he underlines [fr]:

Un autre candidat bien connu de l’opposition gare son véhicule. Le « Messie » est aussitôt entouré par une horde de conducteurs de mototaxis, des vendeurs et quelques curieux. «J’espère que vous voterez pour nos listes aux municipales et aux législatives », leur lance-t-il (ndlr). Quelle question ? «Considérez que vous êtes déjà élu» scandent les populations. Une liasse de billets de banque est remise «au doyen». Distribution des affiches aux invités, salve d’applaudissements et fin de meeting. Le candidat se remet à bord de son véhicule escorté par une dizaine de mototaxis le tout sur une chanson populaire revue en l’honneur du désormais député.

Another well-known opposition candidate parks his car. The “Messiah” is soon surrounded by a horde of motorbike taxi drivers, traders and other curious members of the public. “I hope you'll be voting for our lists in the parliamentary and municipal elections,” he says to them (editor's note). Is it even a question? “Act as if you're already elected” chant the crowd. A wad of cash is given to the most senior person present. Posters are distributed, applause, and the meeting ends. The candidate gets back into his vehicle and is escorted by a dozen motorbike taxi drivers singing a popular song customised for the candidate, now honorary deputy.

Surreal scenes, which illustrate perfectly the mediocrity of some “politicars”, political schemers thirsty for power, as the blogger Franck William Batchou names them. Their behaviour is designed to mask the absence of political manifestos, and if widespread, could suggest that Cameroonians are not aware of the importance of these elections, and the significance of their vote. Thankfully, not all are fooled.

Faced with the inconsistency of most manifestos, people seem to have decided to take the matter into their own hands by asking the different candidates about subjects close to their hearts. This is particularly true of civil society organisations which, by means of the “health at the ballot box” (santé aux urnes) project, want to bring the candidates’ attention to the problems faced by many Cameroonians in accessing healthcare. Calls which we hope won't fall on deaf ears.

Whatever happens, voters will have the last word. Theoretically, at least.

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