Cameroon: a Fragile But Stable Democracy

Young Republic Is 1st Stop on Papal Visit to Africa

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By Nieves San Martin

YAOUNDE, Cameroon, MARCH 17, 2009 ( Cameroon, the country that is welcoming Benedict XVI today, is a politically stable country that is free of wars, making it an exception among other countries on the continent.

However, similar to other nations on the continent, it must work to maintain a fragile balance between all the ethnic groups, religions and cultures that coexist in it.
In the religious sphere, there are three large communities: 40% are Christians; 40% belong to traditional religions; and 20% are Muslims.

The Muslims were the last to arrive in this region colonized by the Portuguese, the Germans, the French and the English.
This young presidential republic was established in 1961, following the reunification of two parts, one British, in the South, and the other French. This partition was the result of the World War I defeat of Germany, which was the colonizing power in this region of Africa. In the reshuffle, German Cameroon lost a British northern zone to Nigeria.
The first Catholic evangelizers to establish themselves in Cameroon were German, and they worked in the areas of education and health care.

Political scene
The republic was federal until 1972, when it became a unitary state. There is now a multi-party system, and the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement party is largely predominant in the government.
The president is elected every seven years and the country has had only two: the so called, «Father of the Homeland,» Muslim Ahmadou Ahidjo, first president of independent Cameroon, head of state for 20 years, and the current president, Catholic Paul Biya, who was prime minister in 1975 and succeeded Ahidjo in 1982 as head of state.
This president’s most controversial decision in 2008 was the reform of the Constitution that, among other things, provides for the suppression of the limit of consecutive presidential mandates, thus allowing Biya, 75, and in power for the past 27 years, to run again in the 2011 elections.
The reform was approved by 157 votes. Five voted against it and there were 15 abstentions. The 15 deputies of the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Front, left Parliament in protest. Opposition parties and associations of civil society criticized the change made to the Magna Carta of 1996. Among them were the country’s bishops who opposed the president’s perpetuation in power.

Papal visit
The Pope’s visit which, although pastoral, is expected to add to the president’s prestige. According to some analysts, this might result in bringing the elections forward to 2009.
Meanwhile, the country is buzzing with activity and enthusiasm over the papal visit. During a press conference last Feb. 27, Archbishop Simon-Victor Tonye Bakot of Yaounde, president of the bishops’ conference, expressed his satisfaction over the development of preparations to welcome the Pope.
According to the local press, however, there were protests over the destruction of street markets of Yaoundé, on which thousands of people depend for their livelihood. The authorities insisted that the occasion calls for the embellishment of the city. In their judgment, the stalls are not aesthetic and thus it was necessary to have them demolished, though the owners would not be indemnified, the press reported.
The press reported the negative ramifications of this decision, stating that although security measures must be taken, given the number of personalities that will be present from the whole of Africa, they most likely would not want anyone to be left without work.

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