Cameroon: IRIN-WA Special Briefing on Presidential Elections, 10/11/97

Cameroon: IRIN-WA Special Briefing on Presidential Elections, 10/11/97


Department of Humanitarian Affairs

Integrated Regional Information Network

for West Africa

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IRIN-West Africa: Cameroon - Special Briefing on Presidential Elections

[As a supplement to its weekly roundups of main events and its media update on West Africa, IRIN-WA periodically produces country-specific special briefings. IRIN issues these briefings for the benefit of the humanitarian community but accepts no responsibility as to the accuracy of the original source.]


The Cameroon presidential elections will be held on 12 October 1997. They take place against a backdrop of increasing tension. The elections are being boycotted by the three main opposition parties which have denounced past electoral fraud and called for an independent electoral commission. One of the main boycotting parties has warned of an "explosion of violence" if elections go ahead. The security presence has been beefed up in the major cities and the English-speaking region. However, there are reports of general voter apathy towards the election and analysts believe that violence is unlikely. This brief outlines the main contenders, issues affecting the electorate and background information.


PAUL BIYA, 64, is the incumbent and leader of the Rassemblement Democratique du Peuple Camerounais (RDPC). His party's strong showing in the May 1997 parliamentary elections makes him the front runner. He has held various government posts over a 35-year-period. President Amadou Ahidjo, a northerner, appointed him prime minister in 1975. Biya, of the Beti tribe from the south, became president in November 1982. He won a five-year mandate in the 1992 multiparty elections which are widely believed to have been rigged. However, Biya has been credited with paving the way for multipartyism and ushering the democratisation process in 1990. His support is drawn from within government ranks, his home town in the south and increasingly in the north. Analysts and local sources have said that Biya surrounds himself with people from his Beti tribe, thus fueling animosity from other less privileged ethnic groups.

SAMUEL EBOUA, 68, leader of the Mouvement pour le Progres et la Democratie (MPD), is considered to be the only threat to Biya. Former secretary-general to the presidency from 1975-1982, then minister of state under Biya, Eboua left for the opposition in the 1990s. Eboua draws his support from a dozen small parties.

ALBERT DZONGANG, 50, leader of the Parti Populaire pour le Developpment (PPD), was a former teacher and member of the ruling party, RDPC.

GUSTAVE ESSAKA, 62, leader of the Democratie Integrale du Cameroun (DIC), is a German professor. His party was one of the first to be registered under the 1990 multiparty legislation.

HENRI HOGBE NLEND, 58, leader of the Union des Populations du Cameroun (UPC), has a PhD in mathematics. His manifesto centres on combatting poverty.

JEAN PIERRE MBELE, 56, leader of the Union Social Democrate (USD), is a journalist from the Eastern province. Mbele wants to tax the wealthy to generate more revenue for the state.

ANTOINE DE PADOUE NDEMMANU, 37, leader of the Rassemblement Democratique du Peuple sans Frontiere (RDPF), is a businessman.

JOACHIM TABI OWONO, leader of the Action pour la Meritocratie et l'Egalite des chances (AMEC), is an agronomist.


JOHN FRU NDI, 55, leader of the Social Democratic Front (SDF), would have been the real challenge to Biya's re-election bid. Born in Bamenda, in the English-speaking province, Ndi founded the SDF in 1990. The SDF's constituency has expanded beyond the English-speaking provinces to densely populated cities, such as Douala. According to AFP, the English-speaking Cameroonians and the Bamileke, a French-speaking and industrious ethnic group, have provided the bulk of the SDF's supporters. Ndi was widely believed to have won the 1992 presidential elections.

BELLO BOUBA MAIGARI, 50, leader of the Union Nationale pour la Democratie et le Progres (UNDP), enjoys popular support in the Muslim north. 13 percent of Cameroonian are Muslims. Maigari was Biya's prime minister until they fell out. He went into exile in 1983, returning in 1991 to become the UNDP head instead of Samuel Eboua, founder of UNDP.

ADAMOU NDAM NJOYA, early 50s, leader of the Union Democratique du Cameroun (UDC), was a former minister under President Ahidjo. He comes from the north. His party draws its support from the north.

HUBERT KAMGANG, 53, leader of the Union des Populations Africaines (UPA) is an engineer and former staff with the l'Union Douaniere et Economique des Etats de l'Afrique Centrale (UDEAC). Kamgang announced on 9 October that he was joining the election boycott. He leads an obscure party with no parliamentary representation.


TITUS EDZOA announced his intention to run in the presidential elections after resigning from his ministerial post in April. This announcement stunned observers as he was Biya's personal physician for many years as well secretary-general at the presidency. Shortly afterwards, Edzoa was charged with embezzling US $590,000 and was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but local sources say that these charges were politically motivated. Edzoa submitted his application as a presidential candidate, which was rejected, from prison.


The Economy

Until the mid-1980s, Cameroon was one of the few African countries to have achieved steady economic growth, averaging around 7.5% per year since the late 1970s. The country's economic strength was based on agriculture and its offshore oil reserves. According to 'West Africa' magazine, Biya embarked on a number of development projects, which coupled with misappropriation of funds, necessitated a greater cash flow. In 1986, the dramatic fall in commodity world prices, combined with the sharp appreciation of the CFA franc against the dollar, had a severe impact on the economy. There was a drastic reduction and in some cases a total abolition of fringe benefits and month-long delays in the payment of salaries.

The World Bank's resident representative in Cameroon, Robert Lacey, told Reuters that if Cameroon could free itself of its debt burden, it could once more become the economic engine for the region. The external debt was estimated at around US$7.3 billion in June 1997. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) signed a three-year enhanced structural adjustment facility (ESAF) on 20 August. There has been vigorous internal opposition to it but the reformers in the government, namely Prime Minister Peter Musonge and Finance Minister Edouard Mfoumuo, are forcing the ESAF changes.

Autonomy for the English-speaking provinces

Biya is criticised for not addressing the Anglophone problem: there is alleged marginalisation of the English-speaking population by the majority Francophones. Biya is accused of having turned his back on the English-speaking North-West province. The first president always appointed a key north-westerner as prime minister or to another high-level post in an attempt to defuse the Anglophone-Francophone divide.AFP has reported that contrary to the 1992 elections, the government has decided not to broach the Anglophone issue this time. This is viewed as retaliation at the SDF's boycott of the elections. The SDF's powerbase is in the Anglophone areas.

In April 1993, the "All Anglophone Conference" adopted a resolution calling for the restoration of the federal structure. The two separatist movements are the Southern Cameroon National Council (SNC) with 300,000 members and Le Kamerun Anglophone movement (KAM) with another 200,000. Many of their supporters have gone into exile.


In the wave of social agitation in 1990 for multiparty politics, the government passed a law providing for the formation of political parties in February 1991. This saw the growth of a multiplicity of parties, many of which formed an umbrella coalition calling for a sovereign national conference. Biya rejected any dialogue on opening up the political process. This intransigent stance led to a prolonged campaign of civil disobedience known as "villes mortes" (ghost towns). This depressed the already reduced level of economic activity and coincided with the beginning of the decline of the Cameroonian economy.

After a delay of several months, the first multiparty parliamentary elections eventually took place in March 1992. Analysts said that only three parties put up a real show of strength during these elections: the UNDP, led by former prime minister Bello Bouba Maigari; the UPC, led by Adamou Ndam Njoya, and the MDR led by a northerner, Dakole Dasissola. The popular SDF boycotted these polls. The outcome was a split result: 92 seats to the opposition and 88 to the ruling party. This forced Biya to form a coalition with the MDR, giving the government a narrow eight-seat majority in the assembly.

As the opposition showed serious signs of splitting into separate camps, Biya took the opportunity to call presidential elections in October 1992. The opposition abandoned its original idea of fielding a single candidate. Biya claimed a narrow victory, confirmed by the Supreme Court, which certified that he had won 39.9 percent of the votes against 35.9 percent of SDF and 19.2 percent for UNDP. Opposition leaders claimed that the elections were rigged. The US-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) lent some credence to that claim by reporting a number of irregularities.


The parliamentary elections in May 1997 took place in an atmosphere of tension. Amnesty International expressed serious concern at human rights violations prior to the parliamentary polls, noting that large-scale arrests had taken place in the North-West and South-West provinces, stronghold of the SDF opposition. These arrests allegedly followed a series of armed attacks on military, police and civilian establishments in the North-West province. The authorities attributed the attacks to a group supporting independence for Cameroon's two English-speaking provinces. Despite these incidents, the SDF and other parties took part in the polls. The ruling party strengthened its position in relation to the 1992 elections. It won 109 of the 180 contested seats. In 1992, it had won only 88 seats. It was followed in second place by the SDF with 43 seats. The outstanding 19 seats were shared amongst the UNDP and other smaller parties. The election was monitored jointly by the Commonwealth Secretariat and la Francophonie. The observers said they were satisfied on the whole with the conduct of the campaign. However, they expressed some concerns about the timelag between the poll and the release of the results. It also noted that many potential voters had been disenfranchised by not being allowed to vote as a result of serious flaws in the registration process.


The Cameroonian authorities set the date of 12 October for presidential elections on 9 September. Three days later, the three key opposition parties, the SDF, UNDP and the UDC announced they would boycott the polls. They denounced past fraud and demanded the establishment of a national independent electoral commission. The latter demand has been consistently rejected by Biya. The government said that it regrets the opposition parties' decision to boycott, which for all intents and purposes, paves the way for the re-election of incumbent, analysts say.

The French and US governments have expressed concern over the active boycott by the three opposition leaders. A French foreign affairs ministry spokesman said earlier in the week that his country would be watching the conditions under which the polls would be held but it could not intervene in their organisation.

Abidjan, 11 October 1997

[ENDS] [Via the UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs Integrated Regional Information Network for West Africa (IRIN-WA) Reports mailing list. The material contained in this communication may not necessarily reflect the views of the UN or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts from this report should be attributed to the original sources where appropriate. For further information: e-mail, Tel: +225 217367 Fax:+225 216335.]

Message-Id: <> Date: Sat, 11 Oct 1997 13:07:21 +0100 From: UN DHA IRIN - West Africa <> Subject: Cameroon: IRIN-WA Special Briefing on Presidential Elections 97.10.11

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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