5 March 2018

Cameroon: Trigger for Tangible Decentralisation

opinion

If only for recent talk and action of the Head of State, the long-drawn discourse but apparently snail-pace decentralisation process in the country could witness a new lease of life in the months and years ahead. After reiterating government's resolve to fast-track the devolution process during his State-of-the nation's address on December 31, 2017, here comes President Paul Biya again with a move to materialise the promise.

One of the outstanding novelties in the March 2, 2018 cabinet reshuffle is the creation of a whole ministry dedicated to decentralisation and local development. The hitherto Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralisation has been split into two: Ministry of Territorial Administration and Ministry of Decentralisation and Local Development. This move, no doubt, falls in line with President Biya's, "conviction that our fellow citizens desire greater participation in managing their affairs, especially at the local level."

It is therefore clear that when the country's highest authority told his fellow compatriots on December 31, 2017, "it is my firm belief that fast-tracking our decentralisation process will enhance the development of our Regions. To that end, I have ordered the implementation of the necessary measures to speedily give effect to this major reform," he meant real business.

It couldn't have been otherwise, given the hurdles citizens continually went through in the somewhat centralised governance system and the prejudice such a practice left on the socio-economic development of the country, talk less of some social tensions which an effective devolution of competences and resources would have pre-empted. The Head of State has thus spoken loudly and acted clearly.

There is every reason to hope that these moves could trigger tangible decentralisation in the country. Citizens have heard quite much about the process, they have been well lectured on what such a good governance procedure could fetch for them in terms of their participation in the management of State affairs and their development. Consequently, it is high time they see the process in practice.

It is common knowledge that decentralisation enhances greater citizen input in governance as it strengthens both local elite and central State, opens the way for popular participation in decision- making about policy design and implementation as well as ignites higher level of government's responsiveness to demands and citizenship tolerance.

More so because local officials have a better knowledge of local realities than central government officials and are thus better positioned to respond to local taste and preferences.

The contrary of this breeds mistrust, frustration and easily leads to populace upheavals. The pioneer Minister of Decentralisation and Local Development therefore has an uphill task to take the process to a largely acceptable level. Hope is that with his fresh impetus as a Cabinet Minister, bolstered by the Head of State's determination to see things change for the better, Georges Elanga Obam will rise up to and why not beyond the challenge.

Expectations are thus rife! Fortunately, most councils today have communal development plans that would obviously need to be polished up to meet realities of the time. Broad-based consultations could equally be beneficial in the drive to efficiency. No one doubts the fact that once people are consulted on what they need and are also involved in the implementation of mutually-agreed projects, the notion of participatory development is easily achieved.

Clearly, local citizens' participation in the development process has to do with enhanced capacity to perceive their local needs, formulate their demands, organise to promote their legitimate interests and secure conditions for their improved livelihoods likewise play a major role in the management of their own affairs. As Georges Elanga Obam feasts his appointment; logically though, he shouldn't be carried away by the euphoria of the elevation. Results are highly awaited from across the board. No time to waste then. Action time is now! Godlove BAINKONG

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