So many arguments have cropped up over the bill instituting the General Code of Regional and Local Authorities which was adopted in the National Assembly on Wednesday 18 December, 2019 at the ongoing extraordinary session of Parliament. Senators are now going to take over and give their own reading of the document which has witnessed much debate across communities and groups in the country.
The challenging circumstances the country is facing do justify the wide attention that the Bill has attracted since government submitted it in Parliament on Friday 13 December, 2019. Besides the restive situation in the North West and South West regions and the growing desire by Cameroonians across the board to take greater control over the management of their own affairs, there was the promise by President Paul Biya after the Major National Dialogue in Yaounde from 30 September to 4 October 2019 that the recommendations of the confab will be methodically examined.
Consequently, the Bill does not only seek to address specific concerns, but has taken into account several other worries that citizens continue to express, especially with regard to the demographic evolution in most major towns in the country. Even practices which already existed like the protection of minorities have still been fine-tuned in the current Bill.
Curiously, Section 246 (1) of the Bill which states that; “The city mayor shall be a native of the region of attachment of the city council,” has been at the centre of controversy. The movement of citizens to any part of the country is a right. But such demographic shifts witnessed in most cities in the country where urban Councils have been created in most cases have also, in some situations, led to tension between those who come in and original inhabitants of the major towns. The appointment of Government Delegates in the past was generally reserved for original inhabitants of specific localities. Such a move had apparently been seen as normal by many since no one raised a finger at the time.
Of course, the preamble of the Constitution of Cameroon says; “The State shall ensure the protection of minorities and shall preserve the rights of indigenous populations in accordance with the law.” Some people have tried to oppose such a provision of the Constitution to the desire by Cameroonians and the political will to foster the “Living Together” drive in the country. Yet, all would agree that no matter the form given to the sense of harmony and peaceful coexistence among Cameroonians, it may never be proper for any ethnic group to swallow up the other and the over 200 ethnic communities in the country that have specificities which need to be harnessed and made to mend walls rather than foster cracks.
That probably explains why local councils have people from all sociological groups that exist in any cosmopolitan area even if they might all not lay claim to the post of city mayor. The new provision is simply a reminder or an improvement of what existed in the past. Since the post of Government Delegate has been suppressed, there was need for measures to ensure a balance in the way councils are managed at the local and city levels. The emphasis and debate, if need be, should actually concern officials who occupy posts of responsibility. They should bear in mind the development challenges that the people face rather than focusing on their ethnic origins. It is obvious that bringing progress to a community must not rest in the hands of people from that locality, but the presence of people from all ethnic groups in any city area in the local governing structure should oblige the councillors to be able to contribute their quota to progress and to the general wellbeing of the locality.
However, anybody may have the right to contest for any post of responsibility in all parts of the country, but the way politics has operated in the country over the years cannot be neglected either. People have often operated on the basis of ethnic and at times tribal feelings and if the law fails to check excesses, there could be conflict of another kind. Local indigenes that are being given the chance to take centre stage in the evolution of their areas of origin have to be accountable to both their consciences and the voters. Since the law offers them special advantages in their area of origin, such possibilities should help them in bringing other people into the development arena in their council so as to ensure the general wellbeing. Consequently, if the law provides for the protection of citizens, especially the indigene, it is but normal, and such advantages should help in making communities responsible for their own development initiatives before expecting State support and assistance from other partners.