Principal Government Officials
Chief of State: President Paul Biya
Head of Government: Prime Minister Philemon Yang
The 1972 constitution (amended in 1996 and 2008) provides for a strong central government dominated by the executive. The president is empowered to name and dismiss cabinet members, judges, generals, regional governors, prefects, sub-prefects, and heads of Cameroon's parastatal (about 100 state-controlled) firms, obligate or disburse expenditures, approve or veto regulations, declare states of emergency, and appropriate and spend profits of parastatal firms. The president is not required to consult the National Assembly.
The judiciary is subordinate to the executive branch's Ministry of Justice. The Supreme Court, in the absence of a constitutionally mandated Constitutional Court, may review the constitutionality of a law only at the president's request.
The 180-member National Assembly meets in ordinary session three times a year (March-April, June-July, and November-December), and seldom makes major changes in legislation proposed by the executive. Laws are adopted by a majority vote of members present or, if the president demands a second reading, of total membership.
Following government pledges to reform the strongly centralized 1972 constitution, the National Assembly adopted a number of amendments in December 1995, which were promulgated in a new constitution in January 1996. The amendments called for the establishment of a 100-member Senate as part of a bicameral legislature, the creation of regional councils, and the installation of a 7-year presidential term, renewable once. One-third of senators would be appointed by the president, and the remaining two-thirds would be chosen by indirect elections. As of October 2010, neither the Senate nor the regional council had been created. In April 2008, the National Assembly acceded to constitutional changes proposed by the presidency that, inter alia, removed presidential term limits and provided the president with immunity from prosecution for acts committed while in office.
All local government officials are employees of the central government's Ministry of Territorial Administration, from which local governments receive most of their budgets.
While the president, the Minister of Justice, and the president's judicial advisers (the Supreme Court) top the judicial hierarchy, traditional rulers, courts, and councils also exercise functions of government. Traditional courts still play a major role in domestic, property, and probate law. Tribal laws and customs are honored in the formal court system when not in conflict with national law. Traditional rulers receive stipends from the national government.
The government adopted legislation in 1990 to authorize the formation of multiple political parties and ease restrictions on forming civil associations and private newspapers. Cameroon's first multiparty legislative and presidential elections were held in 1992. Because the government refused to consider opposition demands for an independent election commission, the three major opposition parties boycotted the October 1997 presidential election, which Biya easily won.
Each of Cameroon's national elections has been marred by severe irregularities. In December 2000, the National Assembly passed legislation creating the National Elections Observatory (NEO), an election watchdog body. NEO played an active role in supervising the conduct of local and legislative elections in June 2002 and July 2007, which demonstrated some progress but were still hampered by irregularities. The NEO also supervised the conduct of the presidential election in October 2004, as did many diplomatic missions, including the U.S. Embassy. The incumbent, Paul Biya, was re-elected with 70.92% of the vote. NEO reported that it was satisfied with the conduct of the election but noted some irregularities and problems with voter registration. The U.S. Embassy also noted these issues with the election, as well as reports of non-indelible ink, but concluded that the irregularities were not severe enough to impact the final result. The U.S. Embassy provided monitors for the July 2007 parliamentary and municipal elections and concurred with the analysis of other observers and diplomatic missions, who noted some improvements but persistent flaws, especially in the registration of voters and the prevention of voter fraud.
In December 2006, the President enacted the law creating Elections Cameroon (ELECAM), an independent body responsible for the organization, management, and supervision of all election operations and referendums. The decree stipulated its creation by the end of June 2008. In December 2008, well outside the timeframe outlined in the 2006 law, a 12-member ELECAM Council was appointed. Most members (10 out of 12) are from the President’s CPDM party, thus ELECAM is not seen as independent or impartial. During its March 2010 session, the National Assembly amended the law creating ELECAM in order to allow political parties and the administration to play a significant role in the electoral process at the level of the various commissions that will govern voter registration, vote count, and disputes. The amendment also empowered the Directorate General of Elections, the technical branch of ELECAM. ELECAM has been hiring staff and setting up offices. The next presidential election is scheduled for late 2011.
Cameroon has a number of private newspapers, radio stations, and private television stations. Censorship was officially abolished in 1996, but the government has on occasion seized or suspended newspapers, radio stations, and television stations. In recent years the harassment and arrests of journalists has increased.
Radio and television continue to be a virtual monopoly of the state-owned broadcaster, the Cameroon Radio-Television Corporation (CRTV). However, there are several independent television stations and many more regional private radio stations, although many are owned by or financed by parliamentarians, mayors, or party officials.
Since the issuance of the decree authorizing the creation of private radio and television on April 3, 2000, only two stations have received a license from the government. Licensing fees are more than $100,000 for radio stations and $200,000 for television stations, which many in the press consider exorbitant.
There are a dozen community radio stations created and supported by the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and local councils, which are exempted from licenses and have no political content. Radio coverage extends to about 80% of the country, while television covers 60% of the territory.
Despite strong civil rights on the books, the government recurrently infringes upon rights and liberties in practice. Discrimination against women, homosexuals and indigenous peoples is pervasive. Criticism of the president, ranking officials or the government at large continues to be met by harassment and physical force by the government. Similarly, the rights to assemble and of association are often curtailed according to ideology and political alignment. The public’s ability to seek recourse from the courts remains minimal due to insufficient resources and physical access, and corruption. Government prisons are at times life-threatening, plagued by overcrowding, poor sanitation, and corruption by security forces. Reports of torture, excessive force, unlawful arrests and detention, and unlawful killings by police and security forces remain widespread. Forced labor and human trafficking are also chronic problems.
Cameroon's non-contentious, low-profile approach to foreign relations puts it squarely in the middle of other African and developing states on major issues. It supports the principle of noninterference in the affairs of third countries and increased assistance to underdeveloped countries. Cameroon is an active participant in the United Nations, where its voting record demonstrates its commitment to causes that include international peacekeeping, the rule of law, environmental protection, and Third World economic development. In the UN and other human rights fora, Cameroon's non-confrontational approach has generally led it to avoid criticizing other countries.
Cameroon enjoys good relations with the United States and other developed countries. It has particularly close ties with France, with whom it has numerous military, economic, and cultural agreements. China has a number of health and infrastructure projects underway in Cameroon, and provides some military assistance. Cameroon enjoys generally good relations with its African neighbors. Cameroon successfully resolved its border dispute with Nigeria in the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula through peaceful legal means after having submitted the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). With the support of the UN, both countries worked closely together to peacefully implement the ICJ ruling, and a genuine, peaceful turnover of the peninsula by Nigeria was completed on August 14, 2008. In December 2009, both countries laid the first pillar to demarcate the border. Cameroon is a member of CEMAC (Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa) and has supported UN peacekeeping activities in Africa (Sudan, Central African Republic) and Haiti.
Cameroon's non-contentious, low-profile approach to foreign relations puts it squarely in the middle of other African and developing states on major issues. It supports the principle of noninterference in the affairs of third countries and increased assistance to underdeveloped countries. Cameroon voting record at the United Nations demonstrates its commitment to causes that include international peacekeeping, environmental protection, and Third World economic development. In the UN and other human rights fora, Cameroon generally abstains from contentious votes.
Cameroon enjoys good relations with the United States and other developed countries. It has particularly close ties with France, with whom it has numerous military, economic, and cultural agreements. China has a number of health and infrastructure projects underway in Cameroon, and provides some military assistance. Cameroon enjoys peaceful relations with its African neighbors. Cameroon successfully resolved its border dispute with Nigeria in the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula through peaceful legal means after having submitted the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). With the support of the UN, both countries worked closely together to peacefully implement the ICJ ruling, and a genuine, peaceful turnover of the peninsula by Nigeria was completed on August 14, 2008. In December 2009, both countries laid the first pillar to demarcate the border. Cameroon is a member of CEMAC (Economic and Monetary Community o
Sources:CIA World Factbook (January 2012)
U.S. Dept. of State Country Background Notes ( January 2012)