Editorial Commentary: Happy National Day, Cameroon?

As Cameroon celebrates its 52nd National Day on May 20, 2024, under the theme “Army and Nation: Together for a United, Peaceful and Prosperous Cameroon,” the nation finds itself at a crossroads. This theme, emphasizing unity and collaboration between the military and the populace, goes deeply in a country grappling with significant security threats, socio-political tensions, and economic challenges.
The vision of a united, peaceful, and prosperous Cameroon is indeed noble. However, the current reality presents a stark contrast. For over seven years, the North West and South West regions have been embroiled in an armed conflict, leading to severe disruptions in daily life and a general atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. The calls from separatists to boycott National Day celebrations have resulted in ghost towns, with empty streets, locked shops, and halted public transportation. This stark absence of public life is a strong symbol of the deep divisions and the pressing need for reconciliation and peace.

For decades, this event has been a source of joy and pride for school pupils and students, a celebration of national identity and unity. Yet, the ongoing conflict has stripped away this simple pleasure from many children across the North West and South West regions, highlighting the profound impact of the crisis on the younger generation. These children, who should be basking in the innocence of their youth, are instead growing up in an environment of violence and instability.

Beyond the immediate security concerns, Cameroon faces broader structural challenges that impede its development. The country’s infrastructure is woefully inadequate, with poor roads, limited access to electricity, and insufficient public services. These deficiencies not only hinder economic growth but also exacerbate regional inequalities, fueling discontent and unrest.

The bureaucratic landscape in Cameroon is equally troubling. A slow and burdensome bureaucracy, coupled with a lack of transparency in tax and regulatory regimes, poses significant challenges to small and medium-sized enterprises. These businesses are crucial for economic diversification and job creation, yet they struggle to thrive in an environment characterized by red tape and corruption. This stifles innovation and discourages investment, perpetuating a cycle of economic stagnation.

Cameroon's economic stability is heavily reliant on commodity exports, particularly oil and gas, which together accounted for 66% of exports in 2022. This dependency makes the country vulnerable to fluctuations in global commodity prices, undermining fiscal stability and development planning. While there has been a slight increase in public revenue, rising to 15.5% of GDP in 2022, this is still insufficient to meet the nation’s developmental needs.

Moreover, the country's banking system remains weak and underdeveloped, limiting access to credit and financial services for many Cameroonians. This financial exclusion hampers economic activity and exacerbates poverty, which remains alarmingly high. In 2021, 23.5% of the population lived in extreme poverty, a stark indicator of the non-inclusive nature of economic growth.
The political landscape adds another layer of complexity. President Paul Biya, now 90 years old, has been in power since 1982. His long tenure has provided stability but also fostered an entrenched political system resistant to change. The uncertainty surrounding his eventual succession heightens political risk and contributes to a sense of unease about the future.

In the far north, Boko Haram's insurgency continues to pose significant security threats, compounding the challenges faced by the central government. The persistence of these multifaceted conflicts underscores the urgent need for comprehensive and inclusive strategies to address both the immediate security concerns and the underlying socio-economic issues.

As Cameroon marks its National Day, it is imperative to reflect not only on the aspirations carried in the theme but also on the concrete steps needed to realize these goals. Building a united, peaceful, and prosperous nation requires more than just slogans. It demands genuine commitment to dialogue, reconciliation, and inclusive development. The government must prioritize the resolution of the Anglophone crisis through meaningful negotiations and address the systemic issues of governance and corruption that undermine public trust and economic progress.

Investing in infrastructure, streamlining bureaucratic processes, and enhancing transparency in governance are critical steps towards fostering a more conducive environment for business and development. Moreover, diversifying the economy beyond its reliance on commodities will be essential for long-term stability and resilience.

Ultimately, the vision of a united Cameroon can only be achieved through the collective efforts of its people, guided by leadership that is responsive, accountable, and committed to the well-being of all citizens. As we celebrate this National Day, let us renew our resolve to work towards a future where every Cameroonian can thrive in a nation that truly embodies unity, peace, and prosperity.

By Bakah Derick 
Multiple Award Media Personality 
National Vice President Incharge of International Relations Cameroon Journalists' Trade Union (CJTU/SNJC)
Email: debakah2004@yahoo.com 
Tel: 6 94 71 85 77 

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