A leading member of Cameroon’s diaspora says recent changes in the West African country’s electoral law fall short of their demands.
Cameroon’s National Assembly last week agreed to extend voting rights to the estimated five million citizens living abroad, but only to those who are registered with their local embassy and who do not hold dual nationality.
Kenneth Ndeh, founder of the American Association of Cameroonians says the diaspora has been asking for dual citizenship and that the recent changes are only intended to benefit President Paul Biya’s ruling party.
“There are lots of things that most Cameroonians in the diaspora have asked for from the government both at the executive level and at the legislative level. Most Cameroonians in the diaspora have asked for dual citizenship and basic and respectable services at the consulate level of various embassies abroad and none of these things have been implemented,” he said.
Ndeh said dual citizenship is economically beneficial to Cameroon.
“If the government of Cameroon were able to implement dual citizenship, as a matter fact, the government of Cameroon will be the net beneficiary,” Ndeh said.
National Assembly Vice President Emilia Lifaka said last week that the new voting privilege would exclude Cameroonians with dual nationality or those seeking asylum because she said those people be unlikely to go and register with their local embassy.
Ndeh said, while Emilia Lifaka may be correct in her assessment, Cameroonians living in the diaspora do so for different reasons.
“There are lots of Cameroonians who are abroad for various reasons. Political asylum is one of them, but what has driven Cameroonians abroad is economics; we are economic refugees for the most part. There has been little or no opportunity back home and so we go abroad to have economic opportunities that would benefit not only ourselves, but our families back home.”
He cites the tens of thousands of dollars that he said Cameroonians in the diaspora send home each year in the form remittances. Ndeh said requiring all Cameroonians to register with their local embassy before they would be allowed to vote is an unreasonable demand.
“When the president of the Republic of Cameroon came to the United States in 1995 during the Golden Jubilee celebration, we had a meeting in Washington, D.C. We put together a document that had certain requests. One of those requests was that we know that our people are concentrated in Texas and places like California and we requested that we have a consulate in either Texas or California to serve those in the western part of the United States,” Ndeh said.