Cameroon's regional councils this week called on the central government to grant promised autonomy and funds that they say would help resolve the country's separatist conflict. The regions have yet to receive a promised 20% of the state budget this year and the power to recruit state workers like hospital staff and teachers.
Atem Ebako, vice president of the Southwest regional executive council, says he has nothing to present as an achievement since he officially took office on January 21.
Ebako says the central government in Yaounde continues to strengthen its grip on power, contrary to Cameroon's decentralization code.
"I have been given a job to do. I have not been given the resources to do that job. Yes. You come to my office, it is well equipped, but is that what my people want? For me to have an equipped office? No. Give me the money, give me the human resources, give me the materials, give me the competencies. I will start doing the job,” he said.
Ebako said without the resources, the regional executive councils are serving no purpose.
Cameroon announced special status for its troubled Northwest and Southwest regions after a grand national dialogue called by President Paul Biya in 2019. The talks involved the government, youths, clergy, representatives of some separatist groups and others to find solutions to the crisis in the regions, where most people speak English.
Participants decided that the two areas would have regional bodies responsible for economic, health, social, educational, sports and cultural development affairs.
The bodies were meant to give the regions more autonomy and weaken support for armed groups that want the regions to separate from the rest of Cameroon and its French-speaking majority.
The government said it would give about 20% of its $9 billion state budget to the regions to manage. But so far, that hasn’t happened.
Cho Ngu Ernest, director for human resources for regional and local authorities in Cameroon’s ministry of decentralization, says many government ministers are reluctant to transfer resources to the regions as stated in the country's decentralization code and constitution.
"It is not easy to relinquish power, but the prime minister, head of government, acting on high instructions of the president of the republic, has asked the minister of decentralization to make sure that all those decrees to enable the regions to function be sent to him with immediate effect because the intention of the head of state is to bring development to the grassroots," Ernest said.
Cameroonian-born political analyst Jean Pierre Manga, who lectures at the University of Bangui in the Central African Republic, says Cameroon’s unity is under threat unless the central government provides resources to the regional councils.
He says the central government in Yaounde is noted for always depriving grassroots populations of resources, warning that Cameroon's unity will continue to be threatened if the central government does not stop preventing civilians from freely participating in their own local development. Manga added it was high time for power to be truly relinquished as spelled out in the constitution.
Cameroon’s separatists have been fighting since 2017 to create an independent English-speaking state in the majority French-speaking country’s western regions.
The separatist conflict in Cameroon has killed more than 3,000 people and displaced more than 550,000, according to the United Nations.