The people of Cameroon are Thursday celebrating 50 years of independence from France and Britain.
French-speaking Cameroon gained its independence from France in January 1960 while the English-speaking Southern Cameroon gained its independence from Britain in 1961.
The two sides joined together in October 1961 to form the Republic of Cameroon.
Bertha Ndoh, special advisor to Cameroon’s prime minister on gender issues, said Thursday marks the culmination of two weeks of Independence Day festivities.
“For the past two weeks, we have been celebrating. We first had religious programs where all Cameroonians came together. We’ve had a lot of panel discussions on independence, 50 years down the road; we’ve a lot of dances from all of our regions; and we also had an exhibition game of former (Indomitable Lions) football stars,” she said.
Ndoh said six African heads of state along with former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan are in Cameroon to be part of Thursday’s main celebrations.
“Thursday, which is the real day, there’s going to be a march pass (parade), and we have six heads of state who have come. We also have the former Secretary General of the United Nations, His Excellency Mr. Kofi Annan is also here,” Ndoh said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton congratulated Cameroonians and said the United States remains committed to working with the government as it seeks to strengthen democracy, governance, and rule of law.
Some critics of President Paul Biya’s 28-year rule are asking whether the country has got anything of substance to celebrate.
They say true independence should mean having free and fair elections and reducing the level of poverty, particularly among the country’s rural majority.
Ndoh said Cameroon under President Biya has met the requirements of multi-party democracy, with a vibrant opposition and an independent judiciary.
“When we talk about democracy, you know that we have multi-party democracy in Cameroon; there is development. A lot of schools have been opened; the fight against corruption which is an ongoing process, and of course human rights. It is true that we still have much which has to be done, but when you look 50 years back, I think we are on the right track,” Ndoh said.
She brushed aside main opposition leader John Fru Ndi’s criticism that President Paul Biya’s ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) has been conducting and winning fraudulent elections.
“You know, it is not only here in Cameroon that we have problems concerning elections. But I think that Elections Cameroon (the country’s independent election body) has been put in place with the help of the Commonwealth, and we need to give the new team a chance. We are waiting for next year where we’re going to have presidential election. I think we can judge them from that. Of course, you know that when it comes to opposition, they never say anything positive about the government,” Ndoh said.
Critics said the over $9 million the country is spending for the 50th independence anniversary festivities could have been spent on rural electrification, pipe-born water, and building more health facilities.
But Ndoh said the cost is justified, especially for the country’s 50th independence anniversary.
“I am not part of the organizing committee, but if people have to celebrate you have to spend money, and what better way for us to celebrate for 50 years,” she said.