The process of decentralization in Cameroon has been slowed down by blurred laws, and the complex administrative, institutional, management and governance framework. The laws on decentralisation prescribed in the Constitution of 1996 and 2004 Law are unclear on the financial system of local authorities, and the local tax system, as opposed to the operations of the central government. The absence of an Information Act makes public officials to conceal public information, and prevents concerned citizens from accessing public data.
Youth are key actors in the attainment of Cameroon’s 2035 vision of an emerging democracy, and need to effectively participate in decision-making on key issues (employment, education, health, etc.) that affect their well-being. Few youth understand the decentralization processes, national budgetary allocations, public procedures, fiscal laws, and public polices including the National Youth Policy, which was developed to serve youth needs. The absence of municipal youth communication strategies and youth policies has reduced municipalities’ abilities to understand and effectively address youth concerns. Youth have creative competencies in arts, theatre, music, social media and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), which be used to improve community governance and fiscal justice. Few youth have become municipal councilors, and youth leaders are interacting with power holders on diverse platforms, and deliberating on youth issues.
Improving transparency, accountability and efficiency in public decision-making and public service delivery will ensure that power and responsibilities are effectively redistributed between the State, private sector and civil society organizations. Dr. John Gaventa, political sociologist suggest that a clear analysis of power will shape citizen competencies and how skills and values are communicated through advocacy. He says building a critical consciousness strategy that simultaneously addresses the variable knowledge and values of individuals and constituencies will overcome barriers to public participation, and improve political efficacy significantly. Olga Gladkikh, Specialist in strategic advocacy reinforces this viewpoint by recommending civil society organisations to use a transformative civic education strategy that empowers people to address power relations and improve democracy in their communities.
Cameroonians are gradually understanding and claiming their civic and political rights. For instance, the World Bank through the Budget Transparency Initiative used innovatively designed radio programs, theatre and arts competitions, and student budget clubs to simplify and disclosed budgets to health clinic users and staff, parents, teachers, students, local communities, mayors, local CSOs and the media, and created space for public officials to account for public expenditures with constituents in 230 institutions (151 schools, 58 health centers and 28 municipalities) in Cameroon. It also established a local budget transparency index and a website, the “Cameroon BudgetInquirer” with information on national public investment budgets.
The World Bank Institute and the World Bank’s Open Development Technology Alliance (ODTA)
Introduced inhabitants of two municipalities in Cameroon to Mobile Budget Tracking and the five stages of participatory budgeting. Similarly, the Voluntary Services Overseas and Cuso International incorporated the use of a photography-based action research method – “photovoice” and short message service (SMS) in six municipalities in three regions of Cameroon, to engage women in budget planning and tracking the Participatory Budgeting and Tracking (PB$T) project.
The Civil Society Strengthening Programme has empowered over a hundred civil society organisations in Cameroon in political, economic and social governance. Amongst them is Youth Outreach Programme’s project – “strengthening the capacities of youth leaders to advocate for the implementation of youth policies” that has enabled hundreds of youth leaders, including members of the National Youth Council to initiate discussions with community leaders in open, participatory and meaningful manner in over 15 municipalities. Besides, youth leaders like Gabi Wambo have initiated youth training on public financial management and anti-corruption strategies for municipalities.
Pattie Lacroix, Specialist in deliberative dialogue processes argues that it is essential to reclaim spaces for engagement as policy dialogue leads to regulatory dialogue processes. She thinks dialogue should be rooted in people’s expectations, and not in projects or persons. She recommends that Dialogue should be institutionalised, built in as a culture, and created as a value for people to follow. Making Public Participation Legal on its part, proposes the establishment of Public Participation Ordinances with clearly outlines public procedures, principles, well defined roles and responsibilities of all public actors, and specific rewards, remedies and sanctions to public officials for adequacy, consistency and just public deliberations.
Although much efforts is still required to promote redistribution of power and ensure regulatory enforcement of youth-friendly administrative and institutional reforms in municipalities, broad based people-centered public participation policies should be established with concrete rule of law measurement standards, and local checks and balances as recommended by Botero, Martinez, Ponce and Pratt in The Rule of Law Measurement Revolution, municipalities, District Offices and courts (legal departments in all 360 communities in Cameroon) should expand the scope of public participation, increase government accountability, and citizen oversight of government action.