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No Excuse For Cameroon 

By Fiona McAlpine

An awards ceremony was held in Monrovia last week for UN workers in Liberia, honouring the contributions of uniformed and civilian personnel working for the peace envoy. The UN has extended its mission in Liberia (UNMIN) for a further year in order to assist in administering free and fair elections. Their assistance with the legislative poll will aim at transparent elections, and on improving voter access in remote areas.

So the question arises, why is it that Liberia, who has a brutal recent history, including a 14-year civil war, can establish due process and Cameroon can’t? The UN has similarly stepped in to supervise the 2010 elections of the Ivory Coast. Cameroon has no excuse not to ensure free and fair elections if Liberia can do it. It is simply a lack of credible political willpower.

Since the debacle that was the 1992 elections, Cameroonians have watched repeated ballot fixing, so it is understandable that many view 2011 with trepidation. Many are sceptical of the possibility of instilling an impartial polling process, which is why ELECAM must rise to the challenge without getting caught in the same traps as the NEO, those which replenish cynicism and baulk progress.

I understand that ELECAM is drastically under resourced, but there are manifold NGOs and international networks that specialise in the field of both widespread registration and election administration. One example is the Governance and Economic Management Assistance Program (GEMAP), which works in Liberia to repair governance structures that could be used as a viable model for ELECAM. Another is IFES – The International Foundation for Electoral Systems who have assisted with elections in Liberia, Nigeria, Guinea, Gabon, Burundi and Angola.

Another is Transparency International, which has a Cameroon branch in Yaounde. Cameroon (and ELECAM) should become a member of the Association of African Election Authorities. These organisations provide the infrastructural training, human resources, funding, advice and technology needed if an electoral fantasy is to become a reality. They may not be able to remedy everything, and certainly not immediately, but it is a start.

And lastly there is the UN, who despite its flaws, have helped to successfully administer a multitude of elections across the planet, including other West and Central African nations.
 I’m sure people reading this article will think I am naive to the sluggish nature of Cameroonian bureaucracy. But for any nation the tools are there, all that is missing is the momentum. There are avenues for Cameroon and yes, things can actually change. 

With a median age of 19, Cameroon is a young country. It requires an innovative approach that is void of the hegemonic cronyism and corruption rampant in the offices of the older generations. The political culture in its essence has to shift; Cameroon requires fresh faces and fresh voices. It needs both intelligence and energy to outmanoeuvre the stale status quo.
 If Liberia can recover from a civil war, vote in a female leader and invite the UN to administer their elections, then Cameroon can do it too. Political advocates have other choices apart from waiting for Biya to expire.

If a candidate wants to ensure the electorate believes the ballot, then they should invite these dependable international bodies as the only thoroughly trustworthy endorsement. I understand that change will not happen overnight in Cameroon. When one promotes optimism then perhaps nothing with change, but approaching the 2011 elections with pessimism guarantees that nothing will. I hope a new candidate emerges that can both capture the aspirations of Cameroonians and incorporate these vital processes.

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