/ 27 February 2024

Cameroon’s opposition hopes for a renaissance

Anti Biya Protesters In Paris
Anti-Paul Biya Protesters demonstrate in front of the Eiffel tower in Paris, France, on 27 October 2018, to denounce a presidential election rigged in Cameroon by Paul Biya. (Photo by Julien Mattia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The opposition in Cameroon has had a worrying trajectory since it was legalised in 1990.

Things looked positive at first. Vibrant parties emerged, such as the Social Democratic Front (SDF), led by the charismatic Ni John Fru Ndi. It won more than half of the seats in the National Assembly.

While President Paul Biya secured re-election, he beat Ndi by only 4%, and everything changed. Understanding how close he was to defeat, Biya clamped down. Repression

became more intense, and restrictive measures such as bans on meetings and

demonstrations were introduced.

Worse, Biya’s efforts to divide and rule the opposition by sponsoring some groups and co-opting others has led to damaging fragmentation. Today there are more than 300 opposition parties; none can compete with Biya’s Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement.

But Biya is not the only problem. A lack of common vision, underpinned by ethnic divisions, has prevented the emergence of a more coherent challenge to the ruling party’s hegemony. The SDF has also struggled to replace Ndi, and has suffered from the conflict in the English-speaking regions of the country, which has made it difficult to campaign in its stronghold.

Taken together, these challenges explain why the opposition holds only 28 out of 180 seats in the National Assembly and has no senators at all. Even the decision of Maurice Kamto to form the Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC) in 2012 failed to deliver political change.

Despite considerable fanfare, Kamto was controversially given only 14% of the vote in the 2018 presidential election.

Even in the darkest moments, however, there is hope. Having boycotted legislative and municipal elections in 2020, the MRC will take part in the 2025 polls.

Opposition parties have also started to draw together to promote a mass voter registration drive and form a coalition around the Alliance for Change. Biya remains in control, but opposition  supporters can now dream of a renaissance.
This article first appeared in The Continent, the pan-African weekly  newspaper produced in partnership with the Mail & Guardian. It’s designed to be read and  shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here