By Ordy BETGA MBOFUNG (PhD) (Download pdf version)
Assessing the Challenges of the Fight Against Corruption in Cameroon
Corruption is a daily reality in Cameroon. There is no sector that is not infected: the army, customs, police, justice, national education, health services, public transport, public markets, the media, the electoral process, the civil service, and the private sector, basically all public and para-public activities, the relationship between the administration and individuals, and between individuals themselves. Whether it is petit or grand, corruption is increasingly reaching an unbearable level. The fight against corruption, which has been underway in Cameroon for more than two decades, is of the utmost importance, looking at what is at stake. Unfortunately, despite the many national and international initiatives to curb this scourge, acts and practices of corruption continue to flourish and become the norm. This situation therefore leads to a number of puzzles, and prompts the following questions: why has Cameroon not succeeded in reducing the practice of corruption to its lowest form? What are the constraints that prevent Cameroon from progressing towards this objective of cleaning up public management and morals? The lack of firmness of international partners, especially in the implementation of conditionalities for good governance, their counter-example and certain incestuous relationships have long contributed to the situation1; and the responsibility of Cameroonian actors is more important. We can summarise these challenges within three main factors that will be analysed successively, namely the slow implementation of reforms (I), the development of corruption within the fight against corruption (II) and the deep-rooted culture of corruption among Cameroonians (III).
I. The slow implementation of reforms
The attitude of Cameroon’s public authorities reveals a lack of the will to fight corruption. This can be deduced from the pace of implementation of reforms stemming from Cameroon’s international commitments to fight corruption. This laxity in the implementation of reforms reflects the government’s initial reluctance to make the fight against corruption a priority of public action. For a long time, the government’s posture was to deny the seriousness of corruption, claiming attempts of destabilisation and sabotage following Transparency International corruption perception Index reports. As the political system in Cameroon had been nourished for a long time by corruption, it was not easy to question old habits (still in place today) with clientelism and neo-patrimonialism, used by the power that be to establish its legitimacy and ensure the allegiance of the regime’s dignitaries. Civil society actors who denounce corruption are viewed with suspicion and even contempt and accused of being ‘politically short-sighted’2 when they speak out against the established ‘corrupt order’. Tensions and difficult collaboration between the government and critical members of the civil society are also a challenge. The Cameroonian government has always had difficulties implementing reforms. For example, CONAC, whose implementation was suggested by the UN Convention against corruption, ratified by Cameroon in April 2004, was only finally created in 2006. And the country had to wait for further pressure to see the appointment of CONAC’s members two years later, in 2008.
Moreover, the application of Article 66 of the Constitution on the declaration of assets is still not on the agenda, despite numerous calls for its implementation. Such a provision would seem to have some effectiveness in preventing corruption and related offenses, notably illicit enrichment. It was on 25 April 2006, ten years after the adoption of the 1996 Constitutional Law, that the law on the declaration of assets was adopted. But until now, its implementing decree, which is supposed to define the conditions for its implementation, such as the creation and appointment of the members of the commission or the institution before which the declaration of assets should take place, is still awaited. Consequently, the principle of the declaration of assets remains in theory, confirming an insufficient political will to counter corruption. Even with the establishment of a set of anti-corruption bodies, they are not exempted from corrupt practices.
II. The Development of Corruption in the Fight against Corruption
This is certainly a fundamental problem. How do one successfully fight an evil rooted in oneself? This is the constant dilemma of the anti-corruption dilemma in Cameroon. There is a multiplicity of institutions, commissions and bodies involved in the fight against corruption in Cameroon, although each has specific missions3. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of their action seems to be compromised in several respects. There are many controversies regarding their independence and integrity, i.e. their capacity to prevent and punish acts of corruption effectively and impartially. These institutions appear to be under the control of the executive power that created them and appointed their members. Most often, “evidence of dysfunction is obvious in many anti-corruption commissions which lack independence from the executive”3.
This is a similar situation with the judiciary, which is prone to subordination to the executive and plagued by rampant corruption4. Any service is subject to the payment of bribes; power is no longer to the law, but to the highest bidder. Corruption denies victims and/or defendants the fundamental right to a fair trial. The Cameroonian judicial system has become the centre of power abuse, matchmaking of decisions and other jurisdictional acts, and complicity with criminals under the guise of corruption5. In the field of anti-corruption, decisions made by the judiciary are suspected of being made in accordance with orders received ‘from above’.
Finally, the lack of systematisation and apparent instrumentalization of the fight against corruption has slowed down the momentum of anti-corruption in Cameroon, especially within the framework of Operation Sparrowhawk, which has been the main national framework for the fight against corruption, entrusted to the diligence of the Ministry of Justice. Arrests occur intermittently, and the principle does not seem to be the same for everyone. The fight against corruption within the framework of Operation Sparrowhawk thus seems to be nothing more than a matter of government seducing donors with the illusion of serious commitment, and only the unlucky disgraced fall6. An example in this context is the scandal surrounding the withdrawal of the organisation of the 2019 African Cup of Nations football tournament (CAN) from Cameroon. While several facts of misappropriation of public funds and corruption have been proven, which clearly suspects ministers as the culprits, no investigation has been opened.
Those concerned benefiting from the favours of the Presidency of the Republic were instead rewarded during the ministerial reshuffle that followed. The Audit Bench of the Supreme Court released, in 2021, a damning report on the management of COVID-19 funds, yet nothing has been done. The most recent scandal broke in May 2022 and concerned the Anglo-Swiss group Glencore, which specialises in commodities trading and claims to have paid bribes of 7 billion CFAF to the national hydrocarbons company (SNH) and SONARA. Once again, it is expected that the anti-corruption bodies in Cameroon will take up the case, but the wait may be very long. Much money is embezzled or wasted on a daily basis by public officials, and it always seems normal or there is always a funny justification despite massive indignation. This lack of systematization that opens the way to all kinds of controversy, only indicates that corruption in Cameroon is a political instrument. It would only be a “purge operation that now legitimises the eviction of political competitors”7. Cameroonian anti-corruption institutions are in fact affected by the corruption prevailing in the country in general.
III. The Deep-rooted Culture of Corruption among Cameroonians
The culture of corruption among Cameroonians favours the institutionalisation of corrupt practices. Corruption in Cameroon, and for a large majority of Cameroonians, has become part of the normality, so that to behave well today and say no to corruption, is an anomaly“Many Cameroonians agree that corruption must be fought, but all seem to have resigned themselves to working with the system of corruption and not against it. What prevails is the culture of ease. How many are there who, instead of actively preparing for a civil service entrance exam, first look for the “right network” with the support of their relatives? How many parents mechanically prepare envelopes for the principal when registering their offspring in a government secondary school? How many users deliberately refuse to comply with regulations, preferring to pay bribes to corrupt officials to turn a blind eye to irregularities? There can be no corrupt without a corruptor, corruption is the result of two conscious wills. But how many have the courage to say NO?
It is in this light that a narrative legitimising corruption emerges. Corruption is bound to continue, as it is part of ordinary practices. For civil servants, for example, bribes are simply a service benefit that allows them to make ends meet8. “To be appointed to a position of responsibility means above all to have access to the resources devolved or controlled by one’s administration and to capture them for one’s own benefit”9, which is why great festivities are constantly organised by ministers and other newly appointed senior government officials to celebrate their entry into the “manger”. As Bayart rightly points out, it is the “politics of the belly” that prevails10. Public service is thus transformed into a “self-service”. Bad mentalities and uncivil behaviours are maintained by socialisation at all levels11. In this respect, the urgent need for moral sanitation and a “change of mentality” are essential, far from selfishness and greed.
Moreover, Cameroonians know how to be ingenious when it comes to corruption, this contributes to maintaining a certain balance in the corruption system. This tendency towards adaptation is manifested in the development of new strategies that circumvent the threat of anti-corruption institutions12. If Cameroonians are not open to change and are not cooperative enough, corruption will continue to aggravate in the heart of society.
There are a plethora of challenges and constraints to the effectiveness and efficiency of the fight against corruption in Cameroon. While corruption may not be completely eradicated, its scope can be reduced through a number of policies. In particular, the promulgation of the decree implementing the law on the declaration of assets, the systematic sanctioning of all perpetrators of corruption at all levels, the fight against tax havens, the empowerment of anticorruption institutions to work without interference, the ultimate application of all principles of good governance and the promotion of models of virtue for young people. With the commitment of all, at all levels of the chain, everything is possible.