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Pr. Chantal Marie Ngo Tong (Download pdf version)

Regions and Economic Development in Cameroon


The regions in Cameroon are the heirs of the provinces, which could never be institutionalised as ‘local authorities that are freely administered by councils’ according to the provisions of the 1960 Constitution. The recognition of the regions as fully-fledged territorial authorities is an institutional revolution that requires a reorganisation of relations between the various components of the political-administrative system: the state, the administrative departments and the local authorities. In this reorganisation,  the regions are at the heart of many issues : the distribution of institutional resources; the structuring of regional political markets and the production of public action between the central administration and the regions. The legal framework for their action is set out in the Constitution and the General Code on Regional and Local Authorities (CGCTD). A clear reading of the provisions relating to their organisation and operation is essential for members of regional councils. As of January 22, 2021, all the regional councils resulting from the regional elections of December 2020 have been effectively installed, the offices of the councils elected and installed. However, the main thing is not to elect representatives at the regional level, but to have their consistent autonomy from the central state and its deconcentrated administrations. The region does not have legislative power but regulatory power, which allows for a territorial application of the norms enacted by the central government and the enactment of rules to facilitate territorial management.. Its competences, although exclusively administrative, constitute the backbone of its actions in favour of economic development. With regard to these competences, what role can the regions play in promoting economic development in the face of the multifaceted crises the country is experiencing? In order to answer this question, it is appropriate to look back at the mission of the regions, which has been brought into orbit with the powers transferred to them (I), before examining the role of the regions in economic development (II).

Mission and Competences of the Region

According to article 259 paragraph 2 of the CGCTD, the region is “invested with a general mission of economic and social progress“. Within the framework of this mission, various competences have been transferred to it in terms of economic development, health and social development, and educational, sporting and cultural development. In terms of economic development more specifically, the region’s competences are divided into three sections : cally, the region’s competences are divided into three sections: economic action, management of the environment and natural resources, planning, land use, public works, urbanism and housing. Of all the competences transferred in 2021, none fall within the section relating to economic action. The competences transferred by the decrees of 2021 fall into sections II and III, and relate essentially to environmental protection, tourism and leisure , participation in the organisation and management of urban public transport , urban planning and housing . The decrees setting out the terms and conditions for the exercise of these competences allow the regions to define their action plan for the next four years.

A comparison of the provisions of the CGCTD, which lists the competences to be transferred, and the decrees transferring the competences shows that, of the eight (8) competences to be transferred in the field of environmental and natural resource management, only three (3) have been transferred. With regard to Section III, which refers to competences in the field of planning, land use, public works, urbanism and housing, six (06) competences have been transferred out of the eight (08) planned. Since the first competences transferred to the regions are related to economic development, it can be said that the Cameroon State is clearly orienting its regional policy towards the promotion of economic policies. In this perspective, the regions in their deployment must work effectively to contribute to the harmonious, balanced, united and sustainable development of the territory. Among the tools they have at their disposal to achieve this are regional development plans and the regional land use plan. Furthermore, without being a supervisory body over the municipalities, they must work in close collaboration with the latter, particularly in terms of urban planning, town planning and housing.

Although the transfer of these competences paves the way for the regions to take action in economic matters, the fact remains that their fragmentation may constitute an obstacle to the expected performance. In view of Cameroon’s diverse potential and the specificities of each region, it is advisable not to fragment the regions’ competences and to transfer specific competences to them in the key sectors, which are the levers of economic development: agriculture, ICTs, tourism, town planning and housing, etc. However, on reading Title II (Competences transferred to the regions) of Book IV (Rules applicable to the regions) of the CGCTD, it becomes clear that, far from being specialised, the regions’ field of competence is in fact very imprecise; and whereas it would have been desirable for them to have specialised competences in the economic sphere, the regions find themselves having to deal with a range of diversified problems: culture, the environment or tourism.

Yet, the region is considered by its size as a relevant territory for the conception of large-scale strategies; and for various analysts, it constitutes “a relevant way for reforming the action of the State on the economic level“. As a result, it is appropriate to transfer large-scale competences in the key sectors of the economy, the effective exercise which would enable it to drive economic development.

The Role of the Region in Driving Economic Development

The idea of exclusively centrifugal economic development has lost its relevance since the 1970s in favour of a  local development approach : economic bodies within a territory. In this logic, the regions can draw inspiration from the actions developed by the  Douala Urban Community  in terms of local economic development to help improve the Business Climate Survey (BCS). In fact, the development of the economy on a regional scale is the result of collective action combining the strategies of the regions and the initiatives of businesses located on their territory.

The territory, a determining factor in the redefinition of development approaches, sets the relevant scales for reflection and economic action. In this perspective, the region should have sufficient room for manoeuvre to create a development dynamic involving different actors on its territory: supervisory authorities, decentralised State services (SDE), local authorities (communes, urban communities), businesses, traditional authorities, associative movements, economic operators and the population. The natural resources of the territory and the dynamism of the region’s populations are assets that can be mobilised around regional projects.

Conclusion and Recommendations

In the dynamics of decentralising reforms, the regions constitute a level of political representation and public action with a stato-centric political capacity. The transfer of competences to them in terms of economic development and regional planning makes them major players in the implementation of the State’s major orientations in these areas. In addition, they ensure, in coordination with the State, the maintenance of social cohesion in the territory by linking the economy, society and the environment in the design and implementation of territorial development strategies. In order to enable them to play an important role in stimulating economic development, the following recommendations can be made:

– The share of credits allocated to investments should be dominant in their budgets, whether it is a question of direct equipment expenditure or equipment grants to municipalities, for example support for municipal action in the field of urban planning and housing;

– Transferring specific competences in key sectors, levers of economic development: agriculture, ICTs, tourism, town planning and housing, etc. It is important to avoid fragmenting and spreading out the competences to be transferred to the regions.

Prof. NGO TONG Chantal Marie is a Research associate in Governance & Democracy at the Nkafu Policy Institute. She holds a Ph.D. in Political Science, obtained from the University of Nantes (France) in the international thesis co-supervision agreement between University of Yaoundé II (Cameroon) and University of Nantes (France).