BMI View: Political risk in Cameroon will increase in the coming quarters as the 2018 election nears. President Paul Biya’s low level of popular approval, questions surrounding his succession and the dissatisfaction of Anglophone activists with their perceived economic marginalisation will likely dominate the political discourse.
Political tensions in Cameroon will become more pronounced in coming quarters in the run-up to the 2018 presidential election. Following a number of protests by Cameroon’s Anglophone community since November, we expect opposition to the government in the Southwest and Northwest regions will remain a key issue in the upcoming poll, which may inspire further demonstrations closer to the time.
Longstanding social inequality in the wider population will also contribute to public dissent against the government, with protests having occurred during most periods of political transition. Lastly, we note a possibility Biya may not run for the presidency again, which would leave the ruling party, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM), without a clear successor and could risk creating a power vacuum.
Given these factors are likely to assert themselves closer to the poll, most likely to be held in October 2018, we have kept the Short-Term Political Risk Index score at 58.5 out of 100. However, we have long suggested the election and succession pose threats to the longer term outlook, leaving our Long-Term Political Risk Index score for Cameroon at a much lower score of 43.3 out of 100.
Anglophone Dispute Will Dominate Political Discourse
Whether or not Paul Biya runs in the election as the candidate for his party, the Anglophone population’s discontentment with purported marginalisation will likely continue to be a flashpoint in the run-up to the poll. Due to the likelihood the CPDM will win the election again, the lack of political representation advocating for Cameroon’s English-speaking population is likely to cause dissatisfaction, leading to more protests.
We had previously argued protests against the perceived political and economic marginalisation of Anglophone people in the Southwest and Northwest regions of Cameroon in H117 would not substantially undermine growth (see ‘Anglophone Protests Won’t Threaten Economic Development’, March 14). While this view has played out given the limited economic activity taking place in the Anglophone region, the tensions remain high there, given the government’s heavy-handed reaction.
The shutdown of the internet for several months in response to protests only served to foment tensions further. As such, we believe these tensions are likely re-assert themselves once more as activists from the region continue to express opposition to the continuation government policies which may encourage exclusion of English-speakers – for example, the publication of legal documents only in French, and the changing of the university system to favour French over English.
Wider Social Inequality Will Add To Unrest
While protests are likely to be most sustained in the Anglophone regions, they will not be contained there. Discontent with long-standing social inequality and dissatisfaction with the government’s policy responses is likely to lead to political unrest in the form of demonstrations and possible violence across the francophone regions as well.
We have long highlighted the likelihood of political instability around election periods as a result of the bubbling discontent (see ‘Presidential Succession And Terrorism Will Pose Headwinds’, November 14).
High levels of informal, low-wage employment and poverty, coupled with high youth unemployment, will likely encourage more protestors to come out. Furthermore, in November, a train accident on a line between Yaoundé and Douala left 79 dead and 400 people injured. During this time Biya was absent and did not return from a holiday in Europe during the disaster, leading many activists and opposition figures to criticise him as being out of touch.
Hence, his unpopularity among the wider population and the Anglophone community is likely to contribute to political unrest around election time, which will serve to increase investor fears about the country’s stability.
No Clear Successor If Biya Doesn’t Run
We note the candidate for the CPDM has not yet been announced, meaning uncertainty surrounding Biya’s succession plan will likely continue to worry investors. Given he is 84 years old and suffered health problems, there is a possibility that he may decide not to run for another seven-year presidential term. However, he has not chosen a clear successor, or groomed a particular person in his party for power.
While speculation has surrounded figures such as Prime Minister Philemon Yang and Minister of Justice Laurent Esso, the succession plan is far from clear. If the next president did not have enough authority in the party or exposure among the population, or in the event no successor was chosen in time, this would run the risk of a power vacuum in the country.
While it is unlikely this would lead to a collapse in the government, it would lead to legislative deadlock and severe infighting in the main party.