Youth across the world have always played an active, positive and effective role in societal transformation. They have played vital roles in fostering democratic transitions and spearheading movements in countries such as China, Colombia, Burma, South Africa and across the Middle East. Despite these achievements, political leaders have always relegated young people to the background of society when it comes to nation building.
The problem in Cameroon has never been the lack of institutions, policies and laws on youth, but rather the absence of political willingness to effectively monitor and implement these laws and policies.
If the letter of the law is to be followed, Cameroon has one of the strongest laws and policies on youth, which have been adopted by many African states as the base of their own policies. Paradoxically, there have been countries which have used Cameroon’s youth legislation as an inspiration, but have eventually been more effective in adopting and implementing progressive youth policies than Cameroon. The problem in Cameroon has never been the lack of institutions, policies and laws on youth, but rather the absence of political willingness to effectively monitor and implement these laws and policies.
Young people in Cameroon constitute over 70 percent of thepopulation, yet they are the most economically marginalized. In recent years, the number of young people aged between 15 and 35 has increased dramatically in Cameroon. Even though the number of policies and institutions tasked with fostering and ensuring the implementation of youth programmes has increased, their actual effectiveness in the field remains highly questionable to those outside of Cameroons political elite.
Cameroon remains very strategic in terms of institutional arrangement which also covers issues of the younger generation. The lack of adequate technical and professional education for youth remains a major concern and is one of main causes for massive youth unemployment in Cameroon, which is currently above 64 percent. Additionally, the failure to practically implement, monitor and evaluate the numerous youth policy instruments continues to cripple the institutions established to take care of youth concerns in Cameroon. A few institutions in Cameroon that could have achieved remarkable progress in youth policy implementation are analyzed below.
Apart from the Ministry of Youth and Civic Education of Cameroon, which is the governmental umbrella body for youth policy and actions, there are many sub-programs and institutions that have been established over the years. The government in place since 1982 has perceived youth as an unprosperous group, fit only to be manipulated and used as political leverage. The lack of insight within the leadership apparatus, coupled with rising poverty and unemployment has helped develop many elitist and ethnically-oriented youth groups and associations.
Often referred to by many Cameroonian youths and advocates as a crippled child from birth, The Cameroon National Youth Council (CNYC) was established in 2009 to be the voice of the more than 11,000 youth organizations in Cameroon. According to its Constitution, the CNYC was established to be a “national forum for consultation, expression, co-ordination, dialogue and action of youth organizations in Cameroon. Additionally, the CNYC was to be an “apolitical, lay and non profit making institution” under the supervisory authority of the Ministry of Youth Affairs.
On paper, the CNYC sounds like the best thing that has ever happened to youths in Cameroon since independence. Its mission and objectives are a masterpiece, a blue print for the emancipation, empowerment and development of youths in Cameroon. Any such forum that is created to rally and maximize youth energy and creativity is a powerful platform for nation building given that young people are the umbilical cords between the present and the future. They are the heart and kidneys of every developing nation.
Unfortunately, CNYC and its promising mission have been crippled from the start due to heavy political influence. Under article 25(1) of its Constitution, the CNYC obtains funding from state subsidies, donations, members’ contribution and fees. There is a French adage that says “la main qui donne dirige” meaning “the hand that gives, directs”. If the CNYC is funded by the government and supervised by the Ministry of Youths, how can it be impartial, independent and apolitical? This means that the CNYC does not make its own independent decisions, but only implements decisions designed by government officials to suit the desires and needs of the regime. The CNYC therefore serves the interest of government before catering the youth it was created to serve. The fact that the CNYC depends and rotates around the government’s agenda eliminates every iota of its apolitical and independent nature. Since its creation, the CNYC has not yet printed any positive trademark for itself or laid any concrete action known to the public, and youth in particular. It is an official and nation-wide arm of the government to promote the regime’s program, extend its political campaign and raise its public image.
The National Civic Agency for Participation in Development (ASCNPD) is a program initiated in July 2012 by the Ministry of Youth and Civic Education. The idea behind it was to give Cameroonian youth an avenue to participate in nation building and development by exercising their civic rights through projects that encourage sustainable development and self-employment. The agency strives to offer economic empowerment schemesand trainings for Cameroonian youth and provide the participants with micro grants of less than 1 million FCFA to start their small ventures.
What has the ASCNPD achieved in the past 2 years since its inception? Selection of youth into the program is based on personal connections rather than merit and the quality of the trainings remain highly questionable. Over 100 youth participants in the South West Region interviewed several months after the training explained that they did not receive any financial assistance or grants and the few who were assisted are those who are related to officials in the Agency. The Agency’s first Director was dismissed even before the first batch of trainees could get assistance due to poor financial management and ineffectiveness.
While over 5000 young people were originally supposed to benefit from the assistance schemes following the training, less than quarter of this number actually got assisted and was able to establish a business. In 2013, the agency announced it will only recruit 1000 new participants from the 10 regions of Cameroon with its 1.4 billion FCFA budget.
Even though the initial leadership of the Agency got dismissed, many have already lost trust in the Agency. The main reasons for the poor performance of the well-intended but badly implemented agency for youth participation include: Poorly defined selection criteria
The ASCNPD set up in 2012 is not a ‘true’ National Youth Service (NYS) a very partisan structure. There are no guarantees that the Agency will train youth to be patriotic and to be development actors. Despite the fact that the 2012 law setting up the Agency opens the possibility for partnerships with foreign public or private institutions, there are many hurdles preventing partnerships that could truly benefit youth, particularly in the private sector. The cultural cleavages that still exist between different groups, the strong disparities in income and the ever widening economic gap between the poorest and the richest, warrant a need for an establishment of an effective and inclusive NYS.
The current bodies and institutions do not create the possibility for the youth diaspora to assist in development efforts in Cameroon. The diaspora is a potentially a great source of knowledge, expertise and funding that could support projects in the country. Therefore an effective NYS has to bring the diaspora on board and include youth living outside of Cameroon to join in the countries development efforts.
According to many Cameroonians, the creation of the ASCNPD is not a laudable idea. How can we be sure that the Agency will not collapse as the experiment launched in 1973? One of the main issues affecting Cameroonian society is corruption and clientelism. How can we ensure that the participants in the youth development training and projects will be chosen impartially? How can the Cameroonian youth benefit from loans from the Cameroon Rural Financial Corporation and the Cameroon bank for Small and Medium size enterprises? These are just some of the many doubts that surround the Agency. There was no consultation with the diaspora, the private sector, with Academia as well as civil society in the establishment of the Agency and its mandate. This is why the country needs a ‘true’ NYS which will reflect the true needs of youth who continue to languish in poverty.
In conclusion, it is very important that youth in Cameroon enjoy a conducive environment to participate in development efforts and are given a chance to raise their voices in decision making processes.
Featured Image Credit: Cameroon - The Journey