Two important edifices exist in Cameroon which define, to a great extent, the whole sociological architecture of the country – the cathedral and the presidency. The first is found at the center and like the force of gravity pulls all other things around it as a God and keeper of the nation. While the second, found about three miles away, constitutes the concentration of all the political forces that supposedly hold the nation together. But there are not two centers of gravity. In reality, despite the fact that the two operate in theory as separate entities, they constitute a continuum of harmonized inter-dependency linked together by a slippery tangent called control – or in its popular usage, power.

Head of the Black Church

The cathedral, epicenter of the Catholic Church in Cameroon under the Archbishop on Yaounde, sets the tone for religious policy with regards to its relation to the State as well as the population. The presidency, on the other hand, is the heart of politics, residence of the president where he dictates the political climate. By understanding how both structures function, it is possible to know how the country operates. When Yaounde is breathing, Cameroon is alive remains a popular expression demonstrating the paramount role of the nation’s capital.

However, despite the fact that these are important institutions, it should be mentioned that the most important part is what lies between the presidency and the cathedral – the people. Their fate remains suspended and trapped in a system where rules have been displaced from the traditional settings in favor of dubious practices.   So, by illustrating the constitutive nature of power in these structures 1.) It shall be possible to elaborate on how they enhance the exclusion of the people and 2.) It shall be possible to elaborate on how they thereby produce a strange outcome of exchange of competences to the detriment of the public.

  1. Mutually exclusive poles in a mutually constitutive power anatomy

In the preamble of the Constitution of Cameroon 2008, it is specified that “the State shall be circular. The neutrality of the State in respect to all religions shall be guaranteed.” This proviso has become a characteristic of most modern States since their origin of 16th Century divorce from medieval monolithic religious societies, kingdoms and monarchies. With the exception of a few States which are defined essentially by religion [Vatican, Saudi Arabia and to some extent Israel], most modern States, in order to fulfil this post medieval ideal usually define themselves as secular, even when in practice things may not be as simple.

Islam and Christianity are the main monotheistic religions of Cameroon. Nominally, approximately 70% of Cameroonians are Christians, of which about 38% are Catholics, while about 20% are Muslims. Because the Catholic Church is the main centralized religious body in Cameroon, semantically and technically, it is the main body that appears to have some direct and continuous ties with government authorities, at all levels. It should be added that the president, Paul Barthelemy Biya Bi Mvondo, who has been in power for 33 years, is also a catholic. He had been in the Catholic seminary before being dismissed in the early years, of his studies. His father, Etienne Mvondo Assam, was a catechist by profession for the same institution.

Given that the president is a Catholic, it is easy for him to maintain close ties with the main centralized religious organ in Cameroon which would serve him both politically and religiously

But why talk about the religion of the president? Eric Mathias Owona describes the presidential regime as pontifical and in some cases as a principality. In a presidential republic and pontificate State, where the president rules ad vitam, his personal choices resonates a vertical influence over his government as well as a collegial complicity with leaders of the religion of his choice.

The collegial complicity with leaders of religion enables him to exert institutional control over the people through indirect religious hypnosis thereby consolidating the authoritarian democracy. Or, should this be called an authoritarian dictatorship? In principle, the success of assembling, in a deconstructive way, judicial-legislative resources to conform to executive wishes may give the understanding that it is an authoritarian democracy. In practice, however, by taking into consideration that the president governs by decree and exerts tremendous control over all governmental institutions, the regime is more of an authoritarian dictatorship perhaps of a modern style.

As a result, we end up with just the belief that State and religion are separate as stipulated by the constitution. But in practice, they constitute a simple continuum of influence over the population where triggers can be generated either at political or religious levels to produce the same effect.

Divide and rule is a common strategy of control but in an authoritarian system unifying power structures can  be just as effective. But the worst part is when these structures don’t benefit the population they are constitutionally bound to serve.


  1. Dynamics of concerted exclusion of a frustrated populace

Three miles separate from the cathedral is the presidency in the metropolitan city of Yaounde. The cathedral where the archbishop presides his religious ceremonies is technically open but semantically closed. That is, it has just a few physical barriers to deter wanderers but everyone is welcome to enter and pray. One door of the cathedral is usually open, and in most hours of the morning and evening most of the doors are open for other religious services and those who wish to pray to their God: “let the children come to me, for unto these belong the kingdom of heaven” (Mat 19:14).

With a poverty level of almost 40% (2007), most of those who come to Church are around the poverty line. The Church welcomes them with phrases like “blessed are the poor…” and “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35). In practice, those who go to Church always hope to please God while thinking that their temporal situation will be made better here on earth. And rightfully so, they pray, offer tithes, and pay dues – which in the archdiocese of Yaoundé was recently increased in order to meet charges that were not properly defined.

Regrettably, a considerable amount of monetary contributions that are made to the Church do not serve the purpose for which it has given. In July 2013, amidst the greatest corruption scandal in recent Cameroon Church history, the Archbishop was forced by the Vatican to resign in the hope of restoring the hope of the people in its failing hierarchy.

In such a complex situation where Christians do not feel that the Church is advancing their welfare, most turn to the State for comfort. It should be mentioned that most of those who come to church have already been discouraged by the strong presidential regime and weak government.  Again, with another disappointment from the Church, they turn to the State and one of the closest structures is the presidency of the Republic.

However, access to the presidency is virtually impossible. Despite its closeness, it is heavily guarded by the GP (Guard Presidentielle) including a big fence. In this case, it is technically closed but semantically open. That is, in theory, the public is made to believe that the authorities of the nation are there for the public, to listen to them and to address their difficulties. But this is far from reality. The president is almost absent from all national life, with only sporadic appearances on national Television to read a speech to a public he doesn’t know. There is a real disconnection between the people and its authorities.

As a result, the little distance which separates the presidency and the Cathedral appears, evidently, to be the nature of what separates the Cameroonian populace from the power structures which need to promote their welfare. Consequently, like rebounds of a non-reward psychological mechanism, the people turn back unto themselves, frustrated, without trust in themselves, nor in the church or in the government. This is evident by the life of duplicity in which most people become attuned: going to church without any intention to be a better person or living in a nation without a desire to serve it honestly. Corruption, as an endemic crisis in Cameroon can be deduced from the mechanism of suspended misery: neither in “God” [Church] nor in the government do they find solace [position 136 on 174 countries, with a score of 27 on 100]. This gets even deeper – citizens grow to lose trust in one another thereby threatening social cohesion and growth. All these are visible in the lane separating the cathedral from the presidency. Despite the fact that both poles concentrate wealth and comfort, this lane is full of jobless people who wander along the streets; others standing on the road side with their tools while hoping to get hired by someone to do a temporary job or those illegally subcontracting government services to citizens who duly deserve them. It is also a lane of insecurity, vulnerability and despair – just the symbol of the country as a whole.

The perpetual rule of the centralized government of Cameroon which is the cause of this social disequilibrium has created another system which has not been sufficiently explored. It is the fact that political power governs with religious authority while religious power rules with political power. It is a strange power structure not before seen in many countries and where the citizens end up – as always – in suspended misery.

  • Sociopolitical exchange of roles: the intercourse between religious and political power

At the heart of social despair is an economic problem rooted in misappropriation of roles both in the religious milieu as well as in the political sector. The classical roles generally attributed to the State do not necessarily hold true for the State of Cameroon nor  for the Church. Below is a table which summarizes how the State governs with religious principles while the Church has been ruling using political strategy.

Religion [epicenter –  cathedral] Politics [epicenter – the presidency]
1. Theology of the present [joy and happiness are hear] 1. Politics of the future [perpetual wait for change in the future]
2. Power is politically charged, elected 2. Power is religious and mystical: “Power comes from above”
3. Faults, errors are sanctioned 3. Corruptions, crimes are pardoned
4. The divine becomes man incarnate 4. Man becomes the divine [perpetual rule]
5. Power decentralized [independent management of dioceses] 5. Power centralized [authoritarian dictatorship]
6. Uses reason, rationality 6. Applies more and more faith, belief and blind truth
7. Motion of disagreement [encourage the good ones to stay and the bad ones to go] 7. Motion of support [support the perpetual ruler to rule even longer]
8. People play the role of citizens, and practice boycott 8. People play the role of ‘faithful’ and in most cases forbidden to strike
9. People learn to claim their rights 9. Political practice is ruled by rites
10. God more and more absent 10. God more and more present
11. Money more and more present 11. Money more and more absent
12. Policy analysts and strategists consulted 12. Prophets, kings and mystiques involved
13. Defined mandates well respected 13. Perpetual mandate
14. Governs by dogma (just belief) 14. Governs by decree (just listen and apply)
15. Leaders forced to resign 15. Leaders made to stay in power ad vitam [gerontocracy]


As illustrated in the above, the population has been made to accept inadmissible political practices where the executive leader is vested with an unlimited mandate for the presidency. Like a pontiff, he rules unilaterally over all other institutions which he has crafted to conform to his personal standards. This happens in a context where the archbishop resigned due to accusations of mismanagement of funds or the case of Pope Benedict XVI who resigned from an office which is supposedly made to be held for life. It is not uncommon to find corrupt leaders who get promoted and get rewarded with better appointments in the Biya regime.

Can this scenario explain the social and economic inertia of the country? Certainly, to a great extent. When political mobility is uncertain and religious credibility overthrown, it follows that the economic fluidity experienced by the public under the State of law would be jeopardized and at worst remain in misery.

Unlocking the infinite potentials of a nation cannot be done in a locked governmental system. A system that knows no variability. Neither can it grow in a religious context that has learned to survive with ruse, using political strategies while relegating religious protocols strictly to altar services. If change is the essence of society, then the government is criminal while the Church is complicit in its practice as they exploit a population that is ignorant of its own misery.


Camaroon 1

In 1884 I was colonized by the Germans who, with a reign of brutality, created plantations that served the citizens of their homeland. This was part of a sharing deal of Africa by the European countries.

During the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, France along with its allies won and I was again colonized by the French whose rule was characterized by duplicity and exploitation.

About 10% of my territory [north, west, south, and west] was under the British rule that, through indirect administration, showed little interest in the region.

From 1914-1960, French rule dominated my territory. The France made French the official language while English was made the official language of the portion it controlled.

For half a century, those two nations, skilled in the art of exploitation, taught a small group of my people how to manage an administration using the skills taught to them by the west while expanding the cocoa, banana, and coffee plantations left by the Germany.

The selected few who assisted the colonizers had a fragmented education and had never been the real rulers of my people. The colonizers worked in collaboration with their missionaries whose primary tool was the Christian religion. They indoctrinated my people in the art of submission, and blind faith in the absence of reasoning. Parallel to that the colonizers defined new rules while criminalizing most traditional values.                                    

While wondering why my people had been so vulnerable, I took delight in those who had the courage to fight for independence so that my name could be restored to its honorable state. As such, in 1960, I got my independence and my people were joyful to be liberated from the masters whose rule had demonstrated with clarity that it served primarily the interests of the colonizer.

camaroon 4

My first president Ahmadou Ahidjo, a young man known for his courage and ambitious moves, instituted a one party system: the Cameroon National Party, a practice which was common among my fellow states.

With the objective to unify a territory with almost 250 ethnic groups, one party seemed to be the best way to harmonize a heterogeneous social landscape, and the public administration played a great role in this integration. 

By 1982, Ahmadou Ahidjo resigned and assigned Paul Biya as the successor. A decade later, a wave of democratization was sweeping across many nations and I was not excluded. But despite many constitutional reforms designed to conform to democratic principles, Paul Biya is still in power, thereby making me, Cameroon, a new pontificate State, or more correctly a democratic caliphate where power is being concentrated disproportionately at the top and uprooted at the bottom.

The result of this is the destruction of the dream that my people had. Freeing themselves from their former colonial masters has led them into the snares of new masters who continue not only to neglect their own welfare but remain loyal to those former patrons who continue to exploit them using the present leaders – the comprador bureaucracy.

It is this system of bureaucracy that has led to the corruption of the idea of independence. Allegiance is still paid to the former colonial master who takes pride in the misery of my people to create a good name through dependence on charity, international aide, an activity already criminalized in its conception, execution, and evaluation.

Although I have been patient and in pain waiting for my people to grow in maturity, I have realized that I am running out of time and out of patience. I had said to myself that they had to make errors and learn from their mistakes but, regrettably, these mistakes seem to be normalized, internalized, and even institutionalized in some cases.

For example, the modification of the constitution in 2008 removed limitation to presidential mandates thereby giving the present caliph, who is already 81 years of age, the possibility to run for office again in 2018. That modification despite that fact he has a record of unmatched mediocrity in the domain of governance and economy.

To sustain such unconventional norms, intellectuals have been bought off or skillfully eliminated in order to limit critics. While journalists have been killed, and others driven into exile, the opposition has been carefully weakened thus leaving only the president to appear to be the most capable political man under the circumstances.

This patrimonial rule, rooted in a tradition of uncontested authority, pride, non discursive deliberations and inevitable corruption, puts me in a situation of paralysis where I remain immobile, angry, sad, frustrated, morose, and jealous. I feel that way especially when I see my brothers of the same age making progress: Indonesia, China, Dubai, Thailand, Brazil etc.

But then, I have always held that society always corrects itself. In fact, many other societies have corrected their past errors and have made progress and left their bad ways aside. With time and patience running against me, I have found this situation a little different and slow. When I question the fundamental nature of man, I see that it is one, and such a premise leads me to the conclusion that the processes shall be certainly different but the result shall be the same: change in favor of fellow man and society.

Camaroon 3

Before being optimistic, I have always reminded myself that it is still dark, and that the situation remains scary especially with regard to the urgency of the situation. For example; when agriculture flourished in the 70s, I remember officials from South Korea who came to visit my leaders to learn how they could make similar triumphs. But in a few years, South Korea had made progress in all domains of life while my own people languish under the ambush a deceitful rule. I feel betrayed.

While the per capita GDP of a South Korean is about $30.000.00 a year, that of my citizens is barely $1,300.00. But I have been generous enough. Although I have a vast territory with about 13% arable land of which just 2% is in active exploitation, my people still import almost 400,000 tons of rice at the cost of about $200 million.

Camaroon 2


My kindness has been boundless to my people, besides tolerance, I have given them gold, diamond, cobalt, aluminum, oil, bauxite, nickel, retile just to name a few. What my brothers and sisters in Japan have only up to 10%, I have them all in abundance. But it is not serving the best interest of my people. So, I have decided to keep my promise. These resources shall remain in my good earth, but if leaders don’t change their ways, they shall remain in servitude due to their own ignorance, greed, and injustice.

I am Cameroon, presently in a paradox;

A big nation with small realizations;

Many resources but little to show for it;

Too many intellectuals but few productions;

Fertile fields but hungry citizens;

Consume what I don’t produce but produce what I don’t consume;

Good laws but unjust application;