Between 2010 and 2015, youth leaders were engaged in a process to develop a Municipal Youth Policy in Santa, Northwest Cameroon, as a means to promote greater youth voice and participation in municipal governance and decision making.
Problems and Purpose
After 21 years (1996–2017), the process of decentralization in Cameroon still remains blurred by complex legal, administrative, institutional, managerial, and governance frameworks. The laws on decentralisation prescribed in the Constitution of 1996 and the 2004 Law provide for an unclear financial system for local authorities, as well as for a local tax system that is not managed directly by the central government. Furthermore, the absence of an Information Act in Cameroon has significant implications for public disclosures. Financial disclosure by public officials is particularly limited, while concerned citizens and the general public have limited access to, and use of, public data.
In Santa, a peri-urban town in northwest Cameroon comprised of 10 villages (Akum, Alahteneng, Awing, Baba II, Baligham, Mbu, Mbei, Njong, Pinyin, and Santa), young people aged 15–35 had little knowledge about the activities, functions, and responsibilities of their municipal council and officials. This reflected a widening communication gap between councils and other policy-making bodies and young people. It equally posed a challenge to the integration of youth into decision-making on key issues that affect their wellbeing in society, such as employment, education, health, agriculture, environment, and the like. Hence, there was a need to strengthen youth awareness and advocacy for the development, adoption, implementation, and monitoring of a municipal youth policy that would aim to address these very challenges around youth participation in governance and decision-making. To do this, a series of deliberative processes were held between 2010 and 2015 to enable youth to voice their opinions, to monitor decisions affecting them, and to develop strategies to overcome barriers to their integration in decision-making structures. Given that young people constitute a new generation of social, political, and economic leaders, their participation in decision-making and governance was imperative for inclusive policy making and community development.
Background History and Context
A variety of attempts have been made to address youth voicelessness and lack of participation in decision-making and governance in Cameroon. In 2012, the government adopted the Politique Nationale de la Jeunesse—or National Youth Policy—that was drafted in 2006 to encourage, among other aspects, youth participation in governance and democracy. Young people, and youth leaders in particular, were unaware of the policy’s existence and content and of how they could engage to facilitate its implementation in their communities. Meanwhile, adults remained reticent to involve youth in decision-making bodies such as councils and Parliament.
Further, the prevailing socio-economic conditions of youth, characterised by poverty and unemployment, has often posed a challenge to peace in communities. Politically, the community of Santa has represented a unique constituency in Cameroon since the inception of multi-party democracy in the early 1990s, as it has remained a centre of political confrontations between militants of the ruling party, the Cameroon Peoples Democratic Movement (C.P.D.M.) and the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Front (S.D.F.). This has often led to the political manipulation of youth, as well as subsequent arrests, assaults, and killings. This situation is further aggravated by the fact that the current S.D.F. leader originates from Santa. During the 2004 and 2011 elections, Santa had been a hot spot for both parties, who have accused one another of using youth to influence electoral outcomes through malpractices such as “ghost voting,” and who have left Santa’s youth vulnerable to political confrontations.
In 2008, in order to empower and include youth in community governance, Santa’s Municipal Council strategically partnered with the Youth Outreach Programme (YOP), the Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO), the Welsh Assembly, and other development actors to develop a National Youth Volunteering Scheme aimed at recruiting and training young people in professional development and at boosting their employability within and beyond Santa. The Mayor at the time, Mr. Atanga Clement, had been enthusiastic about youth empowerment and often claimed that persons over the age of 40 still experienced youth-related challenges such as unemployment and low participation in decision-making. Hence, he often disbursed funds to sponsor youth activities and invited YOP volunteers to train youth in Santa. These efforts attracted external support and funding; for example, YOP and VSO responded by providing several trainings on project management to councillors and to youth on good governance, advocacy, human rights, entrepreneurship, life skills, and behaviour change.
However, after the 2013 municipal elections, Santa’s Council was led by Pastor Khan Elroy Moses, the first C.P.D.M. Mayor since the advent of a multi-party system in Cameroon. Hence, all attempts to regenerate the Council’s enthusiasm to establish youth-oriented actions were met with several challenges.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Youth engagement in Santa was led by the Municipal Council in collaboration with YOP and Cuso-VSO (Cuso International merged with VSO). From 2010 to 2015, Santa received financial, institutional, and technical support for this initiative from diverse sources. Cuso-VSO consistently provided short-term and long-term institutional development advisors to the Council, and financed strategic planning meetings, training workshops, and micro-grants to single mothers, while the Welsh Assembly and YOP provided technical support. Other funding came from the 10th and 11th European Development Fund through two national programs in Cameroon: the Support Programme for the Structuring of Civil Society (PASOC) and the Civil Society Strengthening Programme (PASC), of which YOP was a beneficiary. UN-HABITAT also funded entrepreneurship training and micro-grants to youth farmers through YOP. Santa Council provided space for meetings, while YOP and Cuso-VSO provided volunteer facilitators and training materials and coordinated content development for the youth policy documents. Over 50 youth leaders volunteered their time and personal resources to mobilise youth participants for their engagement.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The youth leaders involved in advocating for a youth policy were members of the Santa Youth Council, identified and screened through the joint efforts of the Youth Council President and the Youth Officer for Santa Municipal Council, Mbuh Derick Ticha. Socio-demographically, the group was composed of female and male youth aged 18–35, representing all 10 villages of Santa and including ethnic minorities, students and non-students, skilled and unskilled workers, single mothers, youth with physical disabilities, and youth with different religious affiliations. Other participants included hundreds of community leaders, including traditional authorities, government officials, and concerned community members from all 10 villages invited by Santa Council to take part in the deliberations on issues concerning them and their children.
Methods and Tools Used
A succession of deliberative methods, including workshops, dialogue forums, action-learning and planning meetings, and town hall meetings were used to facilitate youth engagement around policy development in Santa.
Workshops: Over 20 workshops were held on various themes with different youth groups, council workers, and councillors to boost youth leadership, facilitate inter-generational dialogue, and boost the technical skills of council workers, councillors, and youth alike.
Have Your Say Dialogue Forums: This social accountability to ol was used to bridge the communication gap between Council, youth, and community members, as well as to reinforce mutual trust amongst them.
Action-Leaning and Planning Meetings: These meetings focused on using a Transparency, Accountability and Participation (TAP) framework to prioritise the implementation of projects in the Local Economic Development Plan of Santa, and to reinforce the project management skills of council workers, councillors, and youth leaders.
Town Hall Meetings: These were youth-centred forums to deliberate on key issues to include in the Municipal Youth Policy, to define the implementation plan, and to determine progress and evaluate successes.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Deliberations during this succession of workshops, dialogue forums, action-learning and planning meetings, and town hall meetings influenced the development of the Municipal Youth Policy of Santa.
Over 20 workshops were held with different groups of youth leaders, council workers, and councillors. In 2010, a Good Governance workshop organized by the Council’s Youth Officer provided youth leaders with knowledge on governance concepts and practices, which they used to demand better governance during the periodic Have Your Say meetings with councillors and constituents in the villages.
In August 2012, 12 youth leaders and 12 community leaders attended a Joint Youth Action-Planning workshop with their counterparts from neighbouring Tubah Council where they elaborated a two-year Youth Action Plan (2012-2014) for Santa’s and Tubah’s respective youth policies.
In 2012 and 2014, 20 youth leaders joined a group of 330 participants in a series of advocacy workshops focused on Youth Policy Development and Implementation in 15 municipal councils organized by YOP. During these workshops, participants engaged in open, frank, and respectful discussions, and often sought collaboration to address the issues raised. Decisions were made through consensus with participants, occasionally with reservations pending the opinion of non-participants.
Have Your Say dialogue forums
In 2010, Santa Council organized periodic youth-led social accountability meetings with over 1,000 participants, including youth, community members, and traditional authorities. These meetings were either held at the community market square or in of councillors’ respective villages (i.e., constituencies). The forums allowed youth and community members to evaluate what the Council was doing well and how it could improve the lives of citizens. Youth participated in three ways: (a) students were engaged in a drawing competition based on their vision for Santa; (b) some youth submitted written suggestions for improvements to Santa Council; and (c) others shared their suggestions using the microphone. Santa Council received a great deal of criticism, particularly concerning the absence of good farm-to-market roads, fertilizer factories, streetlights (solar panels) for security, and youth employment. Council, on its part, justified its choices and explained budgetary realities. These demands were later deliberated upon during council sessions, but most projects were rejected as implementation costs would exceed Council’s budget.
Action-Learning and Planning (ALP) meetings
Upon developing the 2010 Local Economic Development (LED) Plan for Santa, the Council appointed councillors, council workers, and youth leaders from the Have Your Say team to participate in action-learning and planning sessions focused on Transparency, Accountability and Participation (TAP) in the management of community projects. This exercise aimed at reviewing the council budget and re-prioritizing activities for implementation. Deep reflection led the team to determine which projects could help alleviate poverty in the municipality, which could yield income for the Council, which would be sustainable, and how to ensure adequate budgeting for educational purposes. Most of the selected projects aimed to improve natural resource management in Santa. Youth leaders presented the youths’ concerns and ensured that the priority activities selected addressed these. Overall, these reflections enabled participants to improve their ability to plan, execute, evaluate, draw lessons, and use learnings from community actions.
Town Hall meetings
Two major town hall meetings were held in 2012 and 2015, with youth and community leaders deliberating on key issues to include in the Municipal Youth Policy and to ensure it follows the spirit of the National Youth Policy adopted in 2012. The 2015 meeting was a review session that incorporated emerging concerns and actions into the Youth Policy drafted in 2012. The meeting was attended by a diverse group of female and male youth leaders from all 10 villages, as well as community leaders such as the Mayor, Councillors, council workers, the Delegate of the Ministry of Youth and Civic Education, and the Director of the Community Education and Action Centre, a development agency under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. The cohesion among different stakeholders was remarkable, as both the youth and community leaders took turns to make presentations and receive feedback on their proposed actions, perspectives, and prospects. Deliberations were quite lengthy and differences were resolved, but the post-2013 Council did not maintain their predecessor’s commitment to adopt the Municipal Youth Policy developed in 2012.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The goal of developing and implementing a Municipal Youth Policy in Santa was partially achieved, as the Youth Policy Framework and Youth Action Plan were developed and reviewed twice. While the Municipal Youth Policy was not formally adopted, given that it was not a priority for the post-2013 council leadership, various aspects of the Municipal Youth Action Plan were implemented, leading to a number of key outcomes. These include increased employment, entrepreneurship, and volunteering in the communities, as well as a stronger perception of youth as credible and legitimate voices in community development conversations.
Increased entrepreneurship and employment
The pre-2013 Council often sponsored youth-oriented actions, and paid volunteer allowances under the Santa Youth Volunteering Scheme, adopted and implemented in 2011 as a response to demands for increased promotion of youth employment and employability. It successfully recruited over 50 volunteer nurses and teachers who later gained employment with the government. The scheme has remained functional in Santa since then, enabling an increasing number of young farmers and single mothers to gain entrepreneurial skills and obtain micro-grants from YOP and Cuso-VSO.
A strengthened culture of volunteering
This initiative equally inspired youth and adults to embrace volunteering as a way of sustaining community development programmes. It has also fostered a culture whereby individuals and groups are happy to dedicate their time and effort to realise various tasks in support of development in Santa.
Increased youth visibility and credibility for public participation
Youth leaders gained visibility and credibility as they were invited to join public deliberations. After the adoption of the National Youth Policy in 2012, Santa’s youth leaders joined their counterparts across Northwest Cameroon to compile youth signatures to petition the Ministry of Youth and Civic Education and the National Assembly of Cameroon to translate the National Youth Policy and adopt a text of application to speed up the adoption of their Municipal Youth Policy.
A significant number of youth now thirsted for engagement
Repeated pushback from Council caused a significant number of youth to shift their engagement through other channels and to mobilise for demonstrations and civil disobedience. In demanding for better services, youth involved in the transport sector stopped the payment of road toll fees. Bike riders particularly realised that they were paying road toll fees for a service they were not using and refused to continue payments.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Several lessons emerge as a result of Santa’s experience with engaging youth in policy development. These centre on the long-term nature of political change, the implications of leadership change for political space, policy priorities and advocacy approaches, as well as the tenacity of mobilized youth to push for change over time.
Building momentum over time
Changes in policy and practice often occur over long periods of time. The sustained engagement of youth through multiple channels of public deliberation fostered a longer-term outlook for engagement. For Santa Council, it allowed for a broader understanding of youth priorities and actions, and, over time, greater social accountability. Continuous engagement in training workshops and public deliberations over the period also fostered solidarity among the youth, which in turn has reinforced their resolve to demand for more effective political accountability and youth integration in decision-making.
The challenges of leadership changes
After the National Youth Policy was adopted in 2012, there was an expectation in Santa that a Municipal Youth Policy would likewise be adopted. Yet the latter was halted by the council leadership elected in 2013. This is a reminder that political processes are in no small part affected by the will of those in positions of power and authority. In a context as highly politicized as Santa, a change in leadership meant a significant change of direction and priority for the Municipal Youth Policy. This dynamic continues with the recent death of Mayor Khan in September 2017, and his replacement in November 2017 by Fon Samkie Elvis Ganyam to complete his term of office. While Ganyam comes with priorities that offer little hope of renewed collaboration and integration of youth in decision-making processes, political will for the Municipal Youth Policy may be rekindled after the 2018 Municipal elections.
The challenge of turnover and external dependency
In 2014, Cuso-VSO closed down its operations in Cameroon, bringing to an end the institutional development partnership in Santa and to the accompanying financing and facilitation of social accountability meetings. One year later, YOP eliminated its support for Youth Policy Advocacy. This, along with the departure of the Santa Council’s volunteer Youth Officer in 2013, left Council with no direct youth involvement in council management. This marked reduction in support posed a challenge for meaningful youth participation in municipal governance in Santa, as this type of engagement often requires dedicated human resources and financial commitment to succeed.
Closing political space and shifting youth advocacy
The post-2013 era in Santa has been marked with youth discontent and poor governance practices expressed through an authoritative style of municipal leadership. Council has been disengaged and generally unavailable and unresponsive to citizens. Youth have clamoured for the adoption of the Municipal Youth Policy, but have been neglected by Council. They have instead been met with barriers to accessing Council and to influencing its institutional development strategy. In this climate, youth in Santa have continued their engagement and struggle to have a voice by participating in demonstrations and civil disobedience, despite increasing risks. Perhaps an illustration of youth passion and determination, it is noteworthy that as the political and civic space in Santa has shrunk with the new administration, youth have adapted and found different ways to maintain pressure and carry the struggle for youth voice forward.
Building on a foundation of mobilized youth
The use of multiple deliberative processes in Santa did ignite youth engagement as it expanded their voices and choices. Their engagement with Council in support of a Municipal Youth Policy equally fostered the Council’s use of citizen-centred and youth-inclusive approaches in their decision-making mechanism—at least until 2013. Thus, the adoption and partial implementation of the Municipal Youth Policy constitutes a solid foundation upon which to continue efforts towards building peace, reducing violent conflict, facilitating dialogue, creating economic opportunities, and promoting good governance practices in Santa such that youth are meaningfully included in the public decisions that affect their lives.
 Cheka, C. (2007). The state of the process of decentralization in Cameroon. Africa Development, Vol. XXXII, 181–196. Retrieved from https://www.ajol.info/index.php/ad/article/viewFile/57187/45575.
Youth Policy. (2014). Cameroon. Retrieved from http://www.youthpolicy.org/factsheets/country/cameroon/ [DEAD LINK]
Santa Council Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Santa.Council/
Youth Outreach Programme blog: https://yopcam.wordpress.com/
Santa Town Hall Meetings with Youth Leaders: https://www.facebook.com/YOPCam/photos/a.10151545769148764.1073741828.277875203763/10153214697558764/?type=3&theater
Youth Policy Deliberation: https://www.facebook.com/yop.cameroon/media_set?set=a.1695132110009.88153.1589036416&type=3
Workshop on Youth Policy advocacy, implementation and monitoring: https://www.facebook.com/YOPCam/photos/a.10151545769148764.1073741828.277875203763/10152524476338764/?type=3&theater
This case was produced and submitted by a graduate of the Coady International Institute at St. Francis Xavier University with the support of J. Landry & R. Garbary.