The practice of governance in Cameroon during the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed lapses in public transparency, accountability, and participation. Nevertheless, various adaptation strategies and innovative practices are emerging from both the government and the general public.
Problems and Purpose
The COVID-19 outbreak coincided with three critical situations in Cameroon: an ongoing internal war, the rumored death of the president, and a questionable reconstruction program for homeless war victims even though the military and armed groups are still fighting. The ongoing political instability and violent conflict from 2014 (Boko Haram), 2016 (Anglophone crisis), and 2018 (controversial elections struggles) resulted in mass killings, the burning down of over 200 villages, thousands of internally displaced persons living across the country or in the bush, and thousands of other refugees in Nigeria and other countries across the globe.
Background History and Context
The rumored death of the president and citizens’ demands for a public statement and leadership from President Biya caused government reactions to be sent via text message. Warnings were sent to all citizens about the penal code sanctions for spreading false information and indicating the arrest of persons. Alongside this, on March 27, 2020 the self-acclaimed president from former controversial elections, Professor Maurice Kamto, issued a seven-day ultimatum for the president to show up or Kamto would assume responsibility to initiate the national strategy for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 30th, President Biya set up a Special National Solidarity Fund to fight COVID-19 to which he and other high-profile Cameroonians have made donations. On the 1st of April, the president ratified (17 years after adoption) the AU Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption .
At the end of Kamto’s ultimatum deadline, and two days after the presidential decree, Kamto launched the “Survival Cameroon” project . After 35 days of public absenteeism, and one day after Kamto had called on the National Assembly of Cameroon to declare a power vacuum, president Biya showed up, receiving the French Ambassador at his residence and publicizing his meeting .
In the meantime, on March 17, the Prime Minister had announced the government’s measures amidst WHO recommendations, including a semi-lockdown of public spaces, a complete lockdown of schools, and curfews for markets, off-licenses, nightclubs and other public places . The Minister of Public Health provides daily updates on the COVID-19 situation on his Facebook page. Although innovative and providing a degree of transparency from the government unlike any seen before the pandemic, public accountability, transparency and participation remain challenged by various other issues. The management of the COVID-19 fund is unknown to the public. The International Labour Day and National Day celebrations have been suspended, preserving a huge amount of government expenditures, but this amount has not been disclosed, nor has any account been given about the use of this budget. The value in cash or other donations from Jack Ma to Cameroon has not been disclosed.
Whereas, Barrister Akere Muna, the president of Transparency International, Cameroon chapter, a high profile lawyer, politician and governance expert had severally cautioned the government to adopt transparent practices in the management of the COVID-19 fund . Also, using his Facebook page, Muna has consistently advised the population to be cautious and prioritize the saving of lives over the impact caused by economic pressure irrespective of government’s upliftment of the ban on curfew hours in public places and social distancing.
The COVID-19 curfew measures do not represent a new phenomenon for Cameroonians living in English-speaking regions, as for the past three years residents there have spent about one-hundred days yearly in shutdowns. This said, efforts have been made in the Anglophone regions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Notably, in Bamenda, the local authorities made efforts to disinfect the streets and government services have been in regular communication with the public on updates on the situation and details of recommended actions from the public.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The COVID-19 response in Cameroon has been led by various non-governmental and civil society organizations as well as the government.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Most organisations invited volunteers to join their initiatives, businesses set up COVID-19 community outreach programs as part of their corporate social responsibilities, and various government officials and community leaders donated medical and non-medical supplies to various disadvantage groups.
Methods and Tools Used
Facebook has been used to stream daily updates from the Ministry of Health and social media platforms have also been utilized to live stream events and updates. SMS text messages have also been used for the government to contact citizens.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Government agencies, civil society organisations, and international organisations have increasingly sensitized the public on COVID-19 preventive and curative measures that should be adopted, while also providing medical and non-medical supplies to vulnerable communities. Cameroonians are keen on reading, responding, and spreading the Minister of Public Health’s daily updates using various social media platforms. Barrister Akere Muna, for instance, daily, has sensitized the public through consistent appraisal of the implications of emerging events and actions from both the government, civil society and the general public. This increases public consciousness and engagement in hygienic practices and protection from health-related problems.
On the other hand, the public’s distrust of government, due to corruption and embezzlement, manifests itself as various civil society groups set up independent, alternate response program to which citizens contribute instead of their giving to relief fund set up by the government.
NGOs, businesses, and individuals have switched to the production, supply, and sale of emergency kits (face masks, hand sanitizers, water dispensers, detergents, liquid and solid soaps, disinfectants) using creative means and diverse materials.
Most people have sought alternative livelihoods for themselves and their families due to temporal lay-offs from work and the consciousness of job insecurities
The government has offered free browsing to pupils and students for access to educational websites. National Television also offers teaching lessons. Churches and other social groups have adopted live streaming of events through social media platforms. Also, ministers, organisations, businesses, and the general public now use ZOOM for meetings and training.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
E-learning has been fostered, social networking enhanced, and public conscientiousness on health-related issues has increased.
Internet banking has been reinforced, as banks provide more e-services and many people now carry out online business transactions.
Many people have sought alternative jobs for security purposes, including joining “network marketing,” a mostly home-based model of pyramid-scheme marketing that relies on person-to-person sales by independent representatives. Many professionals now offer remote services.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Cameroon’s emergency preparedness and response strategy remains questionable, especially that infrastructural capacity of most services are underdeveloped and the coordination of public actions is yet limiting. Will the government’s strategy help eradicate the COVID-19 virus? If it succeeds, will concrete measures be taken to prepare for future health-related outbreaks? How different or similar is COVID-19 management from the management of the Reconstruction Program set up by the government amidst fighting and killing in the English-speaking regions? Will the success of COVID-19 management imply that the reconstruction program will succeed amidst the fighting?
In addition to this, partisan politics has overshadowed Cameroon's efforts to respond to COVID-19. During the ultimatum, Kamto’s ally, Paul Eric Kingue revealed Kamto’s intention of taking advantage of COVID-19 to settle his political scores with President Biya . Also, while claiming to run an alternate emergency initiative like other civil society groups, Kamto donated to the COVID program of the government he claims to be illegitimate. His donations were however rejected, sparking an unnecessary tussle between his supporters and the government at the expense of the health and wellbeing of Cameroonians. Further, volunteers from opposition leader Maurice Kamto's COVID-19 initiative were arrested handing out protective masks and attempts have been made by the government to shut down the initiative .
There is a great need for the development of a more intensive, broad-based, integrative, people-centered, bottom-up and multi-stakeholder process of emergency management in Cameroon. Also, the technological improvements achieved in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic can be used to establish an e-emergency management system with an effective communication and feedback mechanism where government, leaders, and their constituents can directly contribute in preparing to prevent and respond to emerging challenges – whether they are health-related or war-related crisis. This way, a variety of populations can own and lead complementary micro and macro emergency management schemes in all 360 communities in Cameroon.
 Presidency of the Republic of Cameroon. (2020). “Decree N ° 2020/166 of April 01, 2020, ratifying the African Union Convention on preventing and combating corruption adopted in Maputo (Mozambique) on July 11, 2003”, https://www.prc.cm/fr/actualites/actes/decrets/4190-decret-n-2020-166-du-01-avril-2020-portant-ratification-de-la-convention-de-l-union-africaine-sur-la-prevention-et-la-lutte-contre-la-corruption-adoptee-a-maputo-mozambique-le-11-juillet-2003
 Cameroon Rennaisance Movement. (2020). “Statement by the President-Elect Maurice KAMTO of April 3, 2020, on the failure of Mr Paul BIYA, President de facto of the Republic of Cameroon”, https://www.mrcparty.org/?q=en/statement-president-elect-maurice-kamto-april-3-2020-failure-mr-paul-biya-president-de-facto-republi
 Journal du Cameroon. (2020). “Cameroon: President Biya reappears in public after weeks of absence”, https://www.journalducameroun.com/en/cameroon-president-biya-reappears-in-public-after-weeks-of-absence/
 Prime Minister’s Office. (March 17, 2020). “Government Response Strategy to the Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19)”, https://www.spm.gov.cm/site/?q=en/content/government-response-strategy-coronavirus-pandemic-covid-19
 Cameroon Info Net. (May 2020). “Cameroon - Fight against COVID-19: Akere Muna (lawyer, politician) asks for transparency around the management of Paul Biya's donation”, http://www.cameroon-info.net/article/cameroun-lutte-contre-le-covid-19-akere-muna-avocat-homme-politique-demande-la-transparence-autour-371349.html
 Cameroon Info Net. (May 2020). “Cameroon - Ultimatum by Maurice Kamto / Paul Eric Kingue (Mayor of Njombe-Penja): "If Mr. Kamto wants to communicate on the Corona, let him communicate on the Corona, let him drop these rumors from the street, otherwise he risks to be brought back to the street”, http://www.cameroon-info.net/article/cameroun-ultimatum-de-maurice-kamtopaul-eric-kingue-maire-de-njombe-penja-si-monsieur-kamto-veut-367605.html
 Human Rights Watch (2020). https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/05/14/covid-19-brings-out-governments-ugly-side-cameroon