Politics

Government. Since the 1992 amendment of the constitution, Cameroon has been a multiparty state. Executive power is held by the president, who serves for seven years and, since 1992, for a maximum of two terms.

Leadership and Political Officials. The twenty-seven-year period of single party rule left a legacy of an authoritarian political culture. At the national level, government leadership resides in the president and his cabinet. On the local level, the prefet (district officer) and sous-prefet are the most powerful administrative officials. Positions in government are determined through a combination of know-how, party loyalty, and ethnic and regional background. In many areas, local and national forms of leadership coexist. For example, the chiefdoms of the Northwest and West provinces form states within a state, with fons sharing power with government officials. Some chiefs served as rallying points for opposition groups during the political crises of the 1990s.

Social Problems and Control. There are several police forces, including internal security police, gendarmes, and military police. The legal system combines the case law system of the British with the statutory law system of the French. Theft is a common crime, and the U.S. State Department issues regular warnings about bandits in the tourist regions of the northern provinces. Local chiefs serve as justices of the peace and receive a small salary. Officially, criminal law is no longer in their jurisdiction, although they often settle disputes regarding theft, trespass, and personal injury or assault via witchcraft.

Customary law combined forms of dispute resolution ranging from rituals of reconciliation to banning and capital punishment. A combination of discussion and the use of oracles still is used in most cultures. Since the colonial era, the jurisdiction of local chiefs and councils has eroded. Informal social control mechanisms include gossip, ostracism, and fear of occult, ancestral, or divine retribution for wrongdoings.

Military Activity. Cameroon has a bilateral defense agreement with France. In the 1980s and 1990s, the military was involved in border disputes with Nigeria regarding the Bakassi peninsula.