Multiparty politics and the (re)production of political elites in Cameroon: the case of the South-West Elites Association (1990-2007)
(University of the Witwatersrand)
Paper short abstract:
Practices flowing from multiparty politics in Cameroon since 1990 have fed on a state-sponsored ethno-regional political agenda. This agenda has been instrumental for the (re)production of political elites, as a class, albeit along ethnic figurations.
Paper long abstract:
The return to multiparty politics in Cameroon has been characterized by the emergence of powerful ethno-regional political cartels that have developed as platforms aimed at vocalizing the concerns of various local and regional communities. Combining a discourse-historic approach with a political ethnography of multiparty politics in Cameroon, I use the case of the South-West Elite Association (SWELA), one of these ethno-regional political lobbying groups in one of the English-speaking provinces, to explore the intricate relations between multiparty politics, elites and the state, in the ethnically fragmented state of Cameroon. The paper makes a two-pronged analysis of elite practices relating to multiparty politics in Cameroon. First, I explore the South-West elites' articulations of a narrow and exclusionary agenda and discourses of regional development and greater political inclusion into the state in Cameroon. Secondly, I unravel SWELA's discourses and practices as explicitly aimed at not only securing the political capital of established regional political elites as 'ethno-regional delegates', but also as a medium for the recruitment and renewal of such elite bases, within the strongly ethnically colored 'democratization' process in Cameroon. These analyses of how multiparty politics in Cameroon produces, recycles and sustains political elites as 'ethnic delegates' of their communities in the state since 1990s, demonstrate the productivity of an anthropology of 'democracy' and discuss the multivalent relations between elites, masses, and the state in multiparty politics in African postcolonies and beyond.
Elite strategies of distinction and mutuality