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GSSC Seminar Series
16 January 2024


The Prefectoral System in Cameroon: Institutional (Dis) Continuity and Its Impact on Anglophone Political Grievances.

(Ernest Forbin, University of Douala)



“Does the President of this country know that the Governors, Senior Divisional Officers and all the administrators that have been sent to Anglophone Cameroon are out there behaving exactly like colonial masters? The people of Anglophone Cameroon cannot be your slaves.” - Joseph Wirba, Parliamentarian for Kumbo constituency, in a 2017 budgetary session.

The words of the Anglophone politician Wirba from the beginning of the current crisis sum up the feelings of many Anglophone Cameroonians about the civil administrators who have been appointed, not elected, to exercise broad prerogatives in all domains of public live under the Prefectoral System. Cameroon inherited the Prefectoral System from the French colonial administration. It was first established in post revolution France before being exported to Algeria in 1830 during the military invasion. In a context of rebellious indigenes, the French colonial administration resorted to concentrate both executive and judiciary powers in the hands of civil administrators. After Algeria, the Prefectoral System was generalized to all French overseas territories.

The case of Cameroon is quite peculiar, owing to its distinct colonial history which resulted in the legacy of different political cultures. The Prefectoral System is an important institution in the politico administrative landscape of former French colonies. We observe continuity in the repressive function of the administrative authorities who like their colonial predecessors control the local population and are quick to repress in case of protest mobilizations, thereby ensuring the political status quo. The British Cameroons on their part administered their territories with a federal system characterized by elected local officials. Moreover, the gentleman’s agreement between the political class of both Cameroons in 1961, led to Reunification in a federal arrangement to ensure the Anglophones preserve their cultural and political identity. Nevertheless, some years after, the Federal system was anti constitutionally dismantled and a unitary system was imposed by the Francophone dominated State. The Prefectoral System with its characteristic appointed Governors, Divisional Officers and civil administrators took up office in the Anglophone regions. Their trademark martial tone and repressive methods towards popular mobilization initiatives have been a source of tension among the Anglophone community who perceive them like a force of occupation, thereby reinforcing the separatist narrative.

Ernest Forbin is a Political Science Ph.D. student at the University of Douala, Cameroon.  He obtained a B.Sc. in political Science at the University of Yaoundé 2, Soa in 2014 and a Master’s Degree in Political science from the same university in 2018. His areas of interest include protest movements, political violence, political crises, formation and evolution of the African postcolonial State etc.