The 1972 constitution as modified by 1996 reforms provides for a strong central government dominated by the executive. The president is empowered to name and dismiss cabinet members, judges, generals, provincial governors, prefects, sub-prefects, and heads of Cameroon's parastatal (about 100 state-controlled) firms, obligate or disburse expenditures, approve or veto regulations, declare states of emergency, and appropriate and spend profits of parastatal firms. The president is not required to consult the National Assembly.
The judiciary is subordinate to the executive branch's Ministry of Justice. The Supreme Court may review the constitutionality of a law only at the president's request.
The 180-member National Assembly meets in ordinary session three times a year (March/April, June/July, and November/December), and has seldom, until recently, made major changes in legislation proposed by the executive. Laws are adopted by majority vote of members present or, if the president demands a second reading, of a total membership.
Following government pledges to reform the strongly centralized 1972 constitution, the National Assembly adopted a number of amendments in December 1995 which were promulgated in January 1996. The amendments call for the establishment of a 100-member senate as part of a bicameral legislature, the creation of regional councils, and the fixing of the presidential term to 7 years, renewable once. One-third of senators are to be appointed by the President, and the remaining two-thirds are to be chosen by indirect elections. As of March 1998, the government has not established the Senate or regional councils.
All local government officials are employees of the central government's Ministry of Territorial Administration, from which local governments also get most of their budgets.
While the president, the minister of justice, and the president's judicial advisers (the Supreme Court) top the judicial hierarchy, traditional rulers, courts, and councils also exercise functions of government. Traditional courts still play a major role in domestic, property, and probate law. Tribal laws and customs are honored in the formal court system when not in conflict with national law. Traditional rulers receive stipends from the national government.
The government adopted legislation in 1990 to authorize the formation of multiple political parties and ease restrictions on forming civil associations and private newspapers. Cameroon' s first multiparty legislative and presidential elections were held in 1992 followed by municipal elections in 1996 and another round of legislative and presidential elections in 1997. Because the government refused to consider opposition demands for an independent election commission, the three major opposition parties boycotted the October 1977 presidential election, which Biya easily won. The leader of one of the opposition parties, Bello Bouba Maigari of the NUDP, subsequently joined the government.
Cameroon has a number of independent newspapers. Censorship was abolished in 1996, but the government sometimes seizes or suspends newspapers and occasionally arrests journalists. Although a 1990 law authorizes private radio and television stations, the government has not granted any licenses as of March 1998.
The Cameroonian Government's human rights record has been improving over the years but remains flawed. There continue to be reported abuses, including beatings of detainees, arbitrary arrests, and illegal searches. The judiciary is frequently corrupt, inefficient, and subject to political influence.
Principal Government Officials
President of the National Assembly--Djibril Cavaye Yeguie
Prime Minister--Peter Mafany Musonge
Ambassador to the United States--Jerome Mendouga
Ambassador to the United Nations--Martin Belinga
Cameroon maintains an embassy in the United States at 2349 Massachusetts Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (tel.: 202-265-8790).
conventional long form: Republic of Cameroon
conventional short form: Cameroon
former: French Cameroon
Data code: CM
unitary republic; multiparty presidential regime (opposition parties legalized in 1990)
note: preponderance of power remains with the president
Administrative divisions: 10 provinces; Adamaoua, Centre, Est, Extreme-Nord, Littoral, Nord, Nord-Ouest, Ouest, Sud, Sud-Ouest
Independence: 1 January 1960 (from UN trusteeship under French administration), 1 October 1961 (for areas ruled by Britain under UN trusteeship)
National holiday: National Day, 20 May (1972)
Constitution: 20 May 1972 approved by referendum; 2 June 1972 formally adopted
Legal system: based on French civil law system, with common law influence; does not accept compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
Suffrage: 21 years of age; universal
chief of state: President Paul BIYA (since 6 November 1982)
head of government: Prime Minister Peter Mafany MUSONGE (since 19 September 1996)
cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the president
elections: president elected by popular vote for a seven-year term; election last held 12 October 1997 (next to be held NA October 2004); prime minister appointed by the president
election results: President Paul BIYA reelected; percent of vote - Paul BIYA 92.6%; note - supporters of the opposition candidates boycotted the elections, making a comparison of vote shares relatively meaningless
unicameral National Assembly or Assemblee Nationale (180 seats; members are elected by direct popular vote to serve five-year terms; note - the president can either lengthen or shorten the term of the legislature)
elections: last held 11 May 1997 (next to be held NA 2002)
election results: percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - RDCP 109, SDF 43, UNDP 13, UDC 5, UPC-K 1, MDR 1, MLJC 1; note - results from 7 contested seats were cancelled by the Supreme Court and have yet to be filled
note: the constitution calls for an upper chamber for the legislature, to be called a Senate, but it has yet to be established
Judicial branch: Supreme Court, judges are appointed by the president
Political parties and leaders: Cameroonian Democratic Union or UDC [Adamou NDAM NJOYA]; Cameroon Liberation and Development Movement or MLDC [Marcel YONDO]; Democratic Rally of the Cameroon People or RDPC (the RDPC or its predecessor parties have ruled since independence) [Paul BIYA, president]; Movement for the Defense of the Republic or MDR [Dakole DAISSALA]; Movement for the Liberation of Cameroonian Youths or MLJC [leader NA]; National Union for Democracy and Progress or UNDP [Maigari BELLO BOUBA, chairman]; Social Democratic Front or SDF [John FRU NDI]; Union of Cameroonian Populations or UPC-K [Augustin Frederick KODOG]
Political pressure groups and leaders: Alliance for Change or FAC [leader NA]; Cameroon Anglophone Movement or CAM [Vishe FAI, secretary general]; Southern Cameroon National Council [Henry FOSSUNG]
International organization participation: ACCT, ACP, AfDB, BDEAC, C, CCC, CEEAC, ECA, FAO, FZ, G-19, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IDB, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, ITU, NAM, OAU, OIC, OPCW, PCA, UDEAC, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNITAR, UPU, WCL, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO
Diplomatic representation in the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Jerome MENDOUGA
chancery: 2349 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008
telephone:  (202) 265-8790
FAX:  (202) 387-3826
Diplomatic representation from the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador John M. YATES
embassy: Rue Nachtigal, Yaounde
mailing address: B. P. 817, Yaounde; pouch: American Embassy, Department of State, Washington, DC 20521-2520
telephone:  23-45-52
FAX:  23-07-53
Flag description: three equal vertical bands of green (hoist side), red, and yellow with a yellow five-pointed star centered in the red band; uses the popular pan-African colors of Ethiopia