The Africa Research Institute recently published a paper entitled “The Booklovers, the Mayors, and the Citizens: Participatory Budgeting in Yaounde, Cameroon.” The paper examines how different actors came together to establish participatory budgeting in the capital even though there has been a weak level of democracy and an absence of tradition of public service in Cameroon. The paper begins by examining neighborhood meetings that took place in three of the seven municipalities of Yaounde in August 2012.
Participatory budgeting, or PB, allows local authorities and citizens to determine the allocation of public spending. Public works can include sanitation, roads, and housing. It is most often associated with Brazil and other South American countries, but has spread globally. Jules Dumas Nguebou, the coordinator of programs at ASSOAL, the leading civil society organization promoting participatory budgeting in Cameroon, notes that “PB is essentially governance for poverty reduction. It can also help to foster democracy…It gives people the opportunity to participate in administration and press for local developments which will improve their lives.” Participatory governance is also credited with increasing local government accountability.
Civil society organizations in the country have pushed for participatory budgeting and greater decentralization but the central government still holds power. Local authorities now have more responsibilities but have not been given a commensurate increase in resources. For instance, one of the municipalities of the capital, Yaoundé V, has a budget of only €2.50 per resident.
The success of PB largely depends on the individuals involved, especially the mayor of the municipality. There is no guarantee that individuals will be interested in getting involved. It is difficult to overcome mistrust when there is a shortage of time and resources. However, participation can increase. This happened in Yaounde II, which had only 351 people participating in the PB cycle in 2009. By 2011 that number had increased to more than 11,000, thanks to the mayor, residents, and civil society organizations working together.
PB is not a “silver bullet” for development and its adoption does not guarantee success. Expectations must be realistic. Civil society organizations have encountered difficulties in implementing PB in Cameroon, but after a decade the process of participatory budgets has been established.
Some key conclusions and recommendations include:
- Not all benefits are quantifiable, but participation itself is a goal and achievement.
- Since “the attainment of a certain critical mass in the numbers of municipalities practicing PB in Cameroon would undoubtedly be beneficial… organizations are lobbying the government to require by law the adoption of PB in all councils in Cameroon.”
- “Action taken by donors to support PB requires careful consideration” because donors are not always as flexible as PB demands.
- “Donors could usefully assist in addressing the capacity constraints in local government.”
- “There is also a role for donors in assisting the improvement of local revenue collection.”
- “The development of closer ties between organizations promoting and practising PB is imperative, both within Africa and between Africa and South America.”
- “The role of PB is to alleviate the hardships created by entrenched malpractice in local government, urban planning and resource allocation – and [its proponents] are adamant that PB has secured vital improvements.”
You can download the full report here