Decentralization Viewed from Inside: The Implementation of Community Forests in East Cameroon
Cameroon’s 1994 Forestry Law launched a new approach to natural resource management. The 1996 Constitution introduced decentralized authorities, whose role is to enable the economic, social and cultural development of its peoples. Though the implementing texts (the regulatory laws) for this decentralization reform are still forthcoming, the new legal framework for environmental policy and the overhaul of the Constitution demonstrate the Government's will to decentralize and to improve forest resources management. At the same time, decentralized management might be inappropriate in Cameroon, as it may be too foreign a way of thinking for the forest dwellers. This study examines the community forests of East Cameroon (Upper Nyong region, Messamena and Lomié counties) to analyze factors that have not yet been fully taken into account in the current process of community forests establishment. These include exorbitant technical, financial and human costs; the ambiguous role of some international and local NGOs; the virtual, rather than substantial, Common Initiative Groups (CIGs) and Associations; and the disregard for traditional law, despite its legal primacy in African States. The interest in decentralization and forest management, also tied to the \"development\" of forest populations, has lead to a web of misunderstandings. These findings suggest the question: are community forests the best alternative for decentralized management in East Cameroon?