Cameroon: The Military and Autocratic Stability
- Kristen A. HarknessKristen A. HarknessSchool of International Relations, University of St. Andrews
The military plays a vital role in upholding Cameroon’s authoritarian government. Since independence, in 1960, the country has been ruled by a single political party and only two presidents: Ahmadou Ahidjo and Paul Biya. Both have gone to great lengths to secure military loyalty: counterbalancing rival forces, personalizing command hierarchies, ethnically stacking both the regular military and presidential guard, and providing extensive patronage benefits to soldiers. Ahidjo and Biya have both also repeatedly used the security forces to repress threats from below and stabilize their dictatorships. Combined gendarme, army, and paramilitary units have been deployed to defeat the southern maquis rebellion of the 1960s; the mass protests for democratization in the 1990s; the fight against Boko Haram, beginning in 2014; and the Anglophone separatist movement, which exploded in 2017. Whether facing nonviolent demonstrators or armed rebels, the military has never defected or refused to obey orders. Yet, as the 1984 coup attempt demonstrated, the bounds of military loyalty are not limitless. When Ahidjo retired, the northern Muslim Fulbe members of the elite Republican Guard attempted to prevent Biya—a southern Christian Beti—from rising to power.