there is a widespread assumption that the kind of associations by alendar


									                            LSE Civil society Seminar

  What steers the character of associational life? Examples from the history of
                hometown associations in Cameroon 1916-2000



   1. What are home associations

Home associations are a form of civil–society organisation whose voluntary

membership is united by a shared affinity to a particular homeplace. They are clubs

which bring together migrants who have left a shared hometown, home village or

home region so that they can socialise and support each other in the new place where

they find themselves living. Home associations are found all over the world: The

Welsh Association in London meets in the Greys Inn Road, there are numerous Polish

associations in London, Mexican home associations in California and, the concern of

this paper, numerous different African home associations both within African cities

and now beyond the continent too. These organisations often began within a nation or

region and have followed patterns of migration so that now as well as having a

national dimension they have an international dimension. Typically such associations

provide (1) a social venue where migrants can meet, (2) welfare services to support

new migrants and those who have fallen on hard times, (3) political representation by

engaging with state institutions in the place where migrants congregate and (4) less

formally they provide spaces in which individuals can achieve advancement through

making contacts. Sometimes this list of functions has been extended to include the

development of the homeplace itself – for example groups of migrants who come
together to provide scholarships for children from their home, or to contribute

financially towards the construction of public services at home. It is for this reason

that home associations have emerged in recent years within the development studies

agenda, as they appear to provide one institutional mechanism through which grouped

remittances can be steered productively between North and South.

There is a widespread assumption that the kind of associations analysed in this paper

are primarily a West African phenomenon and are not found in East Africa. Home

associations are indeed a more visible, elaborate and significant institution in parts of

West Africa, however historically they were present in parts of East Africa and are

now re-emerging there because of the limits of state capacity to deliver rural

development. Certainly they are different in form and character, but in broad outline

there are some commonalities between East and West.

   2. The research and research methods

         1. The research and research methods

The project on which this paper is based set out to look at four case study home

associations: two in Cameroon and two in Tanzania. In each country we selected one
case study that looked at a „home‟ characterised by good transport links, heirarchical

social structures, and a long history of education and one case study of a „home‟ that

was enclaved, had more horizontal social structures and where western style

education only became established later. In Cameroon these associations are known as

„Cultural and Development Associations in Tanzania they are known as „District

Development Trusts‟.

The research began in the four homeplaces and then spread outwards following the

routes taken by migrants in order to locate their meeting groups. This process meant

undertaking fieldwork first in the „branches‟ of the associations outside homeplaces,

but within Africa and subsequently in the relevant groups in the UK. This gave a

sense of the shape and structure of the associations in different places, and highlighted

the disconnections between those locations as well as the connections.

  Bali sub-division Manyu division              Rungwe district       Newala district,
  North West        South-West                  Southern              South Tanzania
  Cameroon          Cameroon                    Highlands, TZ
  BANDECA                MECA                   RUDET                 NDF
  Bali Nyonga            Manyu Elements         Rungwe District       Newala
  Development and        Cultural Association   Education Trust       Development
  Cultural Association                                                Foundation
                         Village Development Rungwe East
                         Associations        Development Fund
                         Subdivisional          Shirika la
                         Associations           maendeleo ya
                                                Selya Development

  Bali Cultural and      Mamfe Central          Banyakyusa Cultural
  Development            Development            Trust Fund
  Association, UK        Association UK
                         (and others)
  Bali Cultural          MECA USA,              Tanzania Association
  Association, USA       NOMA USA               Localised Tanzanian self-help associations

In terms of their structure it is inappropriate to imagine these associations as unitary

transnational networks seemlessly linking home with the national and international

diaspora. The reality is much more fractured with multiple, often autonomous,

associations relating to any one home place, and uneven and irregular flows of
information and capital being exchanged through some of the links. In short some

places are much better connected to their diaspora than others.

The research was predominantly qualitative and based on interviews with association

leaders and members, other community members, relevant civil servants and

politicians. In addition to formal interviews as much time as possible was spent

participating in the meetings and activities of the associations and wider communities.

These observations were important to give a sense of how home associations work in

practice and the role they play within the broader framework of community life. A

social survey of 2274 people was also undertaken in the four case study areas and

among their diasporas in towns and cities in Cameroon and Tanzania. It aimed to

gather opinions from those people who were often not actively involved in running

case study associations and who might not even count themselves as members. It

supplemented our qualitative research with additional information about association

membership, migration and remittances, and opinions about home associations and

development. The historical material, which is crucial to this particular paper was

derived from archival research in the National Archives in Dar es Salaam, Buea and

3. What steers/shapes the character of home association?

By character I mean form and function, so in order to identify the key factors that

shape the characters of these associations it is necessary first to follow the histories of

their forms and functions in both Cameroon and Tanzania. The empirical aim is to try

and analyse the ebb and flow of home associations in two places over time and to see

when their characters converge and diverge and why.

3.1 Why does this question interest me?

I happen to find the stories of these associations inherently interesting, but I recognise

that this is probably an inadequate rationale for reporting on them to an audience who

aren‟t Cameroon or Tanzania specialists so instead I want to justify this historical

exercise in terms of thinking about the way we make categories or typologies of civil

society organisations in terms of first: locating creativity and second, difference

within categories.

One of the interesting things about these home associations seems to be their

durability over time. Though they change in importance, scale, public acceptability

and activity they do seem to have persisted for at least six decades in both Cameroon

and Tanzania – despite dramatic changes in social, political and economic

circumstances. As I will show they are hard for governments to repress and easy for

governments to amplify. To coin a phrase from the current development governance

literature it seems that „they go with the grain‟ (Kelsall, 2008 i) of the societies in
which occur because they have been successful in providing public goods and solving

collective problems.

This durability is significant for two reasons. First, this capacity to reproduce the

association seems to me to imply something about the internal creativity of the

membership and the character of the process of accommodating to changing

circumstances. This matters because the literature on African associational life

(especially in Southern Africa) gets caught between debates about whether (as

historians asserted) African associations are a reaction to colonial circumstances (ie

such African initiative as there is, is responsive) or whether (as anthropologists from

the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute used to assert) historians had over-emphasized the

reactive character of African associational life because of (a) their sources and (b)

their political intellectual investment in teleological narratives about proletarianization

and nationalism, which are „external‟ to African history both as ideas and as concrete

narratives. This seems to me to be something of a false dichotomy since the longevity

of these home associations must surely be premised on the relatively autonomous

choices of their members and therefore there is no need to deny the dramatic impact

of context (geography) or events (history) merely to evade the accusation that African

agency is presented as inferior because it is reactive. Though buffetted by a long

sequence of „external‟ events to the extent that their form and functions changes

dramatically the fact these home associations persist over several generations suggests

the creativity lies ultimately internally with their members. The list of factors I‟m

trying to develop to explain the character of associations includes internal and

external factors, but prioritizes neither instead seeing them as inherently relational and
hybrid – hopefully to the point where the division between internal and external

factors is seen to be a heuristic rather than concrete.

Second, and with some trepidation, I would propose that home associations persist

because of a universal desire for secure social attachment, which is sublimated in

some cases through an ideology of home and group belonging. The founders, leaders

and members who make home associations happen seek to overcome a universal

human dilemma described by Lacan in terms of the tension between the Imaginary

and the Symbolic orders. Desire is a motive force and is understood as the subject‟s

wish to be whole (ie to be an individual subject – the Imaginary order) but this

impossible since desire can only be articulated by sacrificing part of your wholeness

in order to enter into the intersubjective realm of language and the flux of multiple

subjects – the Symbolic order. To try to overcome this dilemma the home (embodied

as the home association) stands in for, or is a metaphor for, or is an approximation of

the subject. [Is this some weird kind of inverted synecdoche in which the „whole‟

(home) stands for the „part‟ (the inevitably divided subject)?] So whatever the context

some people will always feel a need for home associations. The paradox is that the

public act of announcing that you belong to a home by becoming a member of an

association (thereby embracing an „identity‟) is never a perfect fit for the private

desire to be an individual (understood as „subjectivity‟), and it is this that disjuncture

that ensures that home associations keep constantly changing whilst always remaining

the same. Unlikely as it seems this paradox helps me with a practical empirical

problem – namely how to deal with difference, sameness and categories of civil

society organisation. Our study spends a lot of time analysing the empirical

differences between these four case studies, yet all the while claims to be studying
one thing: home associations. Because the essence of home associations is that they

are caught in the slippage between identity and subjectivity [a public-private

dichotomy?] they never settle to a single character but yet can plausibly remain a

coherent category despite the differences because they have an essence. [History is

often used to show social scientists why their categories are reified, perhaps this is a

way to reply to that accusation?].

3.2 The history of home associations in Cameroon

From 1916 to 1961 the part of Cameroon where this research was carried out was

governed first as a League of Nations mandated territory and then after 1945 as a

United Nations mandated territory (Delancey and Mokeba, 1988). In effect, however,

it was treated as an extension of the Eastern Provinces of the colony of Nigeria.

The colonial administration in Cameroon appears to have had little interest in the way

Africans associated in the 1920s. However, the reverse was not true and throughout

the colonial period it is possible to find evidence of African associations seeking

endorsement from the state. The following is the earliest evidence we have, it is a

request for legal recognition made to the District Officer in Victoria (present day

Limbe) in 1929 by the Le Likumba Society and signed by „P. de Kombe‟. We know

nothing more about this group, but can infer that it is connected to the Likumba

Plantation (one of the coastal plantations dating from the German colonial period) and

(on the basis of the name) that the author of the letter was Bakweri (the ethnic group

in the same area):
      Sir, we have the honour most respectfully to put the following complaint before

      you, which we hope will meet you in good consideration. (1) For your

      information, we beg to state you that we made a certain club in our town, which

      we hope ourselves to be love each anothers. It is not made by following the

      Government‟s laws. (2) In our rulebook, there are some laws fixed by us, we

      beg the DO to look after them, if any against the Government, select it and may

      be scratched. (3) We beg the DO not to refuse this our present of 5/- send to

      him, is a thing all the members in the society present to him to look that, all

      agreed in one opinion to make this club.ii

The attached club rulebook (which sadly has not survived) clearly baffled the DO

whose note on the letter described the club‟s laws as „weird‟, however, the

association was neither proscribed nor registered. The DO‟s only actions were to

return the 5/- and to insist that the club did not have the legal right to extract

monetary fines from members, but that its only legal sanction against defaulters was

expulsion. From this example we can take only a few certain points: (1) the club was

primarily concerned with mutual support of its members, (2) the rule book followed

an African logic and (3) the plantations were the crucible for this form of association.

By the end of the 1930s the attitude of the colonial state had changed and it started to

take an interest in African associations. This shift was driven by the politicization of

African associational life in Lagos, as a result of which in July 1936 a general circular

was issued via the Criminal Investigations Department, which required District

Officers to undertake a survey of African associations across Nigeria (and therefore

also in the British mandated territories of the Cameroons). The archival record is not
complete, but we have the returns from Victoria (Limbe) and Bamenda. In Limbe the

DO identified an unnumbered (and by implication a large) quantity of small rotating

savings and credit associations and funeral savings clubs (referred to as isusu but

closely related to the njangi of today). Again these are associations premised on a

rationale of mutual aid for members, but the source gives no indication of the

membership. In addition he lists seventeen dance, music and sports clubs. iii In

Bamenda the DO drew a distinction between „clubs that owe their existence to native

cultures and custom‟ (which he assumed were of no interest to the authorities) and

„the exotic type of club or society such as the Young Men‟s Society in Lagos‟ (of

which there were none as far as he was aware in Bamenda). iv Assuming he was

correct in saying that there were no „modern associations‟ in Bamenda in 1936 it is

possible to conclude that at this time „modern‟ associations were largely confined to

the migrant workers on the plantations of the coast.

The distinction drawn by colonial officials between „modern‟ associations and

„traditional‟ ones is crucial for this paper. As colonial anthropologists had already

established the political, social and religious lives of Cameroonian communities were

held together by a wide range of pre-colonial associations: secret societies, palace

regulatory societies, dance groups, age-grade associations and others. In other words

the „modern associations‟ that were being organised in the plantations would have had

numerous pre-colonial templates of what an association could look like, how an

association was led and organised, how association members were disciplined by

codes and rules. Furthermore in several of our case studies it was clear that such

traditional associations had histories, that is to see there was consciousness of the way

these pre-colonial associations had changed. In Bali-Nyonga for example, the Voma
association had been introduced in the late 1890s or early 1900s as part of a project of

asserting the Chamba identity which Bali claimed, so this was a new and evolving

association albeit a traditional one. The point to be made is that the associations

formed amongst mirants in the plantations on the coast did not emerge out of nothing.

The first record of an explicitly ethnic modern association that conforms to the basic

model for a home association we have found in the archives in Cameroon is from

1937 when the Ibo Tribal Union wrote to the DO in Victoria (Limbe). The Limbe

branch of the Union (which by 1941 had over 100 paid-up members) was founded in

1935 with the self-declared aim of „the advancement of goodwill and mutual

understanding between its members‟.v The Ibos were migrants (or „strangers‟ to use

the term in the archives) who had come from Nigeria to the mandate territory of

Cameroon either to trade or work in the plantations. The letter lists the Union‟s work

in bearing the funeral costs of members, feeding Ibos who fall sick and repatriating

stranded Ibos back to their home in eastern Nigeria. Within a couple of years the

Union had also started lobbying on more contentious issues, requesting a seat on the

Victoria Federated Native Authority and a role as the official body collecting tax

among Ibos in Victoria Both requests were refused by the DO. The record

also shows that the Union brought together smaller Ibo family groups which met on

the different plantations and sent delegates to the main Union, which was in the

process of constructing a meeting hall in Victoria. vii By 1953 there were eleven

separate branches of the Union in the coastal areas of Cameroon. viii There is a long

history of anti-Ibo sentiment in Cameroon, but nevertheless it seems impossible to

dismiss the idea that the Ibo Tribal Union provided a second template on which

Cameroonian home associations modelled themselves.
Evidence suggests that individual colonial officials were initially broadly sympathetic

to these migrants‟ associationsix Relations between the Native Authority and the Ibo

Tribal Union also seem to have been good at the time with local African officials

grateful for the role played by the Union in maintaining discipline among Ibos in

Victoria.x But within a few years these associations were causing the administration

some anxiety precisely because they enabled particular groups to achieve a degree of

unity and autonomy. As a later DO in Victoria wrote to the Ibo Union

       „I ask you to remember that you are strangers in the Cameroons; that you

       have been permitted to live, trade and farm here by the local inhabitants,

       and that it is your duty therefore to conform to local customary laws, and

       not to set yourselves up as independent people.‟xi

Nevertheless the colonial state saw the Ibo Unions as a useful vehicle for governing

migrant populations of labourers and traders in the context of increasing hostility

between „natives‟ and „strangers‟xii. For example the DO in Buea writes that the Ibo

Union „has behaved with commendable moderation and good sense during a trying

period, and its influence has been salutary and widespread.‟ xiii So through tacit

recognition by the colonial state, home associations such as this found a conducive

environment in which to become established.

By the early 1940s the model and nomenclature of the tribal improvement unions had

percolated from Nigerian to Cameroonian migrant communities and a long list of

such associations leave shallow traces in the archives (Figure 1).
Buea Tribal Improvement Union (1943),

Mamfe Improvement Union (1943),

Bassa Tribal Union (from French Cameroon) (1948),

Bamenda Improvement Union (1949),

Mbom Keng Tribal Union (1950),

Bangwa Tribal Union (1950),

Banyang Tribal Improvement Union (1950),

Tadkon-Widikum Union (1950),

Bakweri Improvement Union (1950),

Kom Tribal Improvement Union (1950),

Bafut Tribal Union (1951),

Ejagham Tribal Improvement Union (1952),

Mbue Improvement Union (1953),

Mamfe Overside Improvement Union (1953)

Mubakoh [the four Mubako speaking Balis] Tribal Improvement Union (1954)

Figure 1

Several of these give a head office address in Lagos with branches in the coastal

plantations of Cameroon – most often Tiko or Victoria (Limbe). It is clear that these

associations began away from „home‟. „Almost all the tribal unions now existing in

Nigeria were found, not in the very towns of the tribes represented, but outside their

own villages, and sometimes their own tribal territories‟ (Offidele, 1947). Whilst they

depended on keeping the connection with those villages they were undoubtedly

primarily the product of migrant activity.
The tribal unions generally had similar stated objectives - the 1948 Bassa Union is


         The aims of the Union shall be as follows: a) to promote mutual interest of

         all members as real brothers of the same race and clan. b) To settle disputes

         between members. c) To regulate financial assistance to one another in cases

         of accidents, disablement, death and ill health. d) To further the education of

         orphans who are direct issues of ardent members. e) To further the general

         improvement and advancement of our fatherland Babimbi (Bassa)

         educationally, politically, socially and economically. xiv

We know that in the 1940s these associations were collecting money from their

members to fund scholarships, including sending children to the UK for their

education.   We can also infer that some individuals were using the unions as

platforms to promote themselves within their community and achieve fame.xv In 1947

Lord Hailey‟s visit to Nigeria prompted another covert survey of associations and

political organizations in Cameroon by colonial officials during which the tribal

unions were described as „self-help societies, and if engaged in political activities at

all, it is only in connection with their own hometowns.‟xvi

The relational quality of these associations is illustrated by the desire of their African

leaders to be registered and the desire of the colonial state to resist registration. The

British colonial government in Cameroon in the 1940s was always a minimalist

administration operating with a skeleton staff so this attitude to registration was
driven by a logic of practicality rather than principle. Ultimately a policy was

established by the colonial state that maintained that since the Tribal Improvement

Unions were private clubs they were not government‟s concern.

       „A Resident or any Govt. officer is not required to approve a private

       union‟s rules and aims or to provide a “legal guide”, which is a way to

       trap Government‟s support of the Union.‟xvii

The advice given to DOs was that they should refer the requests from the Tribal

Unions on to the relevant Native Authority in the area where the Unions met. A

typical example of how indirect administration enabled officials to displace

bureaucratic problems.

Around the same period the nascent nationalist political associations start to emerge

(often under the label of „welfare‟ and „cultural‟ associations) amongst the urban and

educated population. The Cameroon Welfare Union (1942) is particularly significant

(Ebune, 1992). Their history, along with those of other groups that ultimately

morphed into political parties is relatively well known and is covered in most text

books on Cameroonian history (LeVine 1964, 1971; Mbuagbaw et al 1987; Fanso

1989, 1999; Ngoh 2001). The point here is that in terms of model they co-evolved

with the tribal unions, whose leaders were often also civil servants.

From the early 1950s the migrant‟s associations start to drop the terms „tribal‟ and

„improvement‟ from their name and include the term „welfare‟ or „development.‟

These Unions often had significant „international‟ memberships – the Akum Welfare
Movement for example had branches in Lagos, Ibadan, Kaduna, Enugu and Douala as

well as Victoria, Tiko, and Kumba.xviii From the same period we start to get evidence

that the Cameroonian associations were collecting money among their members in

the plantations on the coast in order to fund the construction of town halls, roads and

maternity units back in their home areas. For example in September 1950 the Bangwa

Improvement Union (which claimed a membership of 300 people originally from

Mamfe District) applied for a permit to carry out a public collection moving from

village to village in the Kumba area. xix Colonial officials expressed some anxiety

about whether these collections were entirely voluntary but also expressed sympathy

for their developmental aims. xx The Unions also became active in lobbying

government and sending petitions to colonial officials requesting government services

in their home areas, xxi prompting the DO in Victoria to comment in 1953 „it is

remarkable that it is so many of those away from their hometowns who ask for post

offices [back in the rural areas].‟xxii

In the 1950s the home associations had an ambiguous political function, or as a

British official put it in 1958 they were „semi-social and semi-political‟.xxiii In so far

as these Unions were fundamentally about recreation and mutual support among

members they could reasonably claim to be apolitical. On the other hand, however,

because they brought people together to discuss their home areas they inevitably

began to articulate political complaints about the non-delivery of services and non-

representation of Africans in decision-making processes. For example, in a 1958

document (which also draws freely from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights),

the Tubah Clan Union in Bafut declared,
   „The Union shall be the mouthpiece of the people of this clan as no means or

   space is provided in the Administration for the people to express their

   grievances and wishes.‟xxiv

It is also possible to see the depoliticizing role of „development‟ at work in the 1950s.

The Ekona Lelu Development Association for example write that „the purpose of the

association is to see about the development of the village. It is completely non-

political.‟ xxv Yet within the same correspondence with the SDO in Buea they

complain that they pay tax, but see no benefit. Ultimately they are forced to collect

money from their own members in order to plot the route of the road because the

colonial state was unable or unwilling to do so. Whilst it would be easy to conclude

that some Unions took a more political role than others as a result of the beliefs of

their leadership it is more accurate to say that as they all started to get more interested

in the question of development they also all started to take a de facto political role,

even as they denied it.

For the first five years of independence modern associational life was illustrated by

continuity in many respects. However, there was another round of name changes with

home associations now describing themselves as „family unions‟ or „progressive

unions‟ though often continuing to use an geo-ethnic label as the key descriptive

aspect of the name for example Bafang Family Meeting (1963), Bafia Family meeting

(1963) and Baynagam Family Meeting (1963). As with the colonial administration

before them the new government saw some value in the unions as a means of policing

specific communities and as such endorsed their work and the associations
themselves justified there existance to the new post-colonial government in these

terms.xxvi As the Mbaise Progressive Union in Tiko claimed

       „There is no doubt that the formation of such a Union is the easiest way

       of gathering the people and thereby simplifying the task of


Furthermore „Community Development‟ in which local contributions of money and

labour were combined with technical support from government and international

NGOs remained the standard strategy for rural development. The home associations

were a crucial element in the success of this policy since they were often the

institution used to organise the local response and to collect the required money from

the beneficiary community.

However, this trend of continuity is abruptly broken in 1967 when a federal lawxxviii

required all associations to be declared and formally registered at the local DO‟s

office. Associations had to complete a form with the association‟s name and purpose

and give the names of the office holders.

179 different associations filed registration documents in Bamenda; the majority of

were for njangis (rotating savings and credit associations) and many are also for

individual death celebrations. Of all the 179 applications, 85 have geo-ethnic

elements in their name. It is not always possible to tell whether those labels refer to

migrants groups or the location of the meeting itself – but many clearly are migrants‟

associations because they say that their members are the indigenes of a particular
place who are living in the Bamenda area. The application from the Moghamo Union

in February 1967 sets out typical objectives:

      our aim is to bring together all the indigenes of Moghamo; emphasize on the

      importance of socialism [socializing]. To practise native dances and native

      customs. We also contribute an amount of money, part of which we use in

      burying or conveying to his/her home any member or Moghamo person who

      dies and who has nobody to help, part for the purchase of native dance

      equipment and the other for the celebration of Christmas.xxix

In line with the nation-building project of the time:

       „associations of exclusively tribal or clan character as well as those

       founded in aid of a cause or in view of an illicit purpose, which are in

       opposition to the law or public decency, or whose purpose is to

       undermine the integrity of the Federal State or the form of

       Government shall be null and void.‟xxx

Associations were judged to be of a tribal or clan character not only if they restricted

membership to individuals from a particular clan or tribe but also if, despite having

open membership, they were in fact pursuing goals that were considered in opposition

to national unity. After the introduction of the 1967 law there is a slow decline in

„tribal‟ labels for groups applying for permits in Bamenda and there is also sometimes

an explicit denial of their tribal character within the application. After 1968

Cameroonian groups also start to have permits refused on the grounds that they were
tribal – for example the SDO Bamenda replied to an application from the Bangwa

Social Meeting in Mankon that „I regret that tribal meetings are not to be


In order to ensure that associations were not tribal, covert surveillance of home

associations by the police was introduced. xxxii For example, covert special branch

surveillance of the Bakweri Come-down Sympathetic Association in Tiko reported


        These associations of the Bakweri elements are being spearheaded by the

        former members of the defunct CPNCxxxiii party and do not favour members

        of others tribes resident in Tiko. Although the aims and objectives of these

        associations are humanly and socially good, yet it is feared that they may in

        the near future turn to be tribalistic… It is strongly suggested that all tribal

        associations of this nature in Tiko and other parts of the country which have

        underground aims and objectives based on the foundation of sectionalism be

        stopped immediately, except that the membership of such associations

        consists of people of mixed tribes of West Cameroon…xxxiv

  In September 1969 the DO in Victoria (Limbe) called 22 such associations to a

  meeting (which was also under special branch surveillance). The DO said that the

  associations were good „because contributions are made there for self help in time

  of need‟ but that they were illegal because they were tribal and because some of

  them criticized the government. He advised them to change their names so that they

  didn‟t sound tribalistic and to open membership to anyone. „Discrimination and
 tribalism should not exist in Cameroon he observed.‟xxxv The Bakweri Come-down

 Sympathetic Association changed its name to the Tiko Association, however the

 police were still unimpressed observing „changing the names of such associations

 from the original to the other names means changing only the calabash… leaving

 the contents undiluted.‟xxxvi In effect the 1967 law had the effects of either opening

 up the membership to multiple groups (for example the „Mixed Meeting of Tiko‟

 had Meta, Ibo, Bafut, Ijaw and Bamileke membersxxxvii) or more commonly driving

 associations underground. Ultimately the state‟s need for institutions meant that

 such associations were effectively sanctioned despite being formally illegal.

In 1972 Cameroon became a one-party state under the leadership of the President

Ahmadou Ahidjo and the Cameroon National Union (CNU) (Amazee, 1994) . Home

associations responded by again changing their names either to incorporate the CNU

into their title alongside terms like „cultural‟ and „development‟ in their title. A new

rhetorical formula was established in the 1970s to express the relationship between

home associations and governments in which home associations and the urban elites

who supplied the leadership justified their existence by claiming to be conduits of

information between rural communities and government. As one parliamentarian put

it when addressing his own association: the Balong Cultural and Development

Association „is no institution outside our national party the CNU. It is our home

institution to plan the priorities of our areas for better presentation to the President of

our party, His Excellency Ahmadou Ahidjo.‟ xxxviii Associations continued with the

same basic functions but they showed they could adapt to changing political times.
The Cameroonian government was able to walk a fine line between on the one hand

proscribing tribal associations as part of the nation-building project and on the other

explicitly expecting migrants to take on the responsibility of developing their

hometown. As one of the organisers of the Bachuo Development Committee in the

plantation town of Tiko complained when arrested for organising a tribal meeting

      The CNU, our national political party and the Cameroon Government have

      been campaigning for militants and citizens to organize themselves in social

      groups for the development of their towns and villages. In this respect the sons

      and daughters of Bachuo resident in Fako and Meme Divisions considered it

      duty bound to assist the Bachuo Village Council with financial aid because they

      cannot put in their own labour physically in any project.xxxix

The administration was even sometimes prepared to help associations that sought to

prosecute those who migrants who refused to donate to home associations for

development projects. While it was increasingly unacceptable to talk about „tribe‟ in

the 1970s and 80s it was also expected that those living „outside‟ should take a role in

the development of their homeplace by organising an association and contributing to


By the 1980s the Government‟s official position continued to declare the importance

of nation-building and the decline of ethnic identity (Kofele-Kale, 1981). The new

President, Paul Biya, touring the country spoke repeatedly about the need to move

away from tribal identities:

       „We must show greater determination to replace the narrow-minded

       solidarity based on ethnic and religious affinities with solidarity based
       on ideas. By so doing, we will gradually move from a juxtaposition of

       our tribal groups to their effective integration within what will then

       become a real nation.‟xl

Yet from both our Cameroonian case studies we know that home associations

continued to work throughout this period – apparently with the blessing of the state.

Furthermore by the time this goal was articulated, the deteriorating economic

conditions meant that the state‟s capacity to deliver rural development was declining

and its policy of endlessly expanding the civil service with graduates as a means of

subsequently delivering rural development through neo-patrimonial structures was

becoming impossible to sustain.

The 1990s and the early years of the twenty-first century have seen a public

efflorescence of home associations – now almost uniformly called „cultural and

development associations.‟ This revival is a consequence of several factors:

First, the 1967 law was repealed and a new more liberal law of association introduced

in 1990 – a precursor to the subsequent episode of political openness.xli. To register,

an association now has to write to the Senior Divisional Officer giving its

constitution, rules and regulations, seat, the names of the executive, minutes and place

of first meeting, and pay 5,000 CFA francs. It is then issued with an authorization to


Second, the state has largely moved away from any serious commitment to a nation-

building project that seeks also to eliminate tribal loyalties. The official (if generally
implicit) removal of the taboo around public declarations of ethnic affiliation was

compounded by an emerging politics of hieghtened ethnic competition, in which the

central state played different areas (often represented by home associations) off

against one another to compete for the limited resources of the central government

(Jua 1997; Nkwi and Socpa 1997; Gabriel 1999; Nyamnjoh, 1999, Geschiere and

Nyamnjoh, 2000; Konings 2001; Fonchingong, 2004; Oben and Okoko, 2004). Such

a policy had always been present under the guise of „regional balance‟ but it reached

a new pitch of intensity in the 1990s. Ultimately this re-ethnicization process found

expression in the new 1997 constitution with its requirement that ID cards should

carry an individual‟s ethnic affiliation (Jua, 2006). As a result the over-arching idiom

used to describe relations between different home associations in Cameroon today is

one of „healthy competition‟ – on the one hand this is a stimulus for mobilizing

migrants to become engaged, on the other it compounds the sense that politics is a

zero-sum game in which one group‟s achievements must always be at the expense of

somebody else. This strategy has effectively undermined the development of any

effective national political opposition in Cameroon.

Third, the value of home associations from the perspective of the state in the context

of the re-emergence of multi-party politics was that they could become a vehicle

through which individuals over whom the governing party had leverage (such as

successful migrants with good positions in the civil service) could attempt to

influence the rural electorate. Relatively small amounts of money disbursed via these

associations could help bind community leaders and the electorates they could

influence into the extant political system and the governing party that benefited from

Fourth, the declining national economic conditions meant that the state‟s capacity to

deliver development goods was severely constrained. In this context, the kind of „self-

reliant‟ „community development‟ strategies used by hometown associations became

an important means by which the limited capacity of the state could be glossed over.

It was because government services were declining that hometown associations had

to step into the breach to prevent complete stagnation. In order not to draw attention

to the failures of the state to deliver rural development most hometown associations

today use the formula that their development work complements that undertaken by

government, the association is not a rival source of development goods, but a co-

worker in that process working within a governmental framework. So at the present

time Cameroonian cultural and development associations find themselves to be a

prominent feature on the social, developmental and political landscape.

4. Conclusion

4.1 To recap the periodization is something like this:

1930s and 40s – Home associations serving the needs and interests of migrants in

Cameroon form in the plantations of the coast, based on templates drawn from pre-

colonial associations, from Nigerian associations and perhaps from colonial clubs.

They are never formally registered, but are implicitly endorsed by the colonial state as

a means of controlling migrant populations in cosmopolitan urban and agro-industrial

1950s to early 60s– Home associations start to get involved in political lobbying for

their home areas and practical development of their own areas. Community

Development strategies in which local communities contribute money, labour and

raw materials in exchange for manufactured materials and technical expertise foster

the development function of home associations, but some development activity

predates this and is independent of the state. Communities with effective associations

benefit the most.

1967 – mid 1980s The nation-building project, which is premised on erasing tribal

loyalties initially drives home associations underground. However, the value of their

development function introduces a contradiction that is never fully resolved between

the ethnic basis of the group and the use of such associations as a conduit between the

central state and rural communities and a mechanism for raising development finance.

Effectively the post-colonial state endorses the association, though it seeks to absorb

them within the governing party.

Mid 1980s to present. Continued economic crisis undermines the capacity of the state

to deliver rural development further. The capacity of the state to absorb surplus labour

also declines. In response home town associations provide a means through which the

state can orchestrate a competition between regions identified with particular ethnic

identities. The taboo on public affinity to an ethnic homeland is effectively removed

and associations become ever more influential, not least because they can be used to

undermine the development of national opposition parties.

   4.2 Key Factors
1. Pre-colonial associations: In both countries there is long history of pre-

     colonial associations in the form of secret societies, regulatory societies, dance

     groups, age-grade associations and other types of group. For convenience we

     we retian the colonial term „traditional associations‟, though we should

     emphasize that they have a dynamic quality: they are not fixed or timeless but

     evolve. Our argument is that within specific locations these traditional

     associations form one of the key templates on which home associations are

     modelled. the Manyu secret society Ekpe and the Bali Nyong‟a secret society

     Voma (each of which provides a template for associational life in each place)

     have a great deal in common.xlii Such a claim would be anathema both to

     those anthropologists whose careful exegesis of such associations is concerned

     to draw out their distinctive nuances and also to their Cameroonian members

     for whom such associations are an outward sign of the fundamental

     differences between communities. Yet from our perspective it seems

     reasonable to claim that the long history of ranked membership societies in

     these separate places provides a shared model on which to base „modern‟

     home associations.

2.   Capacity to take advantage of nation-building – education, geography.

3. Particularly in the post-colonial era national policy on freedom of association

     and the legal framework governing associational life acts as a significant force

     in shaping different forms of home association in Cameroon and Tanzania.

     Tanzania for example is widely perceived to have had one of the most

     effective nation-building policies in postcolonial Africa, whereas Cameroon

     has not and this has a significant bearing on attitudes to home associations.
4. Similar structural conditions (in terms of political-economy) in the two

     countries can effectively erase these differences. The most important similarity

     between the four case studies is that neither the governments of Cameroon nor

     Tanzania can deliver rural development at the rate and scale desired by their

     citizens because of economic constraints. The common consequence has been

     a shift of responsibility onto African individuals and local communities to

     develop their own localities (particularly rural areas) in order to compensate

     for the limits of state capacity. This is not new – 1950s self-help community

     development followed the same logic – but it is widespread. The result is that

     home associations of some kind are now a common feature of social life in

     many different places. Such global economic structural elements have erased

     some of the differences between Cameroon and Tanzania and between Bali,

     Manyu, Rungwe and Newala.

5.   The important leadership and mobilization role played by a few motivated,

     dynamic and committed individuals (who invariably seem to be involved in

     the organization of multiple different associations) is another key factor that

     shapes the form associations take in particular places has uncanny echoes of

     associational life in Britain. There are always a few people („associational

     entrepreneurs‟) in every community who are the ones who make associations


6.   variation in Social organization, political structures of leadership:

     Heirarchy/horizontal. Where there is a strong traditional hierarchy there is less

     variety in the organisation. So within Cameroon BANDECA has a more

     unified structure, whereas MECA gives branches more autonomy. However

     though there is only one BANDECA in Cameroon (at home and in all
         branches) the international branches form autonomous organisations. Whereas

         though every MECA in Cameroon is different and there is no home branch,

         there is MECA in the UK and USA

    7. The relationship between the main home association and smaller, older units

         (either family groups in MECA or ndakums in BANDECA) is crucial to

         organising the membership, communication and fundraising.

    8. The national dimension is more important than the international dimension at

         the moment in terms of number of members, level of engagement and the

         amount of money raised.

   Kelsall, T. (2008) Going with the grain in African development? Politics and Power in Africa
Programme, Discussion Paper 1. (
    From the Director of Le Likumba Club to DO Victoria, 2 nd October 1929, Cameroon National
Archives, Buea, File Si 1935/1
    DO Victoria, 7th July 1936, Cameroon National Archives Buea File Si 1935/1
    DO Bamenda to Commissioner of Police, 22nd July 1936, Cameroon National Archives Bamenda File
    Hon. Sec. Ibo Tribal Union to DO Victoria, 26 th September 1937, Cameroon National Archives Buea
File Si 1941/1
    12th June 1941, Cameroon National Archives Buea File Si 1941/1
     1947, Cameroon National Archives Buea File Si 1948/1
     1953, Cameroon National Archives Buea File Si (1942)1
    DO Victoria (HCA Bryant) to Ibo International Union Club, 1939, Cameroon National Archives
Buea File Si 1941/1
    President Victoria Federated Council to Ibo Tribal Union, 27 th January 1943, Cameroon National
Archives Buea File Si 1941/1
    DO Victoria to Ibo Union, 17th September 1945, Cameroon National Archives Buea File Si 1942/1
     As well as associations that brought specific migrant groups together there is some evidence that the
longer term residents (or „natives‟) were also organizing themselves into modern associations to defend
their interests. For example, in Muyuka in 1938 the strangers complain that they are being excluded
from a Union representing the interests of cocoa farmers. Petition to DO Victoria, 14th July 1938,
Cameroon National Archives Buea File Si 1938/2
     DO Buea to SDO Victoria, 24th March 1948, Cameroon National Archives Buea File Si 1941/1
     Soli Baba (Bassa Union), 2nd July 1948, Cameroon National Archives Buea File Si 1935/1
     Tadkon-Widikum Improvment Union, description of office holders, 13 th April 1950, Cameroon
National Archives Bamenda File NW/Si.1936/1
xvi rd
     3 September 1947, Cameroon National Archives Buea File Si(1939)2a
      Minute from Enugu, 19th June 1951, Cameroon National Archives Buea File Si(1951)11
      From Akum Welfare Movement, Yaba Lagos to DO Bamenda, 17 th December 1957, Cameroon
National Archives Bamenda, File NW /Si1936/1
      30th September 1950, Cameroon National Archives Buea File, Si 1948/1
     SDO to Ossing Development Organization Union (Agbor Stephen), 20 th June 1951, Cameroon
National Archives Buea File Si/1951/3
     Victoria Improvement Union, October 1956, Cameroon National Archives Buea, File Si 1957/2
      DO Victoria to Resident Buea, 8th August 1953, Cameroon National Archives Buea, File Si 1948/2
      Minute on the proposal for a Widikum State Union, 22 nd March 1958, Cameroon National Archives
Bamenda, File NW/Si1936/1
      Tubah Clan (Bafut) Union Aims and Constitution, 3rd June 1958, Cameroon National Archives
Bamenda, File NW/Si1936/1
xxv th
      4 June 1958, Cameroon National Archives Buea File Si (1958)7
      In 1964 the Bamileleke Welfare Union agreed with the SDO Victoria to police the Bamileke
community and search for „undesirable elements‟. Cameroon National Archives Buea File Si (1959)1
       Mbaise Progressive Union application for registration, 11 th June 1963, Cameroon National
Archives Buea File Si (1948)3
       The law states that it replaced earlier laws of July 1901 and April 1946. As has already been shown
these were not enforced in relation to the British Mandate territory.
      February 1967, Cameroon National Archives Bamenda, File NW/Si.1966/1
      12th June 1967, Cameroon National Archives Buea File Si 1967/1
      August 1968, Cameroon National Archives Bamenda, File NW/Si.1966/1
       It should also be recalled that at this period the internal violent conflict with the UPC rebels was
still a significant feature of political life in Cameroon and such authoritarian practices were common as
a result.
       The Cameroon People‟s National Convention was a political party founded in May 1960. It was
the main opposition part and opposed reunification of the anglophone Southern Cameroons with
francophone Cameroun.
       Special branch report, 27th July 1969, Cameroon National Archives, Buea, File Si 1969/6
       Special Branch report, 6th September 1969, Cameroon National Archives Buea File Si 1969/6
       Special Branch report, 27th July 1969, Cameroon National Archives, Buea, File Si 1969/6
        Application for permit to SDO Victoria, 23rd March 1968, Cameroon National Archives, Buea,
File Si(1968)4
        Hon Tabilangason, 8th December 1978, Cameroon National Archives, Buea, File Si/1978/1
       Andrew B Ashu, 2nd March 1971, Cameroon National Archives, Buea, File Si 1969/6
     Paul Biya, 22nd March 1985, New Deal Congress, General Policy Report, Cameroon National
Archives, Buea.
     Freedom of Association, law no. 90/053, 19 December 1990.
     Both are male membership associations with a series of ranks where initiation is made by payment,
where discipline is maintained through fines and where esoteric knowledge of paraphernalia,
terminology and secret signs are used to articulate the hierarchy. Both are closely associated with
performance (dance, masquerade and music) that has a semi-secret quality through which their
authority over non-initiates is demonstrated. Both exercise the important functions of protecting
members‟ rights (for example over property) and providing a venue for socializing. Both secret
societies have a history of moving between communities over time and being changed as they do so. It
would be as easy to produce a list of their differences too.

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