Environmental Law

Cameroon’s serious environmental problems were detailed in the previous chapter. Unfortunately, as a relatively new issue, which rose to prominence only after cutbacks in government spending became the order of the day, environmental protection is even more underfunded than other areas. For example, while the Ministry of Defense absorbed 5 percent of the national budget for 2014, the budgets of the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife and the Ministry of Environment, Nature Protection, and Sustainable Development represented just 0.5 and 0.1 percent, respectively (National Assembly of Cameroon, 2013). Lack of investment in environmental protection has serious negative consequences for the environment, which increases the magnitude of the task facing environmental NGOs and leaves government without significant funds to support them.

Cameroon has an impressive amount of environmental legislation on the books; however, the effectiveness of this legislation has been limited by (1) gaps in the law; (2) fragmentation of responsibilities among numerous relevant ministries, especially the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife and the Ministry of Environment, Nature Protection, and Sustainable Development; and (3) frequent changes in the allocations of responsibilities among ministries. Problems with enforcement also stem from conflicts between traditional and formal law regarding land rights, continued simultaneous use of elements of both British common law and French law, cutbacks in enforcement budgets due to structural adjustments, and the economic clout of multinational firms or well-connected industries (Fomba, 1997a, 1997b; National Capacity Self-Assessment Global Support Programme, 2006). Numerous commissions, inter-ministry committees, and study groups designed to address problems such as sustainable development, desertification, and climate change have been empaneled; however, the composition and leadership of these groups change frequently, and they are not always well staffed. By 2006, the government had designated about 15 percent of the national territory as protected areas, with varying levels of protection; however, some of these are protected only on paper (National Capacity Self-Assessment Global Support Programme, 2006).

Forestry legislation provides a good example of the difficulties in government policy. The first postindependence forest legislation in 1974, and subsequent decrees in the 1980s, set out basic regulations governing individuals and companies involved in forest exploitation. This included conditions for the granting and renewal of lumbering licenses and specification of the types of species and characteristics of the trees that could be cut. In 1994, more comprehensive Forestry and Wildlife legislation, which included a package of reforms designed to promote sustainable forestry, was passed under pressure from the World Bank and international NGOs. It recognized several forms of shared management between the government and local communities. Nevertheless, even after the enactment of this law and the issuance of its implementing regulations in 1995, the government continued to define the policy and management framework for the forestry sector and assign responsibilities, including logging rights, to stakeholders and actors. Unfortunately, government efforts to control illegal logging and deforestation have not been very effective, and deforestation continues apace (see chapter 4). Most industrial logging, which is concentrated in the East Region, is conducted by foreign firms, and, owing to corruption, much of it does not comply with the provisions of Cameroon’s forest law (MacLeod, 1986; Ngwa and Fonjong, 2002; Fonjong, 2006a, 2007a; Neba, 2007).

The 1994 legislation authorized the development of “community forests” to be controlled and managed by local communities, and a 1995 administrative decree extended this provision to include community management of hunting areas. Despite the lack of enthusiasm by the government and the lack of advance preparation, procedures to establish community forests have gradually been implemented, including a very complex application process that most local communities need outside help to complete. Progress has been much more rapid and widespread in establishing community forests than community hunting zones (Sharpe, 1998; Egbe, 2001; Fomete, 2002; Fonjong, 2006a, 2007; Buchy and Maconachie, 2014).

Cameroonian law authorizes traditional, subsistence hunting, except in protected areas, on private property, or where it endangers protected species, and eating bushmeat is part of local culture in rural areas. Unfortunately, bushmeat is also widely sold. Trading in bushmeat can range from casual selling to neighbors or in local markets to systematic hunting for sale to markets and restaurants in the cities. In addition, well-organized gangs of poachers sometimes hunt animals for export of valuable body parts (Sikod et al., 2000; Egbe, 2001). For example, in 2012, over 300 elephants were reported to have been massacred within a week at the Bouba Ndjida National Park by armed Sudanese poachers in search of ivory tusks (Daily News, 2012).

Lack of clarity in environmental law and weak law enforcement pose significant obstacles for environmental NGOs whose efforts require interactions with the legal system. Many NGOs, for example, devote considerable effort to helping local communities navigate the legal complexities involved in establishing community forests, while others devote their energies to prodding the government to enforce wildlife protection regulations.

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