In Cameroon, the approaching presidential election is attracting increasing public interest. For once, politicians from both the opposition and the ruling party, as well as a number of civil society organisations, seem to be in agreement in calling for people to register to vote. Is the operation a success? It’s hard to say, given the opacity of the whole process. However, a few indications here and there give the impression that a campaign of influence is underway in Cameroon.

Participation in elections in Cameroon

Every presidential election in Cameroon comes with its share of irregularities. But long before the vote, the problem of registration has always arisen. Cameroon’s electoral population is estimated at around 11 million. So far, however, fewer than 8 million people have registered to vote. The number of new registrations, estimated at around 500 each year, is considered highly unsatisfactory.

In January 2019, when the revision of the electoral roll was officially launched, the institution set itself the target of registering 10 million Cameroonians before the 2025 elections. The latest figures announced indicate that this objective is far from being achieved for the moment.

But there is even worse news: despite this already unsatisfactory registration rate, the number of voters has gradually fallen over the years, to just over 50% in 2018.

While the electoral process unexpectedly aroused public interest in 2018, in particular with the post-electoral disputes broadcast live that kept the crowds on their toes for several days, it has to be said that this interest has been eroded over time.

Indeed, the events that preceded and followed the official proclamation of the results – Maurice Kamto’s declaration of victory, the demonstrations organised by the CRM to denounce the electoral hold-up, the emergence of the Anti-Sardinard Brigade (BAS) and its violent actions in Europe, plus numerous disinformation campaigns directed at various opposition leaders – all served to dampen the enthusiasm of many potential voters.

The urgent need, therefore, is for people to register en masse to vote. As much as the government, the vast majority of the opposition is playing along. This is rather surprising given that some members of this same opposition have denounced the inadequacies of the current electoral code, and have even proposed an electoral code that has obviously not been accepted by the government.

Influence operation?

In principle, calling on the population to register en masse to vote is not a concern. Cameroon’s opposition is clearly counting on massive voter turnout to topple the current regime. As for Elections Cameroon (ELECAM), it has set itself a target of 10 million registered voters. Above all, a high number of registrants, and later of voters, contributes to the credibility of the entire process.

On closer examination, however, there are a number of factors that make this real or supposed rush to the polling stations suspect. These elements, when examined closely, give the impression that this is an influence campaign that could facilitate fraud in the forthcoming presidential election.

Certain pro-enrolment messages posted on social networks sound like astroturfing. This is an influence technique that consists of giving the impression of a spontaneous movement when in fact it is a prepared operation. Some artists and public figures, who had not often been seen taking a stand on political or electoral issues, “spontaneously” took the floor to encourage people to register.

The appearance of trolls, or at least the adoption of behaviours that can be associated with trolling, by numerous accounts on social networks also drew our attention. Accounts that polarise exchanges, reacting only to insult and denigrate, have become more numerous on the Internet.

Added to this is the bashing of anyone who tries to express any opposing views or reservations about the mass voter registration project. Kah Walla, leader of the Cameroon’s People Party (CPP) and Maximilienne Ngo Mbe, activist and president of Redhac, who advocate political transition rather than elections, have recently paid the price.

About the sincerity of the authorities

What is worrying about all this agitation is that the government is not sincere. One might think that the calls for people to register to vote would be a sign of sincerity about the forthcoming electoral process. But no! Cases of irregularities are beginning to multiply:

In Massangam in the West region, an elite member of the ruling party had ELECAM agents and police officers come to his home. Their role was to make national identity cards and then produce voters’ cards. Local residents, who discovered the whole thing, denounced the fact that the identity cards and voters’ cards belonged to people unknown in the village.

On the other hand, CRM activists have denounced the fact that people are being added to the electoral roll without being issued with a receipt. Again, this is a shady operation that bodes ill for transparency in the forthcoming electoral process, especially when we learn that in the diaspora the conditions for registration on the lists have been tightened.

In the end, one wonders whether all the fuss about electoral roll registrations is not just an influence operation designed to give the impression that the number of registered voters has increased exponentially.

The aim is to give the impression that the number of registered voters has increased exponentially, in order to make it easier to manipulate the figures and produce false voters who will give victory to whichever candidate the government wants to put forward in the forthcoming presidential election.

Photo: AMISOM/Iwaria