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Revisiting the Politics of Belonging in Cameroon

Abstract

The article introduces a themed section in the journal on hometown associations in Cameroon. It outlines the impact of ten years’ work in this field and argues that notions of autochthony remain central in understanding Cameroonian politics. However the three articles go on to argue that some of the claims about home, belonging and politics are difficult to reconcile with the hazier reality observed on the ground. The articles aim to disturb any universal, inevitable or overly tidy segue between questions of belonging and claims of political segmentation. Too often the existing literature moves too quickly to an analysis that foregrounds only the worrisome dimensions of a politics of belonging, thus leaving little space for other interpretations. To explore this dilemma the article continues by exploring a land dispute in Bali Nyonga, north-west Cameroon. It shows (1) how ideas of belonging remain central to the practice of politics; (2) how the politics of belonging has changed over time; and (3) how it is possible to foreground an alternative ‘politics of conviviality’, which would otherwise be shaded out by the dominance of the politics of belonging within the literature.

Cet article présente une rubrique thématique de revue consacrée aux associations de ressortissants au Cameroun. Il décrit brièvement l'impact de dix années de travaux dans ce domaine et soutient que les notions d'autochtonie demeurent centrales pour comprendre la politique camerounaise. Or, les trois articles affirment qu'il est difficile de concilier certaines assertions concernant le lieu d'origine, l'appartenance et la politique avec la réalité plus floue observée sur le terrain. Ces articles cherchent à troubler toute articulation universelle, inévitable ou trop ordonnée entre les questions d'appartenance et les assertions de segmentation politique. La littérature existante s'empresse trop souvent de proposer une analyse qui ne met en avant que les dimensions préoccupantes d'une politique d'appartenance, ne laissant ainsi que peu de place à d'autres interprétations. L'article étudie ensuite ce dilemme à travers un contentieux foncier à Bali Nyonga, dans le Nord-Ouest du Cameroun. Il montre (1) comment les idées d'appartenance demeurent centrales dans la pratique de la politique, (2) comment la politique d'appartenance a évolué au fil du temps et (3) comment il est possible de mettre en avant une autre politique, une « politique de convivialité », que risquerait d’éclipser la prépondérance de la politique d'appartenance dans la littérature.

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