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The Politics of Identity Negotiation in Cameroon

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`Ethnic' identity does not just happen. It is processed and developed in a context of identity negotiation by culture brokers acting as self-proclaimed representatives of their respective groups. These brokers have shaped the politics of identity negotiation in Cameroon around two issues: fair access to state resources along presumably ethnic lines and protection by each group of its share of the national pie from more politically aggressive ethnic groups. In this context, identity negotiation follows an integrative approach that provides culture brokers, turned political entrepreneurs, with open options and flexible positions to address the issues. Sometimes, they play the ethnic majority card, using a language couched in terms of kinship ideology to recruit allies from neighboring groups, producing, through a process of incremental expansion, a larger ethnic group that displays a negotiated common cultural identity. In other cases, they withdraw from the larger group to play the alternative card of a minority group, using village and autochthon rhetoric to emphasize their authenticity and claim special treatments. In all cases, the bottom line of the political entrepreneurs is to negotiate with the regime for a share of the national pie.

Affiliations: 1: Center for African Studies and Conflict Management Programs, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, The Johns Hopkins University, Washington, D.C., USA (E-mail:


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