Working Paper
Is it Possible to Reform a Customs Administration?

The Role of the Customs Elite on the Reform Process in Cameroon

An ethnographic approach is applied to Cameroon customs in order to explore the role and the capacity of the bureaucratic elites to reform their institution. Fighting against corruption has led to the extraction and circulation of legal ‘collective money’ that fuels internal funds. This collective money is the core of the senior officers’ power and authority, and materially grounds their elite status. Nevertheless, when reforming, wilful senior officers face a major problem. On the one hand, the onus is on them to improve governance and transparency, which can challenge the way they exert their authority. On the other hand, goodwill is not sufficient. ‘Reformers’ depend on a violent and unpredictable appointment process, driven by the political will to fight against corruption and the fact that the political authority has to keep a close eye on the customs apparatus that tends towards autonomy, thanks to its internal funds. Violence and collective representations weaken the legitimacy of the senior officers, even the reformers, by pushing individual skills into the background. This paper questions whether Cameroon’s use of official customs data to evaluate individual performance can open up fissures among customs elites such that reformers are distinguished from others.