Talking Law in Times of Reform: Paradoxes of Legal Entitlement in Cameroon


  • José-María Muñoz

  • Research for this article took place within the framework of a British Economic and Social Research Council–funded project, in which I collaborated with Philip Burnham, Saïdou Bobboy, and Martial Massike, to whom I am deeply indebted. Lotta Björklund-Larsen, Alicia Campos, Timothy Earle, Heather Field, Peter Geschiere, Jane Guyer, Karen Hansen, and Barrie Sharpe offered invaluable feedback on the research from which this text draws. Special thanks are due to Philip Burnham and Robert Launay for their close, generous, and perceptive reading of my work, and to Mohamadou Abbo Fodué for his patient, indefatigable support. Different versions of this article were presented at University College London's West African Seminar, at the 2009 Law & Society Association Annual Meeting, and at Emory University's African Studies Seminar. I am grateful to participants in these forums for their comments and suggestions. I also thank the three anonymous reviewers for their critical insights. Please address correspondence to José-María Muñoz, Department of Anthropology, Emory University, Mailstop 1460-001-1AA, Atlanta, GA, 30322; e-mail:


Based on ethnographic fieldwork carried out between 2003 and 2005, this article examines how legality is constructed in present-day Adamaoua Province, Cameroon. Focusing on an instance of a process locally referred to as la concertation, I analyze how state officials and cattle traders gather to discuss the practical fate of law. As a heightened moment of suspended enforcement, la concertation is productive for both officials, who work out the limits of their respective spheres of authority and imagine a trade based on business norms and practices that severely limit the scope of regulatory action, and traders, who manage to stave off the increased scrutiny that income tax law presupposes, while asserting their concern for the integrity and consistency of the law.