On November 30, 2018, Cameroon’s President signed a decree to create a national committee to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate (DDR) secessionists in the English-speaking regions and former Boko Haram militants in the Far North. The move, while welcomed by some observers who consider it a step forward towards achieving peace in the concerned regions, is too early, for the English-speaking parts of Cameroon and poorly adapted to the fight against terrorists in the Far North.
The national DDR committee (CNDDR) is headed by former governor Francis Faï Yengo. It operates on the same basis as UN’s peacekeeping missions. Structurally, operations carried out by the committee will focus on areas where the concerned militants come from, theoretically at least. Municipalities concerned include Bamenda and Buea, the respective head districts of the English-speaking regions in the South West and North West, and Mora in the Far North (at the Chad-Nigeria border). Strategically, the purpose of the CNDDR is to gather and disarm former Boko Haram militants and armed secessionists and help them be reinserted into the civilian life. However, the issue is that considering the nature and status of the two related conflicts, chances that the committee’s actions will succeed in the English-speaking regions are very low, and quite challenged in the Far North.
A measure too early in English-speaking regions
So far, DDR regarding the conflict opposing the government to secessionists in the English-speaking parts of Cameroon, separatists’ leaders did not express any will to peacefully end the fight. In fact, the number of casualties on both sides keeps rising and no claims have yet been made as to initiate talks between the two parties. On another side, authorities often call the armed separatists delinquents or terrorists. As a result, taking the adequate response to peacefully end the conflict becomes quite unclear and challenging. This impedes the CNDRR’s activity, both strategically and operationally.
From a strategic point of view, DDR operations often result from an agreement or process initiated by parties involved in a conflict, to peacefully resolve the latter. There is no such agreement or process in the case of the crisis with secessionists in Cameroon, yet. Efforts made by some actors, such as religious leaders, to gather the conflict’s protagonists for talks were fruitless as, on one side the government refused to participate, and on another, the armed secessionists feel reluctant to meet with authorities. Truth is, any operation carried out by the DDR committee in this context would be unfruitful and could even aggravate the conflict since armed groups involved in the latter could perceive it (the operation) as a stratagem of the government to resolve the situation and not giving them what they want. Actually, the DDR operations are steered by Yaoundé with the support of special local military forces. These forces are considered by the separatists to be occupying the land for which they claim independence. With this in mind, launching successful DDR operations may indeed be non-viable.
Adapting to terrorist cells’ structure in the Far North
While carrying out DDR missions in the English-speaking regions might have near-to-zero chances of succeeding, the case is different in the Far North. The region is still suffering attacks from Boko Haram. Last November, 28th, the terrorists actually stroke Amchidé. During the attack, about thirty people were wounded. However, many militants of the group have been expressing their desire to flee the terrorist group. For example, less than 300 former terrorists (who were captured or surrendered) are being kept since the beginning of 2018 at a camp of the Multinational Taskforce in Mora. While this may be a positive point for the planned DDR mission, there are at least three major challenges to its success.
First, there is the transnational character of the Boko Haram terrorist group. Indeed, this factor would force the CNDRR to harmonize its operations with similar initiatives implemented in neighboring countries. The terrorist group plans and operates in many areas across the region. In this context, it would be more efficient for Cameroon to pair its DDR missions with similar initiatives carried out by Chad, Niger and Nigeria since these countries share the trans-border area that is most affected by Boko Haram. In this regard, the extraordinary summit that gathered all heads of States of the Lake Chad Basin Commission on November 29, 2018, in Ndjamena, was productive as the leaders agreed during the event to improve cooperation between their respective armies. This would help tackle the second challenge to the DDR mission’s success, knowingly the risk of militants using funds provided by the committee but not disarm. Without a reliable shared database of disarmed militants, this is a probable scenario.
The creation of the national DDR committee aims at providing a strategic response to the crisis in the Far North of Cameroon. However, the move is not really pertinent in the actual context and could actually reveal counter-productive in the North West and South West English-speaking regions.