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Thursday, February 28, 2019

Southern Cameroons Crisis: UN agencies are recruiting in Buea and Bamenda

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As the United Nations continues to mobilize resources to get its staff on the ground in Southern Cameroons, it is also looking to employ many local staff who will have to play a huge role in its humanitarian work. According to an inside source, United Nations bodies are already on the ground and their international staff are also in the region to lay the groundwork for its activities.

The number of international staff is gradually increasing as hostilities and targeted killings decline. The global body already has offices in Buea and Bamenda, but their office in Buea is more active and there are recruitments currently taking place. The UN office in the Southwest is an uncompleted building located in the Southwest regional capital of Buea and it is believed that the office will require more than 50 local staff, with thousands to be deployed in various towns to deliver humanitarian assistance to those who need it the most.

Our source, who elected anonymity, said that people with a solid background in conflict management and resolution will surely get recruited, as the global body needs their skills. He added that those with a background in law and mediation should also send in their CVs as their knowledge will come in handy.

He also said that even UN staff will require a lot of local labour. Drivers, security guards, cooks, domestic workers and others. It is estimated that the United Nations presence in the two regions will result in the creation of more than 4,000 indirect jobs. As the regions stabilize, so too will reconstruction and rehabilitation take off in the two regions. War has never been a good thing. It comes with a lot of pain and suffering. However, it also has its own beauty. Post-war reconstruction is usually a boom time for local businesses and it offers great opportunities for those with the right skills and experience, our source said.

He stressed that bodies like UNICEF will surely need people with child protection, counselling and education skills which are the skills UNICEF needs to achieve its goals in the two regions. He also pointed out that for these organization’s achievements and efforts to be known, it will also require communication specialists and journalists.

“It would like the world to know that it is achieving results on the ground and this will imply having people to tell its story in the best possible way. This is where journalists and communications officers come into play. The UN is a global body and its resource mobilization programs will only be successful when donors understand that it is achieving results. Since it uses many language, it will also want those stories to be translated into the various languages it uses. This will imply hiring translators, and within the organization, we know Cameroon has a huge and professional crop of translators, especially as it has a good translation school in Buea. This may be a good time for people living in and around the two English-speaking regions,” he said.

“Our salaries are not bad. The UN will surely be paying in dollars and earning USD 3,000 in a town like Buea or Bamenda will surely not be a bad deal for those with the right skills set. I hope people in the two regions with the right skills will do their best to get a place within the UN. This is the time to help those in need. There is a lot of work to be done in the regions. Many people are in pain and they need counseling. Many are homeless and are even living far away from home. They need to be stabilized and possibly sent back to their homes. The United Nations has also achieved a lot in this regard in other conflict zones and will be using that experience to stabilize the North West and South West regions of the country,” he pointed out.

It should, however, be stressed that the UN’s job for now is not about peacekeeping, but strictly humanitarian. The global body is still in talks with the government of Cameroon for it to expand its role, especially with regard to peace-building and peace-keeping.

Though the government is still very wary of the UN, its collapsing finances and greater international pressure mean that it may waver in its opposition to the deployment of troops in the two English-speaking regions of the country.

Meanwhile, the fighting in the two regions is reducing, making it easy for the UN to carry out limited humanitarian work. Though government forces are still targeting young males in the region, sources on the ground indicate that the killings are gradually reducing, although the burning of homes by government forces has continued on a large scale.

It should also be pointed out that a report by the global body released on January 31, 2019, has slammed the government and armed groups in the country’s two English-speaking regions for the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the two regions. Produced in collaboration with humanitarian partners, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (https://www.unocha.org/) report states that the global body is seeking US$ 15.2 million to start humanitarian operations in the Northwest and Southwest regions.

“As of 7 January, donors had provided 35 per cent of the US$15.2 million required as per the emergency response plan, according to the Financial Tracking Service (FTS). This amount constitutes the $5.1 million CERF allocation under the rapid response window. Additional contributions were received by other donors but not yet reported on FTS,” the report underscores.

The reports points out that the socio-political issues in and concerning the two English-speaking regions of the country have been a matter of contention throughout the post-colonial period. Political protests against perceived marginalization intensified in 2016 and in late 2017 violence erupted in North-West and South-West regions prompting violent clampdowns by security forces. With the increased deployment of defense forces and proliferation of non-state armed groups, the crisis has increasingly become characterized as one of armed conflict. Increased insecurity, violence and consequent widespread injury and civilian loss of life have forced thousands of families to flee their homes. Displacement continues to have serious consequences on the livelihoods and living conditions of the affected populations, the report says.

It stresses that “vulnerability has been further compounded by lack of access to farmland, by deterioration in medical and water facilities and limited access to education for children due to a violently enforced ban on schooling called for by armed groups.”

The report also points out that “little political progress has been made to resolve the conflict. The ‘Anglophone General Conference’ had been set to discuss the crisis on 21 November 2018 however it was postponed with no new date yet to be announced. Efforts continue at regional and national level and with the diaspora. The stay-home ‘Ghost Town’ protest continues to be observed every Monday across the two regions. There were heightened tensions on the 10th of January as the second day of the trial of the ex-leadership of the opposition movement was held in Yaounde. Numerous incidences of violence took place across the region. In some areas, particularly the Buea-Kumba axis, an effective ghost-town was observed between Monday 7th and Thursday 10th. The trial was adjourned until the 7th of February.

The global body is also concerned about the country’s political situation. “Escalating tensions in Francophone Cameroon including protests in Douala and Yaounde included the Anglophone Crisis in their discourse. Maurice Kamto leader of the main opposition party, the MRC, was arrested on 30 January in connection with these tensions. Tensions increased as the month of February approached with the stated intention of some armed groups to declare a ‘lockdown’ for the month which would prohibit movement similar to ‘Ghost Town’ Mondays. This was subsequently reduced to a ten-day period from 4th to 14th during which significant days for the opposition forces would fall. Namely the trial of the leadership, National Youth Day and the anniversary of the plebiscite which joined Southern Cameroons and Cameroon.

Regarding insecurity, the UN stresses that “Insecurity in the affected regions remains high, with continuing armed attacks and confrontations between the military and armed groups. The crisis further worsened from mid-2018 onward due to increased hostilities ahead of the presidential election. Movements continue to be restricted in the two regions due to a curfew in the North-West, a “No Movement” declaration by non-state actors and the increase of both official and informal checkpoints.”

“In the South West, on 3 January CDC workers of the Rubber Plantation in Tiko, Fako Division while at work were attacked by Non-state armed men (NSAG). They were tortured, and their toes and fingers cut off for working in the Plantation against the policy of armed groups. In January, troops clashed with armed groups across the two regions with ensuing fatalities and destroyed properties and vehicles. Military operations increased in both regions to counter armed group plans for February ‘lockdown’. Preventive displacement and stockpiling was ongoing at the time of writing of this report. Declining security situation during the month is expected,” the report says.

Hostilities have continued to claim civilian lives, from indirect fire and from disturbing reports of targeted killings. Urban attacks have resulted in deaths from cross-fire and civilian casualties have been reported as a result of raids on villages. In late January, large scale military operations were launched in the Bafut area resulting in numerous casualties for both combatants and civilians. On 25 January, the military killed 11 people they suspected of being armed separatists in Mpundu-Balong in the Southwest region. Incidents were also reported taking place in Marumba and Tiko amongst others. Abductions continue to be an ongoing concern.

The violence has uprooted 437,500 people from their homes and forced over 32,000 to seek refuge in neighbouring Nigeria. Humanitarian organizations are striving to scale-up their presence in the conflict-hit regions. Shelters, NFI and Education have been identified in the North-West and South-West regions as the most urgent needs. Almost 50 per cent of the displaced have settled in rural areas and have an increased need for shelter and non-food items. More than 80% of girls and boys no longer have access to schooling on a continuous basis because of the crisis, the report says.

The outlook for 2019 is one of emergency response as displacement continues due to the ongoing conflict. Vulnerability is compounded as services deteriorate and resilience is eroded. Access remains challenging as poor levels of understanding of humanitarian action persist and infrastructure is damaged in armed conflict related operations to deny mobility to opposing forces. Armed fighting and insecurity continue to be the principal impediment to the provision of assistance as well as a barrier to those in need in terms of reaching areas where they can receive aid, the report says.

The majority of those displaced are women and children. Protection is the principal humanitarian concern as the ongoing conflict is the main cause of human suffering. Food and shelter are also of concern as displacement continues apace. Needs across all sectors are high and are being further compounded as the conflict deepens. Of particular concern is access to water for areas requiring water transportation during days when movement is limited. Many of the conflict-affected populations are growing more vulnerable as the violence persists and humanitarian assistance remains inadequate, the report stresses.

The deployment of humanitarian actors to the field continues. A further allocation of CERF to Cameroon will in part support humanitarian activities in the North-West and South-West regions. As of 7 January, donors had provided 35 per cent of the US$15.2 million required as per the emergency response plan, according to the Financial Tracking Service (FTS). This amount constitutes the US$5.1 million CERF allocation under the rapid response window. Additional contributions were received by other donors but have not yet reported on FTS.


By Kingsley Betek in Yaounde