Why has Biya not (yet) kept his promise to Cameroon’s Anglophone areas?

By Franck Foute

Posted on Thursday, 24 June 2021 09:37
A Cameroonian elite Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) member walks past a burnt car while patroling in the city of Buea in the anglophone southwest region, Cameroon
A Cameroonian elite Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) member walks past a burnt car while patroling in the city of Buea in the anglophone southwest region, Cameroon October 4, 2018. Picture taken October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Announced with great fanfare at the end of 2019, the presidential plan for the reconstruction of areas affected by the Anglophone crisis is stalling. The government blames the coronavirus pandemic but it is far from being the only cause...

Never before has Cameroon, once renowned for its stability, experienced such destructive conflict.

In the five years of armed battle in the Anglophone regions of the north-west and south-west, the damage to infrastructure and buildings is extensive.

In 2019, the government reported that at least:

  • 350 schools,
  • 115 health centres,
  • 40 bridges,
  • 400 water points,
  • 500 kilometres of low-voltage power lines,
  • 45 markets,
  • nearly 12,000 houses
  • and 100,000 hectares of plantations had to be rebuilt.

In addition to this, there is the psychological trauma attributable to the horrors of a war that led to an estimated 3,000 deaths and 550,000 persons internally and externally displaced, according to figures released by the UN in 2019.

Although these figures have since increased due to continued fighting and the consequent damage on infrastructure, Yaoundé says it is determined to begin reconstructing the affected regions without delay.

We are in the middle of a war, we are killing our soldiers who are killing the separatists, and in the middle we have civilians.

On 18 May, Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute met with the country’s main business leaders at the Cameroonian Inter-Patronal Group (Gicam), to solicit their support for his Presidential Reconstruction and Development Plan (PPRD) that emerged from a major national dialogue and was launched by President Paul Biya at the end of 2019.

During the unprecedented meeting, the head of government and his team took stock of the plan – that has been spread over 10 years – and divided it into three phases: recovery, reconstruction and development.

Poor results

Planning minister Paul Tasong, the coordinator of the project, revealed that out of an initial budget of 89bn CFA francs (about €136m), only 10bn CFA francs had been collected two years after the launch of the programme. “3.5bn [CFA francs] have already been allocated to the rehabilitation of certain school and health infrastructure. As of 15 April 2021, the rate of execution of phase 1 work was 25%,” said Tasong.

These are slim pickings one year before the end of the first phase 2020-2022, which is dedicated to promoting social cohesion, rehabilitating basic social infrastructure and revitalising the local economy, and which is supposed to bring the country into the post-war phase.

What explains such a low level of interest in the reconstruction programme?

The Cameroonian government’s optimism is being challenged by the reluctance of donors to bail out the PPDR. On 5 May 2020, Cameroon presented 10% of the 89.682bn CFA francs of the overall budget to the UNDP – the technical partner in charge of the implementation of this programme. This means that Japan is the only bilateral partner to have made any contribution to this pot, more than one year after its launch, despite the government’s multiple appeals to potential donors.

According to Tasong, the health crisis caused by coronavirus is at heart of this bleak situation. Facing his chiefs, the coordinator of the reconstruction plan claimed that “a mission would have already gone to donor countries to raise the promised funds if Covid-19 had not blocked everything”.

But his view is not shared by local NGO leaders, who fear that the project is turning into something of a Sisyphean task. “We are in the middle of a war, we are killing our soldiers who are killing the separatists, and in the middle we have civilians,” says Ayah Junior, president of the Ayah Foundation, which cares for young orphans in the city of Buea. “Let’s end this war by signing a ceasefire and things will happen naturally. We need to rebuild, but this is not the right time for that.”

On the ground, the guns are far from being silenced. At the beginning of May, the military command had to reinforce its troops with 300 additional soldiers in the Momo department (north-west), to carry out the ‘Kumbo clean’ operation.

The first phase of this operation resulted in the neutralisation of three Ambazonian generals. On 14 June, an attack attributed to separatists led to the death of two people in the Fako department. Three days later, authorities announced the kidnapping of five departmental delegates in the north-west region. As a result of this instability, the road linking the town of Bamenda to Babadjou, in the French-speaking western region, has been blocked for four years, seriously disrupting traffic between the north-west region and the rest of the country.

Embarrassed UN

In an address to the security council on 7 June, the UN Secretary-General representative for Central Africa, Francois Lounceny Fall, said “the violence in the north-west and south-west regions of Cameroon has not abated”.

“A further escalation of the crisis is leading to more suffering for the civilian population and widespread human rights violations, aggravated by the impact of Covid-19,” he said. Did he deliberately not mention the ongoing PPRD? Within the local UN bodies, the question of reconstruction is embarrassing, as a ceasefire has still not been reached. And the UNDP refuses to answer questions from the media.

However, the Cameroonian authorities do not intend to wait for peace to return to all regions before launching the reconstruction phase. “More than 90% of the population has turned its back on the secessionists,” Ngute told the Gicam bosses. Apart from the departments of Lebialem (south-west), Mbui and Momo [north-west], which remain pockets of insecurity, the other seven departments of the two regions have returned to normal life. According to the presidential plan, the work should therefore be done progressively from the already pacified areas.

Will the government succeed? Following Ngute’s appeals, economic operators have paid an additional 800m CFA francs to the PPRD’s coffers. They want a rapid return to peace and have reassured the Cameroonian authorities of their willingness to get involved. This support is all the more essential now as this mission seems to have visibly drifted off track.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options