Violence Against Women in Cameroon
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to make headlines, several other global challenges have come to light as a result. Like with many widespread concerns, crises often intensify the reality of serious issues. This is true regarding violence against women in Cameroon. While violence against women in Cameroon has attracted more attention since the beginning of the pandemic, its existence far precedes COVID-19. However, it is important to recognize that the implications of the current global pandemic worsen the intensity of gender-based violence.

Growing Violence Over Time

Data from 2012 reveals that 51% of women in Cameroon faced some sort of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. According to a 2019 research paper on gender equality in Cameroon, “56.4% of women in [a] union” face some form of violence. Furthermore, discrimination against women in Cameroon extends beyond gender-based violence. For example, 51.5% of women in Cameroon live below the poverty line in comparison to 39% of the general population. Moreover, 80% of women who live below the poverty line endure underemployment. Although COVID-19 is not a root cause of violence against women in Cameroon, it raises awareness regarding the severity of the matter. This growing global recognition draws attention to efforts addressing gender-based violence in the country and beyond.

WACameroon

Women in Action Against Gender Based Violence (WACameroon) began in 2005 as an organization centered around advancing human rights. WACameroon’s main focus is to advocate for a society in which everybody respects and upholds the rights of all. This includes improving the lives of impoverished women and other marginalized groups in Cameroon. WACameroon’s main objectives are:

  1. To encourage peacekeeping and the upholding of human rights.
  2. To create “action-oriented” initiatives to mitigate “gender-based violence and discrimination.”
  3. Improving the health of Cameroon’s population, specifically as it concerns HIV/AIDS.
  4. Ensuring the sustainability of both “natural and human resources.”
  5. Strengthening governance and democracy nationwide.

WACameroon’s efforts have seen success. The organization was able to improve girls’ access to education and female school completion rates while mobilizing “men as partners in the struggle for gender equality.” In addition, WACameroon helped facilitate “access to productive resources [for impoverished women].” With regard to gender-based violence, in particular, WACameroon “empowers perpetrators of [gender-based violence] to become advocates of gender equality.” The organization also empowers women with the confidence and assertiveness to enforce their rights. In 2010, the organization gained international recognition: International Service U.K. presented WACameroon with an International Human Rights award for its work in empowering people in Cameroon.

Opportunity Moving Forward

Violence against women in Cameroon brings more than just physical harm. The lasting effects of gendered violence bring along psychological challenges that can last a lifetime. While addressing these problems requires considerable time and effort, increased support from global organizations is an essential first step in demonstrating that individuals are not alone in their struggles. With the work of organizations like WACameroon, there is a growing awareness of the urgency for resources and aid in addressing violence against women in Cameroon.

– Chloé D’Hers
Photo: Flickr

Great Green Wall
Refugees in Northern Cameroon have “planted 360,000 seedlings” since 2018 to combat desertification in the Minawao refugee camp. The refugees grew the “Great Green Wall” with help from their host communities, the U.N. and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). The Dutch Postcode Lottery funded the project with $2.7 million as part of an initiative to plant a continent-wide, 8,000-kilometer barrier of trees to prevent desertification, land degradation and drought. The Great Green Wall now provides ample shade to refugee families in Minawao, allowing them to grow crops and support themselves with a sustainable food supply.

Education and Execution

The Great Green Wall project began with educating the refugees in Minawao on how to plant seedlings using “cocoon technology,” which Land Life Company developed to protect seedlings against harsh environments. Cocoon technology functions by burying water tanks made of recycled cartons in donut shapes around plants’ roots. As a result, the plants have steady access to water, which the plants receive through a string that connects to the water tank. Knowledge of how to plant and sustain seedlings allowed the refugees in Minawao to plant trees in the area without relying too heavily on outside coordinators for help. With the assistance of LWF and the United Nations, the Cameroonian refugees were able to plant a thriving forest to support crops and life in an area that was once bare and dry.

The Wall’s Impact

More than 70,000 refugees have fled to Minawao since 2014 to escape violence from the militant group, Boko Haram, in Nigeria. When the large groups of refugees first arrived in Minawao, the area’s desertification worsened, largely because refugees cut down the few remaining trees in order to survive. The Great Green Wall project committed to addressing deforestation, desertification and land degradation in the area by planting more than 100 hectares, the equivalent of 250 football fields, of trees. Trees from the Great Green Wall project now provide shade, improve soil quality and attract water, all of which improve the quality of life for the refugees living in Minawao.

Development and Sustainability

The next step in the Great Green Wall project is to expand upon its growth and sustainability. The U.N. and LWF are working together to address challenges that arise, in part through reforestation and raising awareness about how the project and planting processes work. LWF has also created a strategy to promote more sustainable energy sources, including eco-friendly briquettes. Briquettes are energy-efficient and pollution-reducing alternatives to firewood. Many women have found new sources of income because of the eco-friendly charcoal, which they sell to refugees and surrounding communities.

The Great Green Wall project is still in progress, but so far, it has provided better living conditions to thousands of refugees in Minawao, Cameroon. Other countries may look to the project as an example of the benefits that arise from addressing desertification in refugee camps. Sustainable reforestation does not only benefit the environment — it can transform communities, offer economic opportunities and improve quality of life.

– Cleo Hudson
Photo: Flickr

Minawao-Camp
According to UNHCR, about 20 people become displaced with each passing minute of each day, fleeing “persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations.” At least 84% of these people flee to underdeveloped countries that already struggle with limited resources. In 2019, a rough estimate of 2 million people fled from their homes due to conflict in Nigeria. In just two months, 55,000 people became displaced with no place to call home. Many of these people sought refuge in Cameroon’s Minawao camp. Poverty and hunger disproportionately impact displaced persons and refugees, calling for solutions to assist these vulnerable people.

Minawao Camp

Minawao camp is a refugee settlement located in Cameroon, Africa. Since 2013, Minawao has been home to refugees fleeing the violence of their home country, Nigeria. By 2019, the camp became home to more than 60,000 Nigerian refugees. The violence in Nigeria largely stems from the activities of the Islamic militant group Boko Haram. The violence of the group ranges from terrorist attacks on the military to brutalities against civilians. Millions of Nigerians fear for themselves and their families, still traumatized by the memory of Boko Haram’s abduction of 276 schoolgirls in 2014, some of whom are still missing.

Minawao camp initially emerged with the purpose of holding a maximum of 15,000 refugees. With many refugees continuously flowing in, the camp struggles to provide for thousands in an area where desertification is prevalent and water, food and resources are already scarce. Additionally, the land suffers from deforestation due to the fact that people in the area use the trees for firewood.

Cameroon, in general, grapples with its own struggles. In some parts of Cameroon, people suffer the impacts of “years of successive natural disasters and below average harvests.” In 2015, the United Nations Children’s Fund oversaw a survey that reported an increased rate of malnutrition based on past data from 2013 and 2014.

Making Minawao Green Again

Despite Minawao’s past struggles, organizations are making efforts to secure a future for the inhabitants of the camp. A reforestation project beginning in 2017 aims to “make Minawao green again” by planting thousands of trees. The greenery will provide benefits such as access to cleaner energy, food, enriched soil, water, reforestation, jobs and more.

The Lutheran World Federation sponsored the reforestation project, with support from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Nationale Postcode Loterij. Since launching the project, the community has planted 50,000 trees with the intention of planting 5,000 more trees each year. The trees will provide shaded areas to make life more comfortable for residents, considering the extreme heat in Cameroon.

As far as shelter, the program provides a better alternative to living conditions such as brick homes. The brick homes are more sustainable than the average tent. As many as 4,670 households now have eco-friendly stoves. Instead of burning wood, briquettes made from peanut shells, wheat husks and other agricultural waste are substitutes. The program has established “three tree nurseries” as well as “12 new nature clubs” for adults and children to “learn new skills” and understand the value of protecting the environment. The program has led to the creation of 175 employment opportunities, empowering people in the camp with incomes to improve their quality of life.

Slowly but surely, these efforts are paving the way for a bright future for people within the Minawao camp.

– Destiny Jackson
Photo: Flickr


Cameroon’s anglophone regions have been stuck in a civil war involving the government and separatist groups. Beginning in October 2016, this war is continuing to take a severe toll on Cameroon’s civilians. The Anglophone Crisis has a devastating effect on poverty in the region. Additionally, the crisis ruined livelihoods and caused several civilian casualties.

Historically, the British and the French governed Cameroon. However, in 1972, French Cameroon assumed executive control over the entire region, including the British sector. As a result, the Anglophone Cameroonians found themselves slowly shrinking in power. A protest by the Anglophone Cameroonians in 2016 resulted in a lethal response from the Francophone government. Subsequently, it set off the Anglophone Crisis. A group of Anglophone separatists declared independence in a region called Ambazonia.

Civilians in the Crossfire

At least 4,000 civilians died as a result of the Anglophone Crisis, and the crisis displaced far more. Throughout the region, citizens have witnessed the burning of buildings, the kidnapping of their neighbors and the destruction of homes. Those who survive escape to live in the jungle or seek refuge in neighboring countries, often living on little to no food, water and money.

Originally, the cycle of conflict was repetitive: a radical separatist would incite an attack on the Francophone military, and the military would respond by going after the separatists in a frenzy. However, several recent Anglophone attacks shifted to target civilians. Francophone government security forces are also consistently unafraid to abuse any civilians suspected of having separatist connections.

Humanitarian Concerns

There are human rights abuses coming from both sides of the Anglophone Crisis. However, providing aid to the region is extremely difficult. The Francophone government has a complex and tough procedure that organizations must go through in order to receive approval. Additionally, these organizations also have to negotiate with separatist groups. However, both sides are kidnapping aid workers due to suspected collusion.

As more and more people experience displacement, it is increasingly more difficult for these civilians to find assistance. In particular, the healthcare system in Cameroon is in shambles. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this becomes especially dangerous. The United Nations has reported that nearly 20% of healthcare facilities are no longer functioning. The organization Doctors Without Borders was running a free ambulance system that has completed thousands of referrals. However, the organization suspended the program in the Ambazonia region in December 2020.

Peace Movements

A movement of grassroots peace activists, largely women, attempt to end the Anglophone Crisis following the breakdown of official talks between the two sides. They do not have the prowess or protection that the international mediators have. However, they do have the benefit of being local. They understand the conflict in a way that outside groups do not, and they work on multiple facets of peace. Groups worked to soften a school boycott that disrupted children’s education for years. Also, they helped former fighters of the conflict re-integrate back into society.

Peacemaking is still dangerous, and many people on either side do not want it to happen. These activists are subject to arrest, abduction and torture from both the Anglophones and Francophones. Despite the risks, their work is incredibly important. With their goals of social cohesion and healing, these peace activists bring hope to a dark period of time.

– Jessica Li
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in Cameroon
In the Central African nation of Cameroon, many women go about their daily lives as one might expect to see in most other cities across the world. From Douala in the southern region to the capital city of Yaounde, all the way up north toward the smaller, old historical city of N’Gaoundéré, life is beautiful, diverse and unique. However, the practice of female genital mutilation remains a prevalent risk for far too many women. This affliction affects women of varying ages across different tribes, regions and nations of Africa. The performance of female genital mutilation is a crime in Cameroon. Despite this, the country has not completely eliminated the practice, although women in Cameroon live in safer environments than most of their continental neighbors.

Rates of FGM in Cameroon

Female genital mutilation has a long history across different parts of the world, including Africa, Asia and Australia. Groups across these regions generally practice its application for sociocultural, sexual, possessive or coercive purposes. Its function remains a cruel blight upon the estimated 200 million people it afflicts and disfigures globally. Today, FGM most commonly exists across various African nations. Girls between the ages of 5 and 9 years old routinely experience the practice.

Yet, Cameroon’s FGM numbers are markedly better than its neighbors. This is especially impressive for a nation with approximately 27 million people with a median age of just under 19 years old. One reason for Cameroon’s lower FGM numbers in comparison with other nearby nations is that it has made efforts to diminish FGM since the 1980s. However, FGM is still a prevalent issue in Cameroon that requires attention.

The Persistence of FGM

Cameroon established the National Action Plan to combat FGM in 2011 and founded the Department for the Promotion and Protection of the Family and Children’s Rights in 2012. Meanwhile, it also instigated the 2016 passage of the civil, “Penal Codes of the Republic of Cameroon.” However, neither mandate nor legislation exists to truly stop the practice of FGM. Non-governmental organizations, international pressure and awareness campaigns, as well as natural human development, have driven initiatives against FGM.

The practice remains accepted in specific cultures and regions. FGM is generally more popular in the southwest of Cameroon within tribes such as the Ejagham community or particular Muslim groups like the Fulbe, Haoussas and Arapshouas in the north. Surveys have shown that up to 20% of women in the most affected communities have experienced FGM, and 85% of FGM in Cameroon is Type I or Type II. This is improved from the country’s rates in the mid-1990s, which were closer to 40% of women. Meanwhile, surveys estimate that only about 1% of the national population now suffers the burden of this practice, which is similar to the estimated percentage roughly 20 years ago.

The Resurgence of FGM in Cameroon

While the fight against FGM continues, the COVID-19 crisis, civil conflicts, economic downturn and resource scarcity-related issues have hindered efforts to decrease FGM. In addition, cultural superstitions and dogma have proven to be rigid obstacles in the campaign to end FGM. Warning of these hurdles, 100 young women traveled to Yaounde in late January and early February 2021 to discuss the COVID-19 related resurgence of FGM. The people of the city and international human rights advocates were quick to listen to these women’s stories. Kousseri, a city to the north, is a barometer for this. It has recently witnessed an increased 8% of women who have suffered from some form of genital mutilation. As work and capital have been difficult to come by during the pandemic, some blame these economic conditions as severely as cultural ones for the national and regional increases in FGM.

Organizations Fighting to Eliminate FGM in Cameroon

While the United Nations and various humanitarian organizations are continuing to make an impact, there is still room for improvement. Long-time Cameroonian President Paul Biya and his government must continue to receive pressure to officially define, illegalize and constitutionally denounce FGM. Groups like the Orchid Project have been fighting the practice of FGM, while actively working to educate, donate and promote legislative innovations. Additionally, No Peace Without Justice  formed in 1993 to combat various international atrocities, including this type of violence against women.

The Orchid Project secured the first-ever governmental commitment to end FGM globally from the United Kingdom’s Department of International Development, while No Peace Without Justice founded the Ban Female Genital Mutilation Campaign. This campaign successfully pushed for the U.N. to adopt Resolution 67/146 on Dec. 20, 2012, to increase global efforts to end FGM. This work has been critical in uniting and catalyzing different nations and peoples toward action and empathy and has pushed the U.N. for ever-increasing global action against this violence.

Cameroon has made progress regarding female genital mutilation over previous years, yet much of it has stagnated in recent years. Despite the negative impact of COVID-19, the nation is continuing to fight for progress. In order for Cameroon to reach its full potential, all of its citizens will have to receive equal respect, appreciation, love and empathy. This is what ending female genital mutilation in Cameroon will achieve. Only then will Cameroon be able to function as it should domestically and within the international community.

– Trent R Nelson
Photo: Flickr

Separatists in Cameroon
Cameroon is located in Central Africa, bordered by Nigeria. The southwest and northwest regions of Cameroon are Anglophone, while the rest of the country is Francophone. This split in language has been a source of conflict for separatists in Cameroon. Politically, the ruling party within the country is the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement. The party holds 152 of the 180 seats in the National Assembly. In Congress, CPDM rules more than 81% of the Senate. Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya, is serving his seventh term since 1982.

Poverty in Cameroon

The poverty rate in Cameroon increased by 12% between 2007 and 2014. A total of 8.1 million people lived in poverty in 2014, with about 56% residing within the country’s northern regions. The Central African Economic and Monetary Community reports Cameroon as having the largest economy within the area that is experiencing an economic crisis. In April 2017, the World Bank’s Country Economic Memorandum stated that Cameroon would become an “upper-middle-income” country by 2035.

Who Are the Separatists?

Separatists in Cameroon are a group in the north Anglophone regions. They aggressively seek independence against Cameroon’s security forces. Starting in September 2017, this fight has progressively displaced more than 500,000 people and killed nearly 400 civilians and more than 200 military and police officers. In March 2019, the U.N. Refugee Agency claimed that 32,602 Cameroonian refugees reside in Nigeria. Of these refugees, 51% are children and 53% are women.

Separatists in Cameroon have kidnapped and killed children at school. In November 2019, the U.N. Children’s Fund found that 855,000 students were not going to school in English-speaking regions. About 90% of primary schools and 77% of secondary schools run by the state were dysfunctional or shut down.

Open to Communication

Currently, the separatist movement has left about 800,000 people homeless and 3 million lives uprooted. COVID-19 increased those numbers, and separatists in Cameroon have recently been fighting for mutual peace through this pandemic. Even though President Biya disapproves of separatists, as he considers them terrorists, a small pro-talks group led by intelligence chief Maxime Eko Eko and Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute has tried to communicate with separatist leaders.

In April 2020, a man named Sisiku Julius AyukTabe, a separatist who is serving a life sentence for terrorism, agreed to talk with Cameroon’s government to explore ways to end the conflict. The meeting occurred his prison cell and accomplished an agreement of understanding. The terms of the agreement are to keep security forces within separatist barracks, to release all prisoners and to always have a third party mediating future discussions between separatists and the Cameroonian government.

The separatist group in Cameroon formed during World War I and started taking greater action against the Cameroonian government in 2017. With the rate of poverty in Cameroon increasing due to COVID-19, the separatists and the government have tried to find common ground in their conflict. With advocates on both sides coming together to communicate with each other, there is greater hope for a peaceful future for both parties.

Libby Keefe
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Cameroon
The U.S. Department of State placed the Republic of Cameroon on the Tier 2 Watch List because it is making efforts to eliminate trafficking and protect individuals, but has not fully met the standards that the U.S. Department of State has set. Up to the present, Cameroon has made progress by convicting more traffickers, identifying and referring victims of trafficking to services, and providing repatriation assistance for foreign trafficking victims. Obstacles including terrorist organizations such as Boko Haram have increased the difficulty for nations such as Cameroon to address human trafficking as they contribute to the issue. Here are five facts to know about human trafficking in Cameroon.

5 Facts About Human Trafficking in Cameroon

  1. The Trafficking of Children Remains an Issue: Human trafficking in Cameroon involves children. Through the Ministry of Social Affairs (MINAS), Cameroon was able to identify 1,147 street children vulnerable to trafficking in 2019 in comparison to the 877 children in 2018. Child trafficking victims often work on agricultural plantations where they do not receive compensation. According to a study done in 2012 that the Cameroonian government partially prepared, between 600,000 and 3 million children were victims of human trafficking. These children often must travel vast distances, forever experiencing separation from their families. Many times, when the children become old enough to resist coercion, traffickers deport them out of Cameroon.
  2. The Government has Increased its Efforts to Protect Victims: In 2019, government officials in Cameroon identified 77 potential human trafficking victims, which is an increase from 2018 when they identified 62 potential human trafficking victims. The government, along with other private centers that receive funding from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) continue to provide services for minors and vulnerable children who are at risk of becoming trafficking victims. All individuals including children who Cameroon’s government officials identified as human trafficking victims received care. These services offer food, shelter, vocational training, education, medical and psychological care and family tracing.
  3. Cameroon has Committed Itself to Addressing Boko Haram: Since 2014, Boko Haram has participated in transnational human trafficking across Western Africa, including in Cameroon. Throughout the past several years, Boko Haram has continued to target and traffic women and children within Cameroon. As Boko Haram threatens Cameroon and other neighboring states, Cameroon has committed itself to lead tireless combat against Boko Haram with no impunity for those responsible for the attacks. Specifically, Cameroon deployed two military operations in 2014 including Operation EMERGENCE 4 and Operation ALPHA to combat Boko Haram. Both operations continue to work towards fighting Boko Haram and eliminating transnational human trafficking.
  4. Funding Remains an Issue: The lack of funding within Cameroon continues to impede the government’s implementation of its anti-trafficking national action plan. No one knows the exact amount that currently goes toward Cameroon’s anti-trafficking national action plan and the amount of money necessary to properly implement it, as the government has not disclosed it to the public. Unfortunately, because funding has limitations within Cameroon, the country has cut many training programs that aim to educate law enforcement to detect situations of trafficking. The lack of funding limits the amount of research that the country can do with regards to human trafficking while also limiting the amount of aid and resources that it can provide to victims of human trafficking.
  5. Cameroon Maintains its Efforts to Prevent Human Trafficking: MINAS continues to inform Cameroonians about trafficking indicators through public awareness campaigns. In 2019, the government provided 2,864 informational sessions addressing human trafficking indicators and providing ways to help prevent human trafficking to Cameroonians. These 2019 informational sessions reached 397,447 individuals compared to only 69,000 in 2018. Law enforcement’s and immigration officials’ screening efforts within Cameroon’s international airports prevented several potential human trafficking victims from experiencing exploitation over the past several years.

Looking Ahead

To address human trafficking in Cameroon, the nation has made efforts to focus on families, recognizing how families can often play a role in facilitating trafficking. Many impoverished families often must sell children, especially girls, into trafficking and are unable to protect the children and women from becoming trafficking victims. With assistance from the United Nations, Cameroon has continued to work towards eliminating trafficking by aligning its laws and regulations with international law to ensure that the trafficking of persons undergoes criminalization. Working closely with NGOs as well as intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) such as The Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Cameroon hopes to eliminate human trafficking and continues to prioritize it as a primary issue.

Ariana Chin
Photo: Flickr

Child Homelessness in Cameroon
A violent civil crisis over regional separatism, known as the Anglophone Crisis or Cameroonian Civil War, has decimated the Central African nation of Cameroon since 2017. One of the most disheartening consequences of the conflict is the extreme number of homeless children. As of 2019, Cameroon had over 900,000 internally displaced people, 51% of whom were children. Child homelessness in Cameroon has been a serious problem for many years, but the government has redoubled its efforts to combat housing shortages and population displacement.

Street Children

Homeless or impermanently housed “street children” are a growing problem in the urban centers of many developing countries. In Cameroon, where about 37.5% of the population lives below the poverty line, street children have been a prominent humanitarian concern for years. The escalation of the Anglophone crisis has produced significant increases in the number of children fending for themselves on the streets of Cameroon’s cities. In the past 10 years, the number of street children increased from around 1,000 to over 10,000.

A study that researchers at the University of Kwa Zulu-Natal conducted found that most street children in Cameroon subsist on less than $0.85 USD per day. Many street children rely on begging, drug use and sex work to survive their harsh conditions. Less than 1% of the street children who the researchers surveyed considered the public’s attitude toward them to be supportive. These children are dangerously vulnerable, especially in active war zones. Conflict-induced devastation is one of the most significant causes of child homelessness in Cameroon.

Impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Cameroon, worsening conditions for all citizens but hitting street children especially hard. Urban centers are less sanitary and more harmful than ever before, something that the homeless and under-housed feel most keenly. Over 40,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have occurred in Cameroon and over 600 deaths.

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic may have exacerbated the worst impacts of the Anglophone Crisis. As the global health crisis distracted the international community, both the military and armed separatist groups enacted more violence on civilians. This behavior endangers civilians directly but also causes many to flee their homes out of fear for their safety, increasing the number of Cameroon’s homeless dramatically. This surge in displaced individuals also stretches Cameroon’s already thin resources even more direly, worsening conditions for those already homeless.

Though the pandemic has increased the instability of living conditions for those on the streets, it has also given Cameroon’s government a stronger incentive to house street children, accelerating existing plans to provide housing to those who violence or poverty have displaced.

Initiatives to House Street Children

Cameroon’s Ministry of Social Affairs is partnering with the Ministry of Health to house and support thousands of street children while screening them for COVID-19 in the process. It began clearing the streets in April 2020, with plans to find housing for 3,000 street children in the near future.

The children will either return to their families or enter housing or job training programs to develop skills like cooking and sewing. Regardless of their specifics, this program will provide shelter, safety and opportunities to thousands of street children. This initiative will house not only displaced or abandoned children but also orphans and children who are seeking asylum from nearby countries.

Street Child, a U.K. charity, is also working in Cameroon to help provide protection and education for homeless children. The organization emerged in 2008 and operates by partnering with local organizations in areas with high rates of child homelessness to make education more accessible. Street Child has helped over 330,000 children go to school. Now the initiative is working with local organizations and the Cameroonian government to help provide COVID-19 relief, and developing specific programs to improve the wellbeing of children who the conflict has directly affected. Street Child focuses on expanding access to education and alleviating the symptoms of child homelessness in Cameroon.

– Samantha Silveira
Photo: Flickr

Female Cacao Farmers in Cameroon
Cameroon is a country rich in natural resources and agricultural products such as coffee, cassava and cacao. This nation is the fifth-largest cacao producer in the world. The industry is a vital source of economic activity for small-scale rural farmers and contributes to about 1.2% of the country’s total GDP. However, female cacao farmers in Cameroon struggle to benefit from this industry.

The Gender Inequality Index ranks Cameroon 141 of 189. Expectations have determined that women must take care of daily chores such as cooking and fetching water. On average, women spend 8.2 more hours completing unpaid household tasks than men. Cacao fields are typically family-run enterprises. Thus, women often work in these fields as well. Cacao farming particularly affects women because it does not generate a lot of income.

Cameroon’s Cacao Industry

Cameroon liberalized its cacao industry in hopes of recovering from the economic crisis in the 1980s. At this time, the value of the national currency fell significantly after global oil prices fell.

Consequently, the industry swiftly deregulated. The regulatory branch of Cameroon overseeing cacao production and quality control lost its influence without government support. As a result, this lead to corruption of local middlemen, a lack of accurate information on cacao production and fluctuations in the quality of produced cacao. Only 10% of Cameroon’s cacao producers belonged to producer associations by 2002. Thus, Cameroon continues to struggle to compete in the world market.

Female Cacao Farmers in Cameroon

Female cacao farmers in Cameroon face additional challenges to the already competitive market due to the patriarchal society. Cacao production grew from 123,000 tons in 2000 to 290,000 in 2016. However, the quality of cacao decreased due to a lack of quality control in pre and post-harvest activities.

Men and women conduct different tasks in cacao production. Men take on physically demanding and dangerous tasks such as pesticide spraying and harvesting. Women focus on post-harvest activities fundamental to the quality of cacao such as pod-breaking, fermenting and drying.

Although labor is equally distributed, female cacao farmers in Cameroon often do not benefit from cacao revenue because they do not own the land. About 3% of women own a house without a property title and 1.6% own a property title in their name. This means men in households keep the profit that the cacao generates.

Furthermore, women lack representation in cacao production decision-making. In addition, women often do not have equal access to education. Men receive an average of 13 years of education, while women receive only 11 years. As a result, about 71.6% of women and 82% of men in Cameroon are literate. The lack of education hinders women’s ability to maintain financial independence.

Telcar

Telcar is one of Cameroon’s largest cacao trading companies. The International Finance Corporation installed cassava grinding machines in 10 cooperatives to help female cacao farmers in Cameroon. Many women supplement their income by selling manually-produced cassava starch to local markets. Kate Fotso grew up in a cocoa-producing village and is now managing director of Telcar. She installed cassava grinding machines to ease the laborious process, empower women and improve their economic status.

Female farmers in organized management committees learned how to use, maintain and pass knowledge about the machines to others. Additionally, Telcar recruited female farmers into financial literacy training programs and worked with micro-finance institutions to support women’s cassava enterprises. It increased their access to finance through saving and encouraged them to take on leadership roles within their cooperatives.

The Farmgate Cacao Alliance

The Farmgate Cocoa Alliance is a global nonprofit organization that focuses on achieving cacao sustainability in Cameroon. Women Empowerment Through Cacao Farming is its project that takes a holistic approach in supporting female farmers. The organization trains women to run professional and sustainable cacao farms. It allocated female community field agents to 50 women within the region to help identify group needs, challenges and lessons learned.

Furthermore, female farmers in Cameroon received encouragement to form cooperatives for better market access, more stable income and received 2 HA of land to combat a lack of access to farmland. Finally, the organization taught women advocacy skills to approach local and national governments concerning legal restrictions such as applying for land, financing and other assets and services.

SNV Netherlands Development Organization

SNV is a nonprofit from the Netherlands that focuses on empowering women through the cacao value chain. The Cameroon Golden Cacao Project aims to increase cooperatives and farmers’ income by implementing standardized post-harvest practices. The goal was to increase the production of high-quality cocoa by 10% by 2020.

Cooperatives and partners created more than 400 jobs for women. In addition, 500 of the 2,000 cooperative members who practice standardized knowledge were women by 2020. Women continue to increase their involvement at the post-harvest stages of the cacao value chain. In the future, women will develop other income generations and business models to find relevant financial partners.

Although female cacao farmers in Cameroon face many difficulties, organizations’ initiatives are already improving the lives of these workers. Providing educational opportunities will empower women and improve cacao production and the economy.

– Charlotte Ehlers
Photo: Flickr

Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon
Since November 2016, the Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon has been ongoing, which is an issue that links to its population’s identity. A section of the English-speaking minority population of the country, originally from the northwest and southwest regions of the country, is protesting against the current government. Their claims mostly focus on the marginalization of the English language, the lack of access to English education, the common law system and even jobs for native anglophone Cameroonians. The conflict started with a peaceful protest from anglophone lawyers and teachers and escalated with the emergence of an anglophone separatist movement. As the situation remains tense, the attention of the international community is necessary.

The State of Affairs

Beyond the language and identity claims, this conflict collides with other threats, such as Boko Haram, that have significantly weakened the economy of the country, especially in the northwest and southwest regions. In 2018, the National Organization of Employers, Gicam, reported that about 45% of the cocoa produced in the country is in the southwest, and 75% of Cameroonian arabica coffee comes from the northwest. Export earnings from these two commodities have fallen by 20% due to the conflict in the English-speaking area, where a fifth of the total population lives. Moreover, an increase in unemployment and the shutting down of businesses has occurred. Human Rights Watch estimates nearly 300 Cameroonians have died since January 2020 in regions of concern, and over 1 million have experienced internal displacement. In such a context, foreign aid could be particularly beneficial, but things are not that simple.

The Challenges of Foreign Aid

Through time, Cameroon has received foreign aid from countries and institutions such as France, the United States and the World Bank. In September 2020, Cameroonian Foreign Minister Lejeune Mbella Mbella asked for increased international cooperation in support of the country’s ongoing struggle against “terrorism.” Moreover, the UN OCHA has launched a Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) that identified 3.9 million people in need. Estimates determined that the initiative would provide $320.7 million USD.

Despite some previous successes of foreign aid programs in Cameroon, challenges remain, especially in the context of the current Anglophone Crisis. Firstly, aid and humanitarian workers are highly at risk, which slows down their work. In January 2020, pro-independence fighters kidnapped seven aid workers from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation and the COMINSUD. Although they later released all staff, the abductions resulted in several organizations restricting their area of operations.

Secondly, cooperation with the government tends to be difficult sometimes. Indeed, Cameroonian authorities have publicly charged NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Think Tank International Crisis Group – among other organizations – of working to “destabilize state institutions.” Resistance also comes over concerns of aid distribution, as Cameroon ranks 152 out of 180 countries in the 2018 Transparency International corruption perceptions index, and it ranks 166 out of 190 economies in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 report.

Good News and Solutions

Despite remaining challenges and perceptions, foreign aid has had some success in Cameroon in the past, which keeps some humanitarian workers optimistic, even during the Anglophone Crisis. Indeed, the poverty rate has dropped from 53% in 1996 to 37.5% in 2014. As many organizations continue to provide humanitarian aid to Cameroon, some experts remain optimistic that the living conditions of Cameroonians will continue to improve. The work of state and nonprofit actors continues to reap positive results, though the improvements cannot always occur easily. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is one of the organizations providing support to the country.

To improve these good results, it appears important to address the different obstacles to the redistribution of foreign aid in Cameroon. For this purpose, both the state and civil society level initiate actions. Indeed, at the civil society level, international organizations such as the World Bank have developed a performance-based system – Country Policy and institutional Assessment – that allows the institution to evaluate the qualification of a country to receive aid while reducing the risks of corruption.

This kind of mechanism can be a standard for international NGOs providing financial assistance to Cameroon. At the state level, the Cameroonian government has made another step towards its decentralization process. Indeed, regional advisors have undergone recent election. Their role is to foster the development of their localities while remaining accountable to the people. These new authorities can increase transparency and can use their knowledge of the local dynamics to help humanitarian workers in the distribution of aid.

Jules Sombaye
Photo: Flickr