The Creation of the NDDRC by President Paul Biya: Putting the cart before the horse; 10 points why it’s another misplaced priority.
Cameroon in the past decade has witnessed intensive violence between government forces and Boko Haram insurgency in the Northern region and lately the Southern Cameroons pro-independence armed struggle. The reaction of the government in these two internal conflicts has resulted in gross violations of human rights, war crimes, crimes against humanity and some have even labeled some of the acts as constituting a genocide. The 36 years of authoritarian rule of President Paul Biya who recently maneuver his way through the just concluded October presidential polls to secure another 7-year stint cannot be overlooked as a contributing factor to the fueling of these conflicts. The international Community (United Nations, African Union et al) has been very concerned about these conflicts and has time and again prescribed inclusive dialogue towards addressing the Southern Cameroon problem. Unfortunately, the government of President Paul Biya has not responded positively to these calls and has preferred a military solution towards addressing the genuine concerns of the Southern Cameroons people which have resulted to the transformation of the crisis into an armed conflict. Just after the first misplaced priority which was the creation of the multiculturalism and Bilingualism Commission has yielded no results, comes another cosmetic move towards addressing the Southern Cameroons problem and the Boko Haram insurgency.
On the 30 of November 2018, President Paul Biya signed a decree creating the National Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Committee, ‘NDDRC’. Disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) most times operate contemporaneously with transitional justice processes in conflict-affected societies. It is a complex process with political, military security, humanitarian and socio-economic dimensions. Basically, disarmament involves the collection, registration, storage and often destruction of small arms and light weapons. Demobilization, on the other hand, is the formal and controlled discharge of active combatants from armed forces or armed groups while reintegration is the long-term process whereby ex-combatants acquire civilian status and gain sustainable employment and income. Demobilization encompasses reinsertion which is a support package provided to the demobilized. Transitional justice is defined by the United Nations as the full range of processes and mechanisms associated with a society’s attempt to come to terms with a legacy of large-scale past abuses, in order to ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation. It includes judicial and non-judicial mechanisms, primarily individual prosecutions, truth-seeking, reparations, institutional reforms, and vetting. It is applicable in post-conflict societies or societies that have undergone dictatorship with unspeakable human rights violations and aim at dealing with the past to chart a way for the future.
From this backdrop and in line with conventional international standards and the peculiar case of Cameroon, a technical analysis of the NDDRC beyond doubt, evinces another futile attempt to address these conflicts. The decree brings to light the following fundamental shortcomings which makes it only a window dressing and yet another misplaced priority. I have summarized these shortcomings into ten points, viz;
DDR alone cannot build peace or prevent armed groups from reverting to violence. It has to be part of a larger system of peacebuilding interventions in the political, security and justice sectors with a wider recovery and development framework. The design and implementation of DDR have to be sequenced in relation to the different stages of a peace process from preparation to negotiate to implementation. DDR is not a peace agreement. It has to be designed such that it is coherent with these other factors that impinge on the success of a peace process. DDR will never be successful if it is seen mainly as a technical exercise de-linked from the dynamics of peace processes. Sierra Leone for example which is considered the ‘model’ and the most cited example when it comes to the success of DDR as replicated in Liberia and Burundi was well stratified. It came after peace negotiations with a binding agreement at hand that contained formalities on the operationalization of the DDR and other mechanisms. To have come out with a DDR law without any dialogue and or negotiations between the leaders of the various armed groups of Boko Haram and those fighting for the actualization of the right to self-determination of the people of Ambazonia through the restoration of her independence is putting the cart before the horse. DDR is often initiated during cease-fire or immediately after a peace agreement is signed. There has never been any cease-fire since the war was declared in West Cameroon by President Paul Biya late in October 2017 when he said Cameroon was at war under attack by ‘terrorists masking as secessionists’ in West Cameroon and that all security measures will be taken to ensure that peace reigns. They have neither been any peace agreement arrived at with Boko Haram or Pro-Independence armed fighters in West Cameroon to warrant a DDR process. I can state without any fear of contradiction that it will go to no issue. It is definitely another futile attempt like the Bilingualism Commission (which was dead upon arrival) towards arresting the war in West Cameroon.
DDR alone cannot prevent conflict and restore stability. It cannot be treated in isolation of other activities in conflict-affected societies like the case of Cameroon. DDR has a wider effect not just on disarming armed groups but it also affects the wider security sector reform and transitional justice issues. All these components are part of a whole and are essential components of peacebuilding and should be considered in relation to one another. A comprehensive DDR process should pay special attention to vulnerable groups like children, woman, disabled, dependents, refugees and internally displaced persons. It should have tailored strategies for these vulnerable groups especially those associated with the fighting forces and their dependents. According to an article published on Voice of America in January 2017 by Moki Edwin Kindzeka, the U.N. estimates the total number of refugees and displaced people in Cameroon to be as many as 1.6 million and warns that the number could climb to as high as 2.7 million. This is in addition to the over 200,000 people registered as internally displaced by the Boko Haram conflict in the north as reported by the International Commission of the Red Cross (ICRC) in one of its articles published in April 2017 (Cameroon: ICRC distributes food to 200,000 internally displaced persons). The decree fails to address this very important component considering that the emergency humanitarian assistance plan has yielded no visible results thus far.
Although disarmament and demobilization components can contribute to temporary improvements in stability and safety, the decree does not lay down modalities to ensure reintegration which often occurs within a longer period of time and overlaps with longer-term processes of reconciliation, reconstruction, governance reforms, and poverty reduction and economic development. Failure to properly reintegrate demobilized combatants can, in turn, contribute to circles of post-conflict crime and violence as ex-combatants transform themselves into violent entrepreneurs. The law thus fails to adequately address reintegration which constitutes the most important component of DDR. DDR, more particularly reintegration must be connected to broader economic, justice or social transformation. The tension that exists between peace and justice makes it evident that peace cannot be achieved without any form of justice, be it retributive, restorative or transformative justice.
Reparations; The decree does not make any provisions for reparations. DDR programmes that provide benefits to ex-combatants can cause resentment among civilian populations, particularly in the absence of any reparation programmes. This, in turn, can exacerbate resistance to returning ex-combatants. Reparations provide recognition and acknowledgment to the violations that victims have suffered and may reduce resentment of benefits provided to ex-combatants. This further emphasis on the synergies between DDR and transitional justice.
Truth and reconciliation commissions; if there is one right owed to the people of West Cameroon, it is the right to truth. The crisis has aggravated to what we have today because the ‘Southern Cameroons problem when mentioned has always remained the ‘proverbial elephant in the living room’ before the Cameroun government authorities. Till date, the government has denied the existence of the problem but continuously make futile attempts to address the same. DDR has to be designed such that it contributes to national reconciliation. It is only through truth Commissions that the society can get an even-handed account of the causes and consequences of armed conflicts. Truth Commissions provide accurate accounts to human rights violations and give a strategy to peacebuilding such as was the case of the Truth Commission of Sierra Leone. In the case of East Timor, Truth Commissions played a direct role in reintegrating former combatants and promoting reconciliation. Ex-combatants may be able to better reintegrate if they are given public forums such as truth commissions or traditional justice processes, where they can explain their actions and apologize to victims and communities. A more comprehensive understanding of the experience of ex-combatants and their acknowledgment of harm caused can ease resistance to their reintegration. The decree does not provide modalities to address this nor does it touch on the right to truth owed to West Cameroonians.
The decree does not address vetting and institutional reform which are incorporated factors of DDR. Vetting involves ‘excluding from public service persons with serious integrity deficits in order to re-establish civic trust and re-legitimize public institutions’. DDR should be linked to this broader process of security sector reform because it will determine the size of the security forces, who should be integrated into formal forces, and, who should be vetted. Screening for human rights violators in the public institutions and security forces is thus an important component of DDR which the decree on DDR does not address. This leads us to point seven.
The Composition of the NCDDR, civic trust, and local ownership; shockingly the composition of the board of the NDDRC, as per the decree is a conglomerate of various government ministers. Under conventional DDR processes, some of these ministers are supposed to be vetted since they have played a key role towards the escalation of the unspeakable human rights violations perpetrated by security forces in the Far North and in West Cameroon. DDR is aimed at building civic trust between ex-combatants, civil society, the security sector, and the state by building confidence through transparent processes of disarming and demobilizing. The social reintegration of ex-combatants into communities and civilian life depends in part on trust. Even though DDR looks like a military orientated process, it is a civilian affair and the make-up of the DDR should reflect this. From the composition of the board of the NDDRC in Article 4, this civic trust cannot be seen. Members like; the Minister of Territorial Administration, the Minister of Defence, the Delegate General for National Security, the Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence in charge of National Gendarmerie, traditionally should be vetted by such DDR processes. The also manned institutions which deal with the past of Cameroon will require thorough reform as they play a key role in instigating the gross human rights violations as far as these conflicts are concerned.
Such an institution (NDDRC) should be manned by Civil Society leaders, religious and community leaders whom the people trust for it to be successful not the same people the armed groups are fighting against. It becomes counterproductive, lacks civic trust and thus bound to fail. The participation of a broad spectrum of stakeholders in the development of DDR is key to its success. Consultations and discussions must be encouraged at the earliest stage of the process.
In order to promote social reintegration, attention needs to be paid not only to ex-combatants but also to victims and broader host communities; and to the relationship between ex-combatants on one hand and victims and host communities on the other hand. It thus has to be a bottom-up approach and not top-down and with a community centered reintegration which bridges the claims and needs of ex-combatants with those of victims and the communities in which they live. Attention must be paid to providing for both individual ex-combatants/victims and receiving communities which this decree fails to address.
Conflict to peace transitions often involves peace negotiations and peace agreements between incumbent governments and non-state armed groups. As part of this, amnesties in different forms geared towards the transformation of fighters into civilians are always part of the DDR incentives and processes. The decree makes no provision for amnesties. There is also no comprehensive and clearly understood selection criteria for an individual’s participation in the DDR neither is there a clear legal, political and practical security arrangement for those who give up arms and demobilize.
DDR has become a regular component on international peace support and peacebuilding architecture. It can play an important role in limiting violence by disarming a large number of actors and disbanding illegal, dysfunctional and or bloated military structures. It set the parameters of the new security sector by deciding the overall number of combatants to be demobilized and thus the size of the resulting security forces. It also addresses who should stay in the formal security sector. The decree creating the National DDR Committee, NDDRC is one sided it fails to address all these important factors especially the highlighted ones. It falls short of the security sector reform component which is crucial in the case of Cameroon in addressing the current conflicts. It does not address the obvious human rights violations committed by the security forces on innocent civilians in the guise of fighting Boko Haram nor does it address those committed by the same security forces in West Cameroon. They are documented and unchallenged reports by Amnesty International of torture Chambers created by the BIR in the North where Innocent Civilians have been tortured to death and videos of many such cases of abuse are circulating on social media.
Where do we go from now?
Dialogue has been echoed from all angles when this crisis was still at its initial phase up till now. At this juncture negotiations with the leaders of the various armed groups is indispensable and sine qua non towards resolving these conflicts and achieving sustainable peace. This is the only recipe that will usher in the healing process we are yet to face. The government MUST face these leaders on a neutral ground and negotiate with them. Such negotiations will result in a binding peace agreement with a comprehensive legal framework that will follow to address the root causes of these conflicts and with defined modalities on ceasefire. Apart from political will, there MUST be the commitment from ALL THE PARTIES to the conflict backed by sustained support from the International Community for DDR to succeed. The NDDR is a one-sided initiative and is bound to fail.
Indeed DDR is more of a peacebuilding initiative and in the current complicated context of Cameroon marred with both authoritarian rule and conflicts, synergies must be made between DDR and Transitional Justice as afore-discussed. In El Salvador, it was the 1992 Peace agreement that called for the demobilization of the military and the reintegration of soldiers into the newly created armed forces. In Colombia lately, it is the justice and peace law of 2005 which explicitly merged DDR and transitional justice by linking demobilization benefits to justice measures. The mandate of the DDR in Sierra Leone was clearly stipulated by the Lomé Peace Agreement.
We are at crossroads and we must learn our lessons from history in order to do the right things, shun shenanigans, face the truth to avoid catastrophes in the future. The stories written on the walls are already too ugly for the government of Cameroun to continue to be pretentious and play the ostrich. The guns can only be silent by facing the truth and genuinely addressing the Southern Cameroon problem. We already have a heavy and ugly past to deal with and we cannot afford to continue to overload it.
Ndikum Ransome Ndikum
Transitional Justice, Human Rights and Rule of Law Expert
For comments, email: email@example.com