Ecumenical Relief and Rehabilitation Programme in Cameroon
A confrontation between the central government of Cameroon and the English-speaking population in the west of the country has been escalating since autumn 2016. The conflict is forcing people to flee, and entire regions have been depopulated. According to official information from the United Nations, up to 530'000 refugees are living without protection or shelter in the forests and grasslands in the Southwest and Northwest regions of Cameroon and the outskirts of Bamenda and Buea and at least another 40'000 people have fled to Nigeria, the neighbouring country.
Cameroon's churches harbour great potential for containing the conflict and providing support to people in distress because they are firmly established and accepted among the population. Mission 21's emergency relief and reconstruction project is utilising this potential to set up and develop a comprehensive and sustainable humanitarian aid programme, in cooperation with international organisations as the UN-OCHA and the International Red Cross (ICRC).
The conflict in Cameroon has its roots in colonial times. The country is made up of a larger French-speaking region and a smaller English-speaking area. In 1972 the federal system of government was abandoned and a centralized administration was established. Ever since then, English-speakers as the minority population experience instances of discrimination and disenfranchisement. When teachers and the courts went on strike in 2016, the conflict escalated. The central government reacted harshly to the demands for greater parity. In the meantime, separatist groups are demanding the establishment of an Anglophone State called “Ambazonia” which the central government opposes.
Churches play a crucial role in the mitigation of the conflict. They voice their support for the political rights of the disenfranchised minority English-speakers and are the driving force behind the delivery of humanitarian aid. Church involvement is being professionalized in the process of lending emergency and reconstruction aid. Single action initiatives are enhanced to shore up a cohesive effort, creating synergies and ensuring coordination among all parties involved. People thus benefit from well-managed, comprehensive, and sustained support which in addition ensures that aid reaches those people who need it the most.
Mission 21 partners with the UN, the ICRC, the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon (PCC), the Cameroon Baptist Convention (CBC) and several NGOs for this project.
The first phase of the programme focuses on emergency relief that is vital for survival: this takes the form of food aid, medical care and the distribution of tents, blankets, hygiene items and so on (known as non-food items). These activities are undertaken by project teams on the ground who have access to the refugees, most of whom are living in unofficial camps in the forests.
In the second phase, reconstruction aid is provided wherever possible; this consists of building materials, tools and seeds, etc., so that people are given opportunities to build up self-sufficient lives for themselves and their families.
Humanitarian aid provided through Mission 21's emergency relief and rehabilitation programme is targeted in particular at women and children, who are the groups most severely impacted by the ongoing conflict.
Based on the latest survey by the United Nations, Mission 21 is involved in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon, with a particular focus on the Boyo, Momo and Ngoketunjia Division (Northwest) and the Fako, Lebialem, Manyu, Meme and Ndian Division (Southwest). Depending on how the conflict and the humanitarian situation continue to develop, the focus of the aid program may shift as time goes on.