Leo, (not his real name) a volunteer humanitarian worker says he was kidnapped by armed men and kept incommunicado for three days as he went for some humanitarian work in one of the villages in the North West region that has been severely affected by the ongoing crisis in the two Anglophone regions of Cameroon.
I was accused for working with an NGO that is working “La Republique” (Cameroon government). I was well beaten for three days and only released after my family paid huge sums of money as ransom demanded by the gun men through a mobile money transfer. I could not afford the money demanded since I was just a volunteer with no regular salary. Worst of all my employer did nothing for me during these trying moments and that’s why I resigned thereafter even though humanitarian work has been my passion”.
Like Leo, many local aid workers in Cameroon have even worse experiences as they try to provide humanitarian aid to villages and towns affected by the four-year conflict.
To deal with the threats, many aid agencies have put measures in place to address staff security. They have, for example, hired security advisers, conducted risk analyses, developed security and contingency plans, and carried out staff tracking procedures.
But the available information suggests that little or nothing is done for local volunteers.
According to the International Crisis Group, the conflict has killed over 3,000 people and displaced 600,000. In the Anglophone regions, 800,000 children are out of school and one in three of the four million people are in need of aid. The UN’s children’s agency, UNICEF, estimates that only 34 percent of health facilities are operating, causing a dip in life-saving immunization and nutrition services.
Growing physical and online threats and attacks
Hate speech, cyber bullying, death threats and even outright murder has threatened operations of the aid community and hindered provision of aid to those in need.
According to an OCHA situation report, In July, 2020 a temporary suspension of humanitarian assistance for ten days was called for by the UN as a result of increased threats to UN humanitarian personnel and property from some NSAGs.
The suspension of activities the report highlighted had a serious impact on the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the two regions.
Increasing targeted attacks against aid workers and their operations, and a range of obstacles and conditions created by the Cameroon government and non- state actors, is prompting concerns among the humanitarian community in the two regions for the well-being and safety of their local staff and colleagues in the field.
The government is accusing some NGOs and their staff for conniving with separatist non state armed groups ad non state armed groups are faulting some NGOs for working with the government.
Just recently, Doctors without was summoned to justify their impartiality in front of the minister of Territorial Administration and that of External Relations of Cameroon. The United Nations Development Program, UNDP is also under threats for working with the government on the reconstruction plan for the North West and South Zest regions.
This and many more similar accusations and suspicions have put the lives of aid workers at risk.
On Friday August 8, 2020, Tanjoh Christopher, a humanitarian aid worker with Community Initiative for Sustainable Development, COMINSUD a local NGO in North West region of Cameroon, an implementing partner for several United Nations agencies was killed. He was kidnapped from his home and later murdered by unidentified armed individuals in Batibo, Momo Division
According to the OCHA situation report, five nurses of the Cameroon Baptist Convention (CBC) Health Board, working at CBC hospital in Mamfe (Manyu division) were reportedly arrested by government security forces and charged with alleged secessionist activities on 6 July.
Four days after, on 9 July, a community health worker, Derrick Mbah, working for Doctors without Borders was reportedly killed by NSAGs. He was accused by the fighters of spying for the military.
Mr. Pascal Ngwayi, working with the organization Community Initiative for Sustainable Development (COMINSUD), was abducted in the field and murdered by armed men in Donga-Mantung Division of the North West Region on 30 November 2019.
In addition, many others have been kidnapped, beaten and only released after paying huge sums of money.
“Lowly paid” local humanitarian volunteers paying the bigger price
Although all humanitarian workers are targeted by the attacks and threats, the local humanitarian volunteers, analysts say are more affected as they unfortunately are the ones that face the reality in the field.
“Look at those who have been killed, those who have been kidnapped and beaten, there are mostly the local volunteers who are paid little or nothing by their local and international NGOs” lamented Dr. Asibo John to The Humanitarian Watch when he was quizzed on the subject adding that “there is need to step up training on humanitarian principles and more education to be done by local and international NGOs and UN agencies”.
Development experts are unanimous that the security challenges faced by local aid volunteers need to be urgently addressed. Issues such as security awareness, capacity to protect personnel, and funding must be resolved. In particular, the protection of local aid workers needs to be dealt with as a matter of topmost priority.