When I arrived in Cameroon in August 2018, women, as in many African countries, were very visible at work, in the shops, in the families, keeping together a country plagued by corruption, violence, weak governance and outdated patriarchal institutions. But they were invisible from the political arena. Even at the Ministry for Women’s empowerment, my interlocutor was a man. At the UN Women where I worked, the discourse was about protecting “women and children”, pushing women in the same category as children, into one group of victims deprived of any form of agency, objects of our assistance. I felt that the objective was not to transform the outdated, patriarchal and corrupt institutions; but to please the government and seduce the donors. Merely talking about the anglophone crisis was taboo.
The causes of the anglophone crisis include discrimination, perceived lack of opportunities but also the arrogance from the Centre. The initial, non-violent claims by anglophone lawyers and teachers was met with contempt and repression. At the UN, we organised our meetings with civil society in Yaounde, not in the conflict-affected Northwest and Southwest regions. How were we to know who is doing a real job on the ground? I wanted to show respect and go and listen to the anglophone women in their turf and in their own terms. In spite of warnings from the top UN peace adviser (“You can be kicked out of the country; there’s not much to see/do in Buea anyway; if I was you I wouldn’t go”), I travelled to Buea with the support of my boss.
On my way, I stopped in Douala where I met with Cardinal Tumi, the Lead Convenor of the Anglophone conference, the only peace initiative on the table. We had a long discussion. He spoke of the upcoming Conference. I asked him: “Should only men represent the anglophone point of view?” He marked a pause. After a few minutes he admitted: “It never came up; we never thought of it”. During that initial meeting, he accepted to include women and put me in touch with Conference organiser Dr Simon Munzu. “You have great women”, was my line. “They are not coming to clap. They will have something to say. If you accept this, we will do our share; we will prepare them”. They accepted. I travelled to Buea with these good news in my pocket.
There, I met wonderful, skilful, courageous and articulate women. All women present were civil society leaders, and most of them had elected to join their efforts under a new umbrella organisation, the South West/North West Women’s Task Force -SNWOT. I was impressed by all of them, particularly the SNWOT leader Esther Njomo Omam Njomo. This was the week preceding the pre-electoral shutdown announced by the armed groups. And here, these women, most of whom were hosting IDPs and had to organise reserves for the coming days, had braved the security situation, had put aside their very real daily worries, and came to the meeting I had called for. That meant high commitment, and it also meant respect for the international institutions. Oh God! I hoped we wouldn’t fail them.
With the women in Buea on 19 September 2018.
They gave me a very good briefing on what was going on in the conflict-affected area. I realised that they were the women who can change the paradigm in Cameroon. They had the energy, the deep understanding of the crisis and the courage. When I told them that they were going to participate in the Anglophone Conference, they were thrilled. “We didn’t know we could join” they said. I was appalled to see once more that very capable women didn’t feel they were authorised to contribute. We agreed to work together to prepare their participation.
My intention (and my mission with the UN Women) was to make women count in peace and security issues in Cameroon, beyond this conference. My approach was three-pronged:
- advocate for their participation in any decision concerning the country (with the authorities, the Convenors of the anglophone conference, the diplomats in Yaounde, the UN etc). Bring to Cameroon women with high visibility like Nobel Prize winner Leymah Gbowee or negotiators from the Northern Ireland conflict, to showcase the added-value of women’s contributions.
- provide them with technical skills (on peace processes, mediation, agenda-drafting, comparative learning) so they could make more effective contributions to these fora
- give them visibility (bring them along to high level meetings, have them invited to regional or international fora)
A lot of good energy and sharing during the Douala workshop in November 2018. Experts Agus Wandi and Webster Zambara joined me to co-facilitate. It was a very successful event.
This plan worked brilliantly because:
– These women were competent and dedicated and they had a true leader who helped us organise complicated events in a difficult political environment
– They had their own disagreements, but unlike most of their male counterparts who were obsessed with power and personal gains, they were happy to discuss the core issues and look for solutions to the crisis
– They just needed someone to believe in them and that was my role. My status of a consultant protected me in a way, because I could take risks
– I had by then built a solid network of contacts and many allies and friends helped me. We also benefited from a context where most donors and diplomats lacked ideas and initiatives about this crisis and we filled the vacuum. SNWOT became the only show in town. They supported us.
The Anglophone Conference was not authorised by the government. But Esther and her group did not need anymore an invitation. During a workshop I organised for them, they established a plan of action and they started running their own activities. In a very daring move, they successfully organised a press Conference in Yaounde, the Centre of power. They articulated their own agenda.
Today, 14 May, Esther Njomo the Reach Out Director and SNWOT leader gave a briefing to the UN Security Council on the humanitarian situation in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon (to watch the briefing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gkBht8pWSU)
True to her own self, she did not make it a personal victory. “I am here to talk on behalf of those women, mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters who have lost it all to the crisis. Those who are trapped in the bushes, in the forests because they lost everything they could hold onto”, she said.
At the end of her very precise and compelling speech, she launched an appeal for the cessation of hostilities and for dialogue.
“ It is time for us to silencing the guns
It is time for us to start talking”
What are the lessons from this story?
Lesson #1: If you believe in women and give them a chance, you won’t be disappointed.
Lesson #2: you only risk a career move, they are risking their lives daily. Be courageous!
Lesson #3: We need to improve the protection of women human rights defenders.
The first meeting in Buea, where it all began
From June 19 to 23, Cynthia Petrigh from Beyond peace is directing the 94th Refugee law Course in French at the International Institute of Humanitarian Law in San remo. 45 Officials from 16 countries debate on refugee status determination procedures, cooperation among States, individual arrivals versus mass influx and security concerns for governments. The course opening featured a testimony by a cultural mediator on the Aquarius. On June 20, participants and organisers celebrated World Refugee Day while UNHCR Filipo Grandi is visiting Niger.
On behalf of NGO Concern Worldwide, Beyond peace Cynthia Petrigh and Arsène Gassi conducted a field research in 3 provinces of the Central African Republic (CAR) in february 2018, in order to better understand conflict and gender dynamics in these regions as well as how communities cope with disaster.
After surveying the 3 sous-Préfectures in Ombella M’poko and Lobaye, we ran a strategic workshop for the NGO expatriate and national staff and produced a contextual analysis, a strategy document and programmatic recommendations in view of integrating Gender, Peacebuilding and DRR.
Unsurprisingly, in the surveyed provinces as in other parts of the conflict affected country, poverty, sever gender inequalities, conflict, poor access to education as well as the inconducive mining environment were found to be hampering communities’ development. At the same time, these communities experience a relative level of calm, or negative peace. While this is mainly due to the current control by one armed group only, it can provide the space for a transformative intervention. The question of the return of the Muslims inhabitants is still pending, as are the prospects for women’s participation.
We wish Concern team full success in their 5-year programme aiming at enhancing communities resilience to disasters and conflict and fighting gender-based violence. This ambitious project complements other interventions in the region (WASH, Food for work, etc). The agency is well-placed to successfully implement this project, which could become a model for other regions in CAR.
At beyond peace, we believe policy work is based on field experience and on lessons learnt while working with others. We see it as our role to share with the community of practitioners, and also to share findings, concerns and updates with donors and decision-makers. We are highlighting hereafter some recent events were we were able to disseminate some of our field-based evidence and reflections.
From 26-28 February 2018, we conducted in Brussels a high-level debrief to share our lessons from CAR.
After working for 6 months with the EUTM CAR on improving the FACA behaviour through training on IHL and prevention of sexual violence, we gathered a number of learnings on how EU CSDP missions could be improved. We identified that these missions lack selection standards for their staff; there was no EU pre-deployment training (training is left to nations, as is the case with peacekeepers, with the shortcomings we are familiar with); there was no gender adviser although this is an olbigation in CSDP policy; there were no women in command positions. There was no context analysis conducted, which means that the training is pretty much theoretical and not adapted to the context – with as a result a limited impact. We shared these observations with the EEAS Deputy Secretary General, with the MPCC Chief of Staff, with the NATO Ambassadors and with civil society through the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office (EPLO). We recommend that the MPCC adopts the following reforms for CSDP missions:
- include a gender dimension from the design phase, including through the deployment of a genad
- include training on IHL and PSV as a standard component of EU CSDP training missions
- prepare deploying staff through training on the context, the political and cultural dimension, the legal environment and the gender dimension
- monitor closely these aspects from Brussels level.
Our findings and recommendations will be shared in a workshop titled ‘Gender, Security and Justice in the EU Foreign and Security Policy. Tangible Transformations or Contentious Continuities?’ which will take place on the 18th and 19th of October 2018 in the National University of Ireland, Dublin, Ireland and is organised by the UCD School of Politics and International Relations.
This story was updated on 4 January 2018
Beyond peace completed its pilot project in Central Africa, aiming at training the Central African Armed forces (FACA) on International humanitarian law (IHL) and prevention of sexual violence. The project was implemented through a partnership with the EU training mission (EUTM) in CAR with the support of UK government. Time has come to reflect on our work and what comes next.
Six months after deployment, we were able to successfully design and establish the component. We have trained some 900 personnel: 1 infantry battalion, Officers on Leadership courses, NCOs, specialised staff (platoon Commander course; Intel course; CAT 2 course); former insurgents and instructors.
Our training is based on a contextual analysis and it is tailored to the audience and to the operational, legal and cultural context. It utilises a comprehensive methodology: lectures, questions/answers sessions, group work, videos, dialogue and exchanges. The rules learnt through this interactive methodology are then practiced during combined tactical exercises. Progress is measured through the completion of a questionnaire, before and after the training.
Below are some of the stories and the people behind this training project.
- Infantry Battalion
Photo: joint checkpoint exercise where the FACA learn about securing and respecting human rights
We have trained the 2 Companies of Infantry Battalion 1, currently trained by the EUTM. In addition to classroom sessions, group work and “sandbox” exercises, we were able to introduce a new tool through joint, IHL-military tactical exercises. All four Companies of BIT 1 participated in the exercise. We held briefing sessions with the Battalion Officers and the General Staff.
At the question “what did you learn from this training?”, a Corporal answers: “we are learning the difference between a professional military and bandits”.
Photo: MPCC Director LGen Pulkkinen visits our class in Camp Kasai
“Your tactical exercises are adapted to our realities. You know our dilemmas and you are really here to support us”, says a Sergeant.
2. The former insurgents
Beyond peace contributed to the training of 100 former insurgents who have joined the Central African Armed forces (FACA) as part of the Demobilization, Disarmament, Rehabilitation and Repatriation (DDRR) project. The President’s initiative, which was joined by the armed groups and endorsed by the international community, provides a sign of hope and dialogue across the conflict divide.
We worked first, in October, with the 10 Officers and NCOs in charge of supervising the new recruits. In November, we started training the team of 100, with their support.
Photo: Movie session with the 100 DDRR former insurgents, December 2017
The former insurgents come form various rebel groups; they belong to different religious backgrounds; about 10% are female. They display an incredible willingness to learn and to amend their lives. This morning, I was showing videos about conflict-related sexual violence, in CAR and in other countries. One of them raised their hand: “We have our share in what happened, he said. But now that we are being educated and we understand our duties, we will not do it anymore. We will protect women against this crime. We will report abuse.”
As for the other members of the armed forces, the course looks at the basic principles of IHL (such as: distinction, proportionality, precaution); the protected persons and sites; the need to protect and respect women; the prohibition of torture, arson, pillage, rape; the treatment of prisoners; the roles of duties of military and criminal and military sanction processes.
3. Educating Officers
We contributed to the 2 Leadership training courses organised this semester by the Central African MOD in partnership with the EUTM. Some 65 Lieutenants educated abroad benefitted from these courses and learnt and shared about their duties and responsibilities as FACA. “We learnt that we cannot rape. We never knew that”, said one of the Officers.
“We learnt that when an operation is likely to result in failure and in a massacre, we should postpone it and better prepare it”, said another Lieutenant. “I had never thought of that. We are learning”.
Group photo for the Graduation of 2nd Leadership course for Officers, November 2017
4. Platoon Commanders’ Course
Photo: BA2 Platoon Commander course participants receive their uniform shoulder loops
We co-facilitated this 12-week course together with Lieutenant Zandanga from the FACA. It was a wonderful experience and a privilege to work along such a skilled and committed instructor.
“We love this course because of its unique methodology. We learnt a lot and it’s fun”, said one participant.
5. Train the trainers
As much as this pilot project is successful, it has its limitations because it is a private initiative, limited in time. In order to ensure some degree of sustainability to our project, and in recognition of the great capacities and cooperation from the Central African military, we have trained 8 new IHL/PSV instructors. We benefitted from the outstanding support from UN OCHA and from the FACA through Lieutenant Zandanga for this activity.
Photo: Lieutenants Dikossou and Lapo delivering a training on Protection of women and prevention of sexual violence: “women are the pillars of society; we, military, have to protect them”.
We can certify that these instructors are competent and committed and we wish them all the best in their new assignments as instructors.
6. What next?
The Minister of Defense granted us two private audiences and in December expressed the wish that Beyond peace continues training the FACA. “Our military need to improve their behaviour before they are deployed. What you bare doing is essential and successful.”
We were privileged to receive wonderful support from the highest authorities and excellent cooperation from the FACA. The President of National Assembly received us on 21 December and also extended his support: “I congratulate you. You are an experienced woman. Your approach is the best we can have in this situation. Without ethics, we train brutes”.
The pilot project is a success. It was designed and managed by Beyond peace, thanks to the endorsement from the highest CAR authorities and support from the UK Government. What would be needed to systematise this component in EU CSDP missions? We will be holding a series of meetings early in the new year in order to share ideas and findings to this effect. Contact us if you would like to participate – or to host such a meeting.