Nine out of ten regions of Cameroon continue to be impacted by three complex humanitarian crises: the Lake Chad basin conflict, the North-West and SouthWest (NWSW) crisis and the Central African Republic (CAR) refugee crisis.
In 2023, one out of six people living in Cameroon needs humanitarian assistance and protection, a total of 4.7 million people. More than 3.2 million people are projected to face acute food insecurity in 2023.1 There are over two million people on the move as internally displaced persons (IDPs), returnees, or refugees. Humanitarian needs are compounded by structural development weaknesses and chronic vulnerabilities that further challenge the long-term recovery of affected people. The number of people in need in Cameroon continues to grow due to the impact of conflict and insecurity, epidemics as well as climate-related effects, such as floods and droughts. The prolonged nature of these crises, new and repeated displacement, and insufficient humanitarian assistance are eroding people’s already limited resilience. This is leading to an increase in negative coping mechanisms, including child labor, child marriage and survival sex.
Political, socio-cultural, demographic, and economic profiles
Cameroon ranks 151 out of 191 countries as per the 2021/2022 Human Development Index. Although there has been some economic progress, poverty remains a significant problem. An estimated 37.5 per cent of the country’s population lives below the poverty line,2 with that figure rising above 70 per cent in some regions.
Ninety per cent of the labour market in Cameroon is informal, and most of the working-age population is self-employed. The agriculture sector dominates the economy, employing 62 per cent of the labour force, 80 per cent of whom are women. Persistent gender inequalities and socio-cultural constraints, exacerbated by the humanitarian crises, limit women’s and youth’s access to basic social services and opportunities. A significant proportion of the population in rural areas is still illiterate, hampering their access to information and opportunities to improve their living conditions and increasing their vulnerability, thereby heightening the risk of being left behind.3 In the Far North region, particularly in the Lake Chad basin area, the economic context is marked by poverty; the lack of access to, and sustainable management of, natural resources; limited income-generating and market opportunities; as well as a drastic reduction in agriculture/livestock production and touristic activities due to prevalent insecurity. In Logone Birni, 43 per cent of young people between 15 and 24 years do not go to school nor work.4
The North-West and South-West regions make a significant contribution to the national economy, especially with regards to the production and export of cash crops. There are notable differences in the economic make-up of the North-West and the South-West. While agriculture remains the largest employment sector across the two regions, employing 47 per cent and 44 per cent of workers in the NorthWest and South-West respectively, larger cash crop plantations are mostly located in the South-West while the North-West mainly relies on small-scale farming. Prior to the crisis, the South-West managed to cut down its poverty level by more than half while the North-West struggled to reduce its poverty rate and diversify its economy.5
Violence, regular lockdowns and closure of roads continue to impact local economies. The crisis provoked the collapse of Cameroon’s second largest employer, the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC), which employed over 15,700 people including seasonal workers prior to the crisis. Farmers working for the CDC were forced to abandon palm oil, rubber, and banana plantations. The CDC experienced a steep decline in its operations and revenues since the onset of the crisis. This decline of a major agro-industrial business brought about the collapse of an entire ecosystem of subcontractors who depended on the CDC to stay operational.6
The World Bank estimates that, without the crisis, a growth of the gross domestic product (GDP) of 4.5 per cent in 2019 would have been recorded, instead of the 3.8 per cent registered that year.7
Economic activities in the East, Adamawa, and North regions focus on trade, livestock, mining, agriculture, handicrafts, and forestry. Companies active in the areas of forestry, mining, and agriculture support the local economy. The three regions have intense trade with neighbouring countries (CAR, the Republic of the Congo, and Chad). CAR refugees and the populations hosting them share cultural, religious, and linguistic affinities, strengthening their integration.
Widespread insecurity in the Lake Chad basin and border area with Nigeria continued to affect the Far North region in 2022. Attacks against civilians, State security forces (SSF), including army, gendarmerie, and the police, persisted and non-State armed groups (NSAGs) and armed criminals continued to carry out lootings in crisis-affected areas. NSAGs continue to use improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the Far North, North-West, and South-West regions, primarily targeting military convoys. However, at least four children and one pregnant woman were killed and twelve civilians, including six children, were injured in the Far North and North-West in 2021 and 2022.8 The geostrategic location of the Far North, at the crossroads of important communication routes between Cameroon, Chad, and Nigeria, the weak national integration of this region, and the historical neglect of border areas by the State gave rise to various trafficking and criminal activities. Communities which feel left without Government protection take on their own security, leading to violence, death, and a proliferation of weapons.9
NSAGs have exploited these vulnerabilities and made the Far North a logistical base, a retreat area, a recruitment pool, a supply granary and impose taxes on the local population. The conflict with the NSAGs has both amplified and concealed criminal activities and pre-existing inter-community conflicts in the Far North. It amplified them by developing relationships between the NSAGs and local criminal groups and concealed them by redirecting the attention and resources of authorities on the fight against NSAGs to the detriment of other security issues. Moreover, historically, the different ethnic groups of the Far North have always been armed. They now have access to firearms and ammunition, increasing the impact of confrontations. The large livestock markets in the cross-border areas of the Lake Chad basin have facilitated cattle rustling, with the cattle thefts starting to work for NSAGs.10
Many protection incidents are thus listed in the region: theft, destruction of property, physical attacks, extortion, murder, kidnapping. Finally, the existence of large livestock markets in the Lake Chad basin region has encouraged livestock theft, with cattle rustlers starting to work for NSAGs: 30,000 oxen were stolen in the region between 2014 and 2021.11
In the North-West and South-West regions, high levels of insecurity continued in 2022. The presence of SSF is concentrated along the main roads and cities, leaving many rural areas under the influence of NSAGs, and civilians exposed to risks arising from regular clashes between SSF and NSAGs as well as armed violence among rival armed groups. High levels of criminality and impunity lead to a climate of insecurity with civilians and humanitarian workers facing risks of abduction/ kidnapping for ransom, assault, unlawful detention, carjacking, and threats of violence. The line between targeted, politically motivated acts of violence and criminal activities is increasingly blurred. In 2022, the West region witnessed some NSAG attacks on SSF posts as well as on local markets in small towns bordering the North-West and the South-West regions.
Other parts of Cameroon remain stable and offer relative security, and therefore continue to receive many refugees and IDPs from other regions and neighbouring countries. However, security incidents, including urban crime, kidnappings for ransom, and night-time hijackings continue to be reported in the East, Adamawa, and North regions.