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Supporting longer term development in crises at the nexus: Lessons from Cameroon: Chapter 9

Conclusion and recommendations

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Five years ago, Cameroon was a stable middle-income country. Today it is facing three rapidly unfolding humanitarian crises including two active conflicts. Cameroon’s small development donor base and operational agencies have tried to adapt to this new context, with evidence of progress. However, Cameroon’s political context, development actors' own policies and practices, and limited humanitarian and development funding have limited their ability to prevent the situation from deteriorating and support long-term solutions.

Recommendations for strengthening the effectiveness of development actors addressing risk and vulnerabilities and building resilience and peace are set out below, and lessons can be drawn for other contexts. These recommendations are intended primarily for international development actors – both working in Cameroon and globally.

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Recommendations specific to Cameroon

Strategy and partnerships

Collectively support and build the capacity of the government to deliver reforms to better target vulnerable populations

Development actors must play a stronger role in encouraging structural and policy reforms that will help address Cameroon’s crises. This requires navigating politically sensitive issues through dialogue with government and agreeing collective positions on critical issues, many of which are essential for achieving the SDGs (e.g. allocating domestic resources to crisis-affected regions and increasing spending on service delivery in the social sectors). This is particularly critical given the limited consultation on the new national development strategy and ongoing budget support, which could be used to leverage dialogue. The key structural and policy reforms required include government’s delivery of decentralisation including funding to local government (especially in rural areas), its role in the English-speaking crisis, its adoption of the RPC strategy as a common framework for engaging in crisis-affected regions, and the inclusion of refugees and IDPs in national development frameworks. Development partners should collectively agree common positions on these issues and red lines on human rights abuses.

Development actors should review their partnerships with the government and their approach to the ongoing conflict in the English-speaking regions to address risks and support a peace process

Cameroon’s development partners, and their political and diplomatic representation, should step up engagement with the government to encourage a solution to the conflict in the English-speaking regions. Development partners should continue to explore ways to stay engaged in the English-speaking regions, including supporting the government to implement reforms that will de-escalate conflict and supporting local livelihoods and services. They must also review their partnerships and approach to ensure it is conflict sensitive and considers political, conflict and human rights risks. Simply continuing to work alongside the government poses the risk of exacerbating conflict and politicising the actors involved unless adequately negotiated with all parties to the conflict and grounded in a political framework for peace agreed amongst international partners. Strengthening their partnerships with non-governmental actors and working in a decentralised manner with a range of actors at the local level could form part of a conflict-sensitive approach.

Coordination, prioritisation and planning

Strengthen tools and mechanisms for coordination between HDP actors at the country level, with cross-government buy-in and leadership

The UN-led Nexus Taskforce presents an opportunity to strengthen HDP coordination. For it to be effective, cross-government leadership and government engagement at the subnational level is vital. Working primarily with individual ministries will not necessarily generate the necessary buy-in across government to enable multi-sectoral responses in crisis regions. Thus, international actors must involve all relevant ministries within the Nexus Taskforce and strengthen coordination at the subnational level (e.g. building on regional and local coordination mechanisms established in response to Covid-19). Donors should consider the revival of the multi-partner committee (chaired by MINEPAT and the UN RC/HC) and its separate sectoral multi-partner committee platforms and link these to the Nexus Taskforce to avoid duplicating coordination mechanisms. The Nexus Taskforce should broaden buy-in with the international NGO coordination platform and engagement with key development partners, such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank, at a senior level, in order to have influence.

Mapping of existing funding allocation (in terms of geographical location and sector) will help to strengthen coordination between actors and identify funding gaps. The adoption of the RPC strategy will help to address these, as resource tracking is set out in the strategy.

Programming and financing

Strengthen the focus of ODA on crisis-affected regions and use this to leverage government investment

To deliver the OECD HDP nexus commitment and the SDGs in Cameroon, a greater proportion of ODA and public resources should be allocated to crisis-affected regions, which have the lowest outcomes across a range of socioeconomic indicators. Although ODA is only a small proportion of the state budget, by focusing support in crisis-affected regions, development actors can play a role in encouraging the government to invest public resources over time. Although the government’s willingness to invest in long-term development in these regions remains a challenge, the technical and financial capacity of local authorities and presence of infrastructure (e.g. health facilities) is also a constraint to decentralised delivery. Development actors can make initial investments in these areas and move towards government co-financing. Some development partners have been slow to recognise Cameroon’s fragility and the risks associated with supporting development strategies that are not inclusive, or even exacerbate regional disparities and inequalities. Development partners should ensure their country assistance strategies and partnership frameworks are conflict sensitive and reflect the needs of crisis regions. Encouraging consultation on the national development strategy, including with civil society and vulnerable communities, is vital for ensuring national development priorities reflect the needs of crisis-affected populations and integrate conflict sensitivity.

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Recommendations from Cameroon but with relevance globally

Strategy and partnerships

Strengthen funding to a wider set of actors, beyond the central government, to ensure that vulnerable populations are targeted directly

Development actors should continue to engage with the central government to support reforms that will benefit vulnerable populations and promote long-term development in crisis-affected regions, even though these are long-term efforts and the government’s political will is unclear. Local governments in Cameroon, especially in marginalised crisis regions, lack funding to operate effectively and are weak given the history of centralised governance, while national and local NGOs are also under-funded. Funding and technical support to local NGOs and local government authorities can address the gaps in service delivery in crisis regions in the interim and promote decentralisation. However, to achieve this, development partners need to invest in developing the organisational and technical capacity of local NGOs and local authorities and address blockages relating to risk management, due diligence and reporting requirements. This could be achieved by expanding special grant facilities for local NGOs and ensuring they are included in NGO consortia, and by funding local and national NGOs salary and organisational costs at similar levels to international NGOs so that they can retain skilled staff and manage projects effectively. Technical and organisational support is especially important in the Cameroonian context because existing local and national government and NGO capacities are critically weak given the history of low funding and capacity building compared with other countries in the region (e.g. Nigeria). It is especially crucial with Covid-19 where local actors are present and able to respond promptly to local needs.

Coordination, prioritisation and planning

Decentralise decision-making for greater flexibility of country teams

Decision-making on budget reallocation or new programming is usually too slow to respond to a fast-changing context, and decisions are led from the centre with significant disconnect from realities on the ground. Where possible, decision-making on budget (re)allocation, partnerships and assessments should be driven by in-country staff, at least within set limits. In support of a decentralised model, donors must ensure staff at the country level have expertise and guidance and work to break down HDP silos within agencies by ensuring that complementarity is systematically built into assessments, planning and budget allocation, as a minimum.

Where it is not feasible to decentralise decision-making (e.g with regional and global financing mechanisms), structured coordination between these and country teams should take place to ensure financing is used in a coordinated and complementary way.

Programming and financing

Systematically update development assessments and undertake risk assessments in programme planning to enable flexibility

Development actors typically undertake assessments during programme design and often update their analysis of the context and country strategies only every four years. Furthermore, their capacity for ongoing political and conflict analysis varies and their investment in this expertise in seemingly stable contexts is particularly limited. In Cameroon this has meant that some development partners have been slow to recognise and adapt their response to the deteriorating political situation. To address this, development partners should:

  • Develop systems for reassessing the context and reviewing strategies and programmes on a regular basis, as the World Bank has begun doing in Cameroon. Context and conflict analysis should be part of the planning cycle (e.g. mid-term reviews, evaluations) and assessments should be led by local experts and in-country staff to ensure local buy-in and thorough understanding of the context.
  • Invest in in-house political and conflict analysis expertise (e.g. recruit senior advisors and increase capacity of key staff) to enable ongoing analysis to inform approaches to implementation, even in stable contexts.
  • Embed risk and scenario modelling into programme design. Some development actors, including FAO and UNICEF, use multi-scenario planning, developing a range of responses to various potential situations and identifying mitigation strategies. This should become standard practice for development actors in crisis contexts.
  • Ensure results frameworks are flexible, with the option to review and adapt regularly.

Integrate nexus-related ambitions such as on resilience, risk reduction, recovery and peace into national and donor development strategies and programming

A range of resilience and recovery-focused development programmes are in progress in Cameroon, demonstrating buy-in from donors. However, often these are standalone projects and there is a risk that efforts are restricted to unsustainable funding streams. Labelling projects as ‘nexus’ risks undermining the approach given that the term is aligned with policy commitments that may be short lived and because development actors in Cameroon do not clearly understand the term or their role in it.For a sustainable approach at scale, it is important to integrate efforts to build resilience, risk reduction, recovery and peace into national development policies and plans and related sectoral strategies (e.g. through the development of social safety net systems and climate/shock-resilient agricultural and rural development) and move beyond blanket terms to concrete outcomes.

One aspect of this is integrating outcome-level indicators on risk, resilience, recovery and peacebuilding, such as those agreed by the Nexus Taskforce, into development results frameworks. Despite the progress made identifying collective outcomes, this process has highlighted the difficulty of articulating ambitions that are multidimensional yet specific enough for accountability purposes. Capturing learning on appropriate and tested outcome-level indicators will support this.

Integrate peace into development programming and build consensus on principles for collaboration between HDP actors in active conflict or other settings where there is a need to safeguard humanitarian space

The extent to which direct collaboration between HDP actors is possible depends on the context. In some settings humanitarian actors need to maintain independence from government or political agendas, and targeting based on need; in such cases, the goal should be complementary but parallel programming. Even where collaboration is not desirable, all actors can integrate peace into programming, at a minimum through a conflict-sensitive approach. For development partners, there is greater scope to collaborate directly with peace and security actors or with government in active conflict situations, or to orient programming to achieve peace and security objectives. However, this carries with it certain risks, including of politicising donor engagement or worsening protection risks in the short term. In Cameroon, it has been especially challenging to build consensus on how to integrate peace in collective HDP approaches in the English-speaking regions and the Far North where stabilisation and counter-terrorism agendas are at play, although the RSS offers a starting point in the latter. It is important to build clarity on principles for collaboration in active conflict situations, with collective support to social cohesion and conflict sensitivity agreed as a minimum.

Strengthen development financing mechanisms that enable programmes to adapt or scale up in response to contextual changes

Despite efforts to increase the flexibility of funding in crisis contexts, development actors in Cameroon still report that limited budget flexibility is a challenge to adaptive programming and their ability to respond to spikes in need. Many development actors, including the World Bank, EU, UK and US, have developed financing mechanisms tailored to crisis contexts, such as designated trust funds with flexible procedures, crisis reserves or windows, and risk financing mechanisms. Learning from these mechanisms should be consolidated, as a basis to refine and scale up the use of similar instruments by bilateral and multilateral donors or embed them in pooled or multi-partner funds.

Establish financing mechanisms that incentivise HDP actors to deliver in a coordinated way

The separation between humanitarian and development budgets may be necessary in certain contexts to safeguard humanitarian principles, but it also creates strong disincentives for HDP actors to collaborate or deliver in a coordinated way, even in contexts where this is possible. Donors should work towards greater budget flexibility to readjust priorities in response to changing needs, with decentralised authorisation, reduced earmarking and, where possible, a one-budget approach that does not separate country-level fund allocation into rigid humanitarian, development and peace budgets.

In Cameroon, development partners could explore a pooled funding mechanism as a way to enhance political cooperation and operational coordination and plug gaps in funding for programmes that fall between traditional humanitarian or development approaches. Such a mechanism could provide flexible support for responses that integrate humanitarian, development and peace approaches (e.g. for recovery, resilience, peacebuilding, and safety nets) or involve collaboration between HDP partners, perhaps focusing initially on support to the Nexus Taskforce’s collective outcomes. For it to be effective, it is important that the fund manager: (a) has procedures that allow substantial budget flexibility and relatively quick disbursal processes; (b) has political and strategic analytical capacity or can focus funds on an agreed collective strategy framework such as the RPC strategy; (c) has a decision-making process on allocations and project approval that is decentralised to the country level; (d) has the ability to fund diverse actors directly, for example central and local government, local and international NGOs; (e) and prioritises projects that engage with government to support reforms that would better address crisis regions, whether through direct partnership with government or civil society advocacy on key issues (e.g. inclusion of IDPs and refugees in social safety net systems, social spending in crisis regions).