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  • Report
  • 18 November 2020

Supporting longer term development in crises at the nexus: Lessons from Cameroon: Executive summary

Executive summary

executive summary
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This Cameroon country report contributes to a multi-country study[1] focusing on the role of development actors in addressing people’s longer term needs, risks and vulnerabilities, and supporting operationalisation of the humanitarian–development–peace (HDP) nexus. This is pertinent to the Covid-19 response, involving both immediate lifesaving assistance and longer term support for health systems, socioeconomic impacts and peacebuilding.[2]

Experience in Cameroon can inform global policy and practice for several reasons. Cameroon moved from a position of stability to three concurrent crises in the last five years, providing a learning opportunity for development actors adapting to deepening crises. It featured in an Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s (IASC) study on financing the nexus,[3] presenting opportunities to build on these findings. Cameroon is a priority country for the UN Joint Steering Committee to Advance Humanitarian and Development Collaboration and also for the Humanitarian Development Peace Initiative (HDPI), a joint initiative of the UN and World Bank emerging from a commitment made at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016.

This study is part of Development Initiatives’ programme of work on the nexus and aligns with objectives of the IASC Results Group 5 on Financing. It builds on 2019 research on donor approaches to the nexus[4] and the IASC’s research on financing the nexus,[5] which identified a gap in understanding how development actors address longer term development needs of vulnerable populations and structural causes of crises. Other focus countries are Somalia and Bangladesh, and the study will conclude with a synthesis report setting out key findings and lessons across countries and recommendations for development actors engaging in crisis contexts.

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From stability to three distinct crises

Until 2014, Cameroon was stable compared with neighbouring countries. Now three crises affect eight of Cameroon’s 10 regions. Two are active conflicts and have required development actors to reconsider their relationship with the government: the sociopolitical (or ‘English speaking’) crisis in the west; and the international Lake Chad Basin crisis and Boko Haram insurgency in the north. There is a protracted displacement crisis in the eastern regions, affecting host communities and refugees from the Central African Republic. Food security in Cameroon has deteriorated, most acutely in regions affected by the sociopolitical and Lake Chad Basin crises. 1.4 million people were in Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) Phase 3 or above between October and December 2019.[6] Each crisis presents unique challenges and opportunities for working collaboratively to address the needs of vulnerable populations.

Development actors in Cameroon are delivering innovative approaches that target crisis-affected populations and are working collaboratively with humanitarian and peace actors. A transition is underway from humanitarian to development approaches in response to forced displacement in the north and east, and donors are supporting parallel HDP programming, including in response to Covid-19 at the local level. Development actors still have a comparative advantage and key role in financing large-scale infrastructural and social programmes in alignment with government strategies and supporting reforms. Scaled-up efforts to systematically embed a focus on resilience, risk and peacebuilding, and coordination with other actors to address vulnerability, are filling the gap between humanitarian and longer term assistance, and helping to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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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

The escalation of the crisis in the English-speaking regions and marginalisation of crisis-affected regions in the north has forced donors to reconsider their relationship with the government. However, most donors continue to deliver aid through the central government. Solely aligning with existing priorities of central government will not benefit vulnerable communities. Development actors must play a stronger role in encouraging structural and policy reforms that would help address Cameroon’s crises. This requires navigating politically sensitive issues head-on through dialogue with government and agreeing collective positions on critical issues, many of which are essential for achieving the SDGs such as allocating domestic resources to crisis-affected regions and increasing spending on service delivery in the social sectors. This is particularly critical in the context of limited consultation on the new national development strategy and ongoing budget support, which could be used to leverage dialogue. Development partners should collectively agree common positions on key structural and policy reforms as well as red lines on human rights abuses.

In the conflict-affected English-speaking regions, Cameroon’s key development partners, as well as their respective political and diplomatic representation, should step up engagement with the government to encourage a political solution to the conflict. In addition, development partners should continue to explore ways to stay engaged in the English-speaking regions, including how to support the government to implement reforms that would de-escalate conflict and to continue to support local livelihoods and services. However, they also must review their partnerships and approach to ensure it is conflict sensitive and fully 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.

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 is an opportunity to strengthen joined-up analysis and programming and encourage regular review of strategic priorities by humanitarian and development partners. The UN’s collective outcome approach in Cameroon, which has been championed by the Taskforce, has been a key stimulus for bringing HDP actors together and identifying and working towards shared ambitions. However, the UN is a relatively small player in Cameroon, and therefore it is critical that the Nexus Taskforce, which is led by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), sustain and deepen the engagement and leadership of key development partners, such as the World Bank and African Development Bank, at a senior level to have influence. Cross-government leadership and the engagement of government at the subnational level, for example through regional and local coordination mechanisms, will also be vital for impact. 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 encourage involvement of all relevant ministries within the Nexus Taskforce and explore ways to strengthen coordination at the subnational level.

Programming and financing

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

Limited government investment in crisis regions in Cameroon is an ongoing cause of marginalisation, which is reinforced by ODA spending that is biased towards centrally led programmes. The government has highly centralised budget management systems, which may be contributing to grievances underlying conflict and to disparities in poverty and social outcomes between the centre and crisis-affected regions. 79.1% of developmental ODA was reported as targeting the central region in 2019, which may include funding for nationwide programmes implemented outside this region. In comparison, a very low share of ODA was reported as targeting the Northwest (1.2%), Southwest (1.8%) and North (1.1%) regions. A slightly greater proportion was allocated to the Far North Region (5.1%), which may reflect funding increases since 2017 in response to the regional Lake Chad Basin crisis. To deliver on the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) nexus recommendation and address the history of uneven development that is major cause of conflict, development partners should ensure that a greater proportion of ODA targets crisis-affected regions and should use their leverage to move towards government co-financing. This will also require further progress in decentralisation and development of the technical capacity of local government.

International actors have had some success in encouraging government reforms on key issues impacting the lives of vulnerable people, for example the World Bank and Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)’s support to a paradigm shift towards long-term solutions for refugees and host communities. This impact could be strengthened on other issues, such as the socioeconomic marginalisation of the northern regions, addressing protracted internal displacement, decentralisation and the adoption of the Recovery and Peace Consolidation Strategy for Northern and East Cameroon 2018–2022 (RPC).

Development partners have often financed responses to Cameroon’s crises through crisis-focused regional and multi-lateral funds and programmes. While these fill a gap in development support to resilience and recovery activities, there are risks. Funding through crisis-financing mechanisms may be less sustainable and not grounded in local needs; separate crisis-focused projects may limit opportunities to promote national development strategies that benefit crisis-affected populations and mainstream resilience, peacebuilding, risk and recovery. However, as policy reforms take time to systematise and political barriers are difficult to overcome, development actors should ensure that their funding through crisis-focused mechanisms complements and reinforces their country assistance strategies and efforts to promote national policy reforms. While in some cases this is done effectively, in others it is not clear that centrally managed funds are used in a complementary way – and this could be improved by decentralising decision-making to the country or regional level.

A further challenge is that current financing arrangements, including separate humanitarian and development budgets, do not incentivise collaboration between HDP actors or coordination among development partners. Development partners might explore a pooled funding mechanism as a way to enhance political cooperation and operational coordination and plug current 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, among other areas) or involve collaboration between HDP partners. To be effective, such a fund would have to be flexible, inclusive and strategic in its design, allowing for country-level decision-making and prioritising support to government reforms to better address crisis regions.

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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 remains unclear. Local governments in Cameroon, especially in marginalised crisis regions, lack funding to operate effectively and are weak given the history of centralised governance, and national and local NGOs are under-funded. Funding and technical support to local NGOs and local government authorities may help to address the lack of 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. Developing local and national government and NGO capacities is especially crucial in the context of Covid-19 where local actors are present and able to respond promptly to local needs.

Coordination, prioritisation and planning

Frequent context analysis and review of development strategies and a shift towards adaptive and complementary programme approaches are vital in crises

Reflecting their commitment to align with government priorities, development actors in Cameroon typically provide support through long-term strategic partnership frameworks, which are usually renewed every four to six years. While development actors often carry out an initial context assessment, this is not regularly updated or used to adapt strategic priorities throughout the planning cycle considering changes to the context. Some development actors, such as the World Bank, have adopted a flexible approach in Cameroon to address practical and operational challenges in insecure areas, especially in the north, and others have begun to use multi-scenario planning (e.g. UN agencies). While joined-up programming is not always appropriate and some level of separation may be necessary (e.g. to protect humanitarian principles), complementarity between HDP programmes should be sought as a minimum, especially when targeting the same communities.

Decentralise decision-making for greater flexibility of country teams

Decision-making structures for most development agencies and donors providing assistance to Cameroon (and broadly) are centralised, with key decisions on programming priorities and funding made at HQ level. This can undermine country-level coordination and the ability of country teams to make timely decisions in response to crisis. Decision-making on budget (re)allocation, partnerships and assessments should be driven by country staff, at least within set thresholds. The response to Covid-19 in Cameroon demonstrates that a rapid response, including the reallocation of funds, is possible when backed at the highest political levels from the centre. In support of a decentralised model, donors must ensure staff at the country level have expertise and guidance. Where it is not feasible to decentralise decision-making, such as with regional and global financing mechanisms, structured coordination between these and the country teams should take place to ensure this financing is used in a coordinated and complementary way.

Programming and financing

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

Development actors can help to build resilience and support preventative, early action and participatory approaches in crisis, especially where support to resilience activities through humanitarian programmes are short term. A range of resilience-focused development programmes is in place in Cameroon. However, scale-up and sustainability will require systematic integration of resilience, recovery and support to social systems into the government’s national development policies and strategies, and donors’ country assistance strategies.

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

Collaboration between HDP actors in regions with ongoing armed conflict in the north (related to the Boko Haram conflict) and west (related to the English-speaking separatist movement) has been challenging for a variety of reasons. In both contexts, humanitarian actors have voiced concerns about the need to safeguard humanitarian space, maintain independence from political agendas, and ensure needs-based targeting. Thus, while some information sharing or coordination is possible, for example to negotiate access, there is limited scope for an integrated or joined-up response. Nonetheless, collaboration between development and peace and security actors is possible, and development programming can be oriented to explicitly address peace and security objectives. Development actors vary in their commitments to address peace and fragility, but many have committed to stay engaged during conflict, to think and work politically, and to enhance the coherence of the security and development support. This is evident in stabilisation programmes in the north. In the west, many development actors initially suspended their programmes due to risks associated with the government’s active role in the conflict as well as security risks, however some have begun to rethink their engagement and partnerships to reflect new security and conflict dynamics.

Although direct collaboration may not be desirable in all contexts, all humanitarian and development actors nonetheless have a responsibility to ensure their support is conflict sensitive. This may fall on a spectrum from avoiding harm to promoting peace. In displacement contexts, most actors broadly recognise the importance of promoting social cohesion between host communities and refugees/internally displaced persons (IDPs), but many are less clear on how to integrate peace/conflict sensitivity in active conflict or other humanitarian contexts. Some development actors have been slow to acknowledge Cameroon’s fragility or adapt their strategies and partnership with the government to reflect that conflict dynamics are risks. They have had to balance the desire to maintain a constructive relationship with the government, by responding to its priorities, with the need for structural reforms to adequately address crisis-affected regions. As a minimum, development and humanitarian actors should take steps to internalise conflict sensitivity, including by investing in in-house analytical capacity and expertise. In addition, conflict sensitivity implies moving towards more inclusive planning processes, for example encouraging consultations around the National Development Plan.

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

To adapt to changing operating contexts and respond rapidly to needs, development programmes in Cameroon must have the flexibility to adapt approaches and reallocate funding, as well as access contingency funding. Yet, development actors typically have a long programming cycle, rigid, pre-planned programmatic and results frameworks, and little flexibility to adjust programmes and budgets. Furthermore, strict separation between humanitarian and development budgets limits flexibility and inhibits collaboration. In some contexts, this separation is necessary to safeguard humanitarian space and ensure needs-based targeting. However, in others, donor governments could better address both longer term issues and spikes in immediate need through reduced earmarking, flexible business processes to enable quicker decision-making and, ideally, reduced demarcation between humanitarian and development funding streams. Development actors including the World Bank, EU, UK and US have developed innovative financing tools that proactively manage risk (especially in areas with recurring disasters), such as contingency financing mechanisms, emergency reserves and crisis modifiers. Based on learning, these could be more widely used, and other bilateral and multi-lateral donors should develop similar crisis financing instruments, including embedding flexibility in pooled or multi-partner funds.


Our executive summary infographic below takes a look at key events in Cameroon, plots total and regional distribution of official development assistance (ODA) annually between 2015 and 2018, and shows the proportion of ODA as humanitarian and development assistance.

Between 2015 and 2017, the volume of ODA to Cameroon increased by 77% from US$747 million to US$1.325 million, while the country witnessed escalation of tensions and conflicts among the English-speaking population in the Northwest and Southwest regions, and local councils were given the power to carry out constitutionally-mandated functions. Despite these events, ODA share to development sectors rose from 87% to 94% over the period 2015-2017 with a growing volume of contributions to the Central region.

Source: Development Initiatives based on OECD DAC Creditor Reporting System (CRS), UN OCHA Financial Tracking System (FTS), ACAPS, Government of Cameroon, Cameroon UN Joint Steering Committee and International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) Registry data.

Notes: ODA figures are 2017 constant prices. ODA = official development assistance.


  • 1
    Development Initiatives, with support from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), is leading the wider policy study under the umbrella of the IASC Results Group 5 (on financing). The other focus countries are Bangladesh and Somalia.
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