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  • Report
  • 18 November 2020

Supporting longer term development in crises at the nexus: Lessons from Cameroon: Chapter 4


chapter 4
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ODA primarily channelled to public institutions

In line with aid effectiveness principles, most development assistance is aligned with government priorities and a large proportion of aid is channelled through government institutions (Box 3). Public sector institutions are the largest recipient of ODA, accounting for over half of the aid to Cameroon each year in the last decade (Figure 11) (this includes aid executed directly by bilateral donor government institutions). Furthermore, most ODA channelled to public institutions in Cameroon is directed through central government, or does not have a specified government institution, while only 0.1% is reported to go through local government (Figure 11). This is notably higher than other lower middle-income countries in the region also affected by the Boko Haram insurgency. For example, whereas on average 65% of ODA was channelled through public institutions in Cameroon between 2016 and 2018, in Nigeria this was much less (48.8%) during the same timeframe. In comparison, more ODA is channelled through NGOs in Nigeria than is the case in Cameroon (see ‘Supporting non-government partners to directly target vulnerable people’).

Figure 11: ODA to Cameroon by channel of delivery, 2009−2018

Figure 11: ODA to Cameroon by channel of delivery, 2009−2018

Over the ten year period 2009−2018, public sector institutions received 60% or more of the ODA that went to Cameroon, while the share of ODA that went to non governmental organisations and civil society incresed from 4.7% in 2009 to 8.5% in 2018.

Source: Development Initiatives based on OECD DAC Creditor Reporting System (CRS).

Note: ODA channelled directly to the government includes both ‘public sector institutions’ and ‘unspecified’ (which covers budget support).

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Box 3

Examples of development partnerships with government

  • France continues to channel most of its assistance to Cameroon through the central government and focuses on dialogue to promote necessary reforms.
  • The EU’s National Indicative Programme for 2014−2020 under the European Development Fund was developed in coordination with the government and focuses predominantly on rural development and governance, with no geographical focus. The EU channels most of its aid through budget support and has looked to use it as a tool to push for reforms.
  • The World Bank almost exclusively works through the government.
  • UN strategies are formulated and validated with the government and align with national strategies. UNICEF, the largest UN agency in Cameroon, allocates two-thirds of its budget to the government. Most International Fund for Agricultural Development investment projects are loans to government at favourable interest rates.
  • Germany’s programme of cooperation in Cameroon, delivered through government, focuses on the protection and sustainable use of natural resources, good governance and rural development.

Figure 12: ODA to Cameroon channelled through the public sector, 2015−2018

Figure 12: ODA to Cameroon channelled through the public sector, 2015−2018

Most ODA channelled to public institutions in Cameroon is directed through central government, or does not have a specified government institution, while only 0.1% is reported to go through local government.

Source: Development Initiatives based on OECD DAC Creditor Reporting System (CRS).

Note: Data in 2017 constant prices.

Despite the dominance of budget and direct support to the central government, many interviewees questioned the government’s capacity to deliver services and its willingness to prioritise crisis-affected regions. Cameroon spends a large share of its public spending on general public administration and debt service (together accounting for nearly half of total spending in 2015), while its spending on social services (health, education and social protection) and infrastructure is low compared with other sub-Saharan African countries. In addition, within its budgets for the social sectors, a high share of resources covers salaries and other overhead costs (over 70% for health and education in 2015), leaving fewer resources for service delivery.[1] A further challenge to reaching vulnerable populations in crisis-affected regions through aid channelled to the government is the weakness of local government structures. As with the decentralisation agenda, there is a considerable gap between the government narrative on prioritising the most vulnerable and what has been done in practice. Although the government now targets the northern regions for development projects, funding is very limited – and absent in the most remote areas. Corruption, high operating costs and lack of government support have made even relatively stable areas in the North and Far North less attractive to donors.[2]

Development actors supporting government to target vulnerable crisis-affected populations

Some international partners have positively influenced the government to better target vulnerable populations in crisis-affected areas, particularly with respect to the refugee situation in the East and Adamawa. UNHCR and the World Bank have been instrumental in shifting the government’s focus away from repatriation and towards durable and inclusive solutions for refugees and host communities. UNHCR’s advocacy has resulted in progress on national policy reforms including:

  • Signing a convention with MINEPAT in October 2016 to integrate refugee needs and opportunities in development plans, prioritising support for refugee-hosting communities[3]
  • Advocating for the government to integrate the needs of refugees into national development plans, to include refugees in national basic service provision and to strengthen their livelihood opportunities, while supporting host communities
  • In August 2016, signing a convention with the Ministry of Public Health, committing the government to cover 30% of the cost of health services for CAR and Nigerian refugees[4]
  • Discussing a joint five-year strategy with the Ministry of Public Health on the integration of refugees into the national health system[5] (paused as a result of the Covid-19 crisis but likely to resume when possible).

The World Bank’s US$130 million in grant funding through the International Development Association 18 (IDA18) regional sub-window for refugees and host communities (RSW) also played a central role in progressing policy reforms, as the government must meet criteria related to refugee recognition, support and protection to access funding. This was a key motivation behind the government’s involvement in developing the RPC strategy and in its IDA18 RSW application letter, the government committed to the “systematic issuance of birth certificates for refugee children born in Cameroon with new registry offices (or reinforcement of existing registry offices) in areas with large populations of refugees and displaced persons” as well as “issuance and recognition of biometric identity documents for refugees”. The government also committed to adopt an integrated approach to forced displacement and develop a national strategy on forced displacement, addressing protection as well as the social and economic aspects of the crisis.[6] These commitments have not yet been delivered but UNHCR, with other UN agencies and NGOs, is supporting the government to do so.

This demonstrates how international actors can encourage government reforms on key issues impacting the lives of vulnerable people, such as the socioeconomic marginalisation of the northern regions, finding long-term solutions to protracted internal displacement, decentralisation and the adoption of the RPC strategy. Development partners could have greater influence by incorporating these issues (or priorities set out in the RPC strategy) in their country assistance strategies and coordinating and identifying common positions in policy dialogue. For example, the World Bank has identified addressing rural poverty in the northern regions as a focus area of its 2017–2021 CPF and has refocused its country portfolio in line with this. In addition, its regional strategy and the recent approval of regional funding to address the Lake Chad Basin crisis allocates additional resources to the Far North. The CPF also prioritises governance as a focus area, including reforms that if implemented would support the technical capacity and role of local government in development planning and public financial management. However, other development partners, such as the African Development Bank, have country strategies that are out of date and do not adequately address regional disparities or structural reforms that are necessary to address needs in crisis regions.

Reviewing government partnership in light of the conflict in the English-speaking regions

Donors have a role to play in collectively supporting the government’s engagement in a peace process to address the English-speaking regions impacted by crisis. While many development actors have withdrawn from the English-speaking regions (see ‘Policy and strategy’ chapter), this has not affected central funding to the government through budget support, despite requirements on human rights, democracy and rule of law. Germany is the exception, having stopped budget support for the central government because of its involvement in the crisis in English-speaking regions, and is now working as much as possible at a decentralised level. Although some international players such as the US, UK, EU and Chad have publicly denounced violence and encouraged dialogue, there is very little regional and international engagement to find a solution to the conflict.[7]

Cameroon’s key development partners, such as AFD, Germany and the EU, together with their respective political or diplomatic representation should consider their collective role in supporting a ceasefire and an internationally supported peace process. In addition, development partners such as the World Bank and UNDP should continue exploring ways to stay engaged in the English-speaking regions, including how to support the government to implement reforms that would de-escalate conflict. 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.

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Supporting non-government partners to target vulnerable people

Where partnership with government is politically sensitive or challenging due to the absence of functioning local government, development partners have taken steps to strengthen partnerships with the UN and NGOs to reach vulnerable populations. Nonetheless, direct funding to NGOs remains limited: only 8% of ODA to Cameroon was channelled through NGOs in 2018. This is low compared with neighbouring countries also impacted by the Boko Haram crisis, such as Nigeria, where 19% of ODA was channelled through NGOs in the same year.

Funding to UN agencies and NGOs (including local NGOs) in crisis regions has been enabled and strengthened over recent years specifically through regional and global financing mechanisms targeting crisis regions (see ‘International financing landscape’ section). In the Far North region, where the local government is particularly weak, AFD’s Minka Peace and Resilience Fund and the EU’s Emergency Trust Fund for Africa provide direct funding to NGOs. For example, AFD supports a consortium of NGOs to deliver its Inclusive Economic and Social Recovery Project for Lake Chad covering Niger, Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria (2018−2021)[8] and an Norwegian Refugee Council social inclusion and local governance project in the Far North of Cameroon and North East Nigeria.[9] The EU’s resilience programmes in the Far North[10] work with two consortia of NGOs, and the EU delegation regularly puts out calls for proposals under the Civil Society Organisations and Local Authorities programme and European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights. In addition, the Active Citizenship Civil Status Strengthening Program project, funded by the European Development Fund, aims to strengthen civil society through smaller grants in all regions.

Cameroonian NGOs and civil society organisations (CSOs), community organisations, faith groups and women’s groups can play a central role in a sustainable and locally-led response in crisis contexts due to their relationships with and access to local communities. However, these actors are weakly organised due to historic underinvestment in the NGO sector. Overcoming this would require substantial, long-term investment in developing the technical and organisational capacity of local actors. Although some mechanisms exist for direct funding of NGOs and CSOs (described above), the risk management, due diligence and reporting requirements of development partners favour partnerships with international NGOs, especially given the weak financial management capacity of Cameroonian NGOs. As a result, funding to local NGOs tends to be largely channelled through UN agencies. For example, UNICEF has allocated a third of its funding to CSOs in remote and insecure areas with little or no government service provision. However, in other contexts, Cameroonian NGOs have been excluded from crisis response even where they are well-positioned to play a role; for example, local NGOs report that they have not received any additional funds for responding to Covid-19. According to interviewees, local NGOs and CSOs tend to receive funding through local authorities or community donations in Cameroon. The lack of direct international funding and support limits the potential of local NGOs and CSOs to develop and grow, and can be seen as reinforcing a power dynamic in which local actors are sub-implementers rather than equal partners.


  • 3
    This convention comprised a framework to provide support to the development of CAR-refugee hosting areas, adopted in 2016. It was implemented from 2018 onwards, with UNHCR and MINEPAT as signatories. The objective was to support the municipalities hosting CAR refugees with targeted community-based development and livelihood initiatives. This agreement ended on the 31 December 2017. It was not renewed, however informally the UNHCR inclusion lobby and facilitation continue with MINEPAT and other ministries.
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  • 4
    This convention comprised a framework for the medical treatment of CAR and Nigerian refugees in public health facilities, adopted in 2017. It was implemented from 2017 onwards, with the UNHCR and Ministry of Public Health as signatories. The objective was to ensure free medical treatment of refugees in public health facilities by applying a shared subsidy regime (30% from the government; 70% from UNHCR).
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