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Arms Proliferation: A threat to public peace in Cameroon

Cameroon, once known as a harbinger of peace in a troubled Central African Region is now facing the sad reality of a substantial proliferation of firearms.

The threats of these fire arms are visible in at least six of the country’s 10 Regions.

Government is nervous over the threat to public peace. It has dawned on Cameroon as an entity that the number of illicit arms in circulation is beyond the expected levels.

Arms

Among Regions in the heat of the arms proliferation threat are the three Northern Regions, the East Region and the North West and South West Regions.

The 2018 Global Peace Index (GPI) ranks Cameroon on the 133 out of 163 countries surveyed.

Evidently, the rise in the fabrication and circulation of fire arms is not unconnected to the geopolitics of its neighbours. Cameroon has a long border with the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Illegal trade in firearms and light weapons is equally a public concern in Nigeria.

Still with Nigeria, the pressure from Boko Haram since 2014 has changed the outlook of the circulation of fire arms.  Over in the East Region, pockets of tensions and armed attacks are the fallout of political instability in the Central African Republic.

In the two English-speaking Regions of the North West and the South West, the current socio-political pressures have turned out to be a security threat. Firearms have found comfort in the hands of gunmen, separatists groups and armed robbers.

Concerning the Northern Regions, porous borders, low scholarisation rates make youths susceptible to joining armed groups. Before the jihadists, some were basically involved in cattle theft. Others staged occasional road blockades to extort money from travellers. This practice became popularly known as ‘coupe de route’.

But the war against Boko Haram opened avenues for such to constitute themselves in vigilante groups. The International Crisis Group (ICG) in its 263rd report of August 14, 2018, maintains that at least 14,000 youngsters have been members of the vigilantes since 2014.

ICG in the report expressed fears that as the Boko Haram scare calms, these vigilante members who have enjoyed support and help in boosting military intelligence could pose a risk if not integrated in the society. “The absence of such plans could lead groups to fragment with some vigilantes turning back to crime,” ICG reports.

The group estimates that at least 1,000 Cameroonians are still part of the Islamic sect. Others are known to have surrendered, but absence of social reintegration programmes is what many fear could send them into taking up arms.

Besides, the challenges in the North West and South West Regions even  the West Region is the vitality which the Anglophone Crisis has given to local arms fabrication units. Culturally, the firearms such as Dane guns are part of the peoples’ lifestyle. Dane guns before now were used for hunting, funeral and enthronement ceremonies.

But currently, youngsters have embraced a secessionist movement. They are suing this to wreck havoc. Palaces have been attacked and huge stock of firearms reserved for traditional purposes are now used to attack security forces.

Besides these, gunmen have killed security forces and seized modern automated rifles and Kalashnikovs. Locals with knowledge on the fabrication of these arms are known to be in brisk business now.

On Wednesday September 6, the Commander of the 5th Combined Military Region, Brigadier General Robinson Agha Ndong, told the State broadcaster that 800 firearms have been seized across the North West Region.

General Agha also talked on military exploits in destroying firearms fabrication sites and separatists camps. Series of exploits in the fight against firearms abound. In April 2016, forestry officials said some 2000 firearms were recovered from poachers in the East Region. In April 2014, security officials in Cameroon arrested two persons with a consignment of arms destined for Nigeria.

Nigeria’s Director of Defence Information, Chris Olukolade, said then that, the duo had over 288 rifles, 35 rocket propelled grenades alongside improvised explosive devices.

In February 2014, authorities announced the impounding of a truck carrying 5 400AK-47 rifles in Maroua, Far North Region. In mid-2013, authorities admitted that crime wave had increased in Yaounde the State capital by 22 percent in 10 years.

In the East Region of the country, the Seleka rebels from Central African Republic are erasing public confidence in security. They carry out recurrent gun attacks. Some have found a haven on Cameroon’s soil from which they emerge to cause disorder.

Banditry too has taken inspiration from Seleka activities. The East Region too is a traditional hunting society. Poaching and exploits against endangered animal species favours trade in firearms.

According to the website www.Gunpolicy.org, Customs officials in Cameroon put the value of firearm imports in 2011 at $3.798,444. The same source states that Cameroon has no effective arms tracing policy.

Gun regulation in Cameroon is on a limited scale. It is possible for licensed individuals to own guns. This is based on limited mental and moral background checks.

At the level of prisons, trafficking in firearms is a concern. Civil society groups ascertain that, prisons across Cameroon are a fertile ground for arms circulation sometime with the complicity of warders and guards.

Aware of the dangers these firearms pose to public peace, Government has repeatedly launched arms-surrender schemes promising amnesty. It is the case with the current Anglophone Crisis. Territorial Administration Minister, Paul Nji Atanga, has repeatedly asked armed separatists to surrender at the nearest administrative offices.

Atanga says the Government will pardon gunmen who embrace such.

On April 4 this year, Atanga Nji issued a release banning the sale of firearms across the troubled Anglophone Regions. The Littoral, West, Adamawa and Centre Regions were part of the Ministerial edict. Armouries in these Regions were also closed.

Atanga reminded owners of modern or locally made guns to identify themselves at the appropriate administrative quarters. The Minister had indicated that the amount of firearms in circulation surpasses Government prescribed limits.

Situating the Minister’s ban on fire arms plus the already known threats in the three Northern Regions show that at least eight of the nation’s 10 Regions are increasingly becoming regular markets for firearms.

Given Cameroon’s membership in the United Nations(UN) and African Union(AU) Commissions on the control of firearms circulation, pundits say the signals on the ground portrays a country in need of international help to  bring the situation under control.

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