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Amidst Unkept Promises: Cameroon 

By Ernest Sumelong with field report — After the tragic slaughter of hundreds of elephants by foreign poachers in early 2012 in the beginning of 2012, the government of Cameroon promised bold measures to improve on the working conditions of forest rangers in the Central African country. Rangers now receive four months of intensive military training, instead of only 45 days.

Also promised were guns, walkie-talkies, teargas canisters, bayonets, and handcuffs to shore up rangers’ capacity to face up to Kalashnikov-armed elephant poachers. After ten months, a few of these promises have been kept, but many more are yet to be realised. Some 479 new forest rangers have been recruited, given military training and deployed around protected areas. But the sorely needed weapons are not yet available.

“We have not received a single gun since the start of 2012,” ranger Romuald Guedoguena said. Guedoguena works as forest ranger in East Cameroon’s Lobeke National Park, which borders Congo Brazzaville and Central African Republic. “We have been told arms have been acquired by the ministry. We hope in 2013 we shall receive them,” said Romuald. “The last time we were given large quantities of guns, teargas canisters, handcuffs and some bullets was in 2007,” Romuald said.

Despite their enthusiasm, the 16 newly-recruited Lobeke forest rangers remain fearful. “The young rangers have exuded the zeal to work but they are afraid of reprisal from poachers because they are not equipped to defend themselves,” says Emma Samuel one of Lobeke’s 41 rangers. “It is very difficult to work under this condition.”

Chimêne Manfo is a new female ranger in Nki National Park. This summer, she and 10 other Nki recruits underwent a four-month military training. Upon leaving the training camp, they were promised guns to better operate on the ground. “Nki National Park has not received any of the guns as of now. Since we came back in October we have not entered the forest,” the 24-year-old Manfo said. “We thought that the arms that the government promised were going to be provided immediately after the training, but this is yet to happen,” she said.

Flickers Of Hope

The Cameroon government has been making tangible efforts to train and increase the number of forest rangers around protected areas. In Nki National Park, some 11 forest rangers have been added to the 30 existing ones. In 2007, there were only 16 forest rangers. Today the park has 41 rangers.

In Lobeke, the number of rangers has increased from 28 in 2010 to 41 in 2012.  Walkie-talkies, vehicles and computers have also been provided for protected areas. Additionally, the integration of some 43 rangers into the public service, some of whom have worked for 15 years without a contract, seems to have attracted the attention of President Paul Biya.

Recently the President instructed the Prime Minister to ensure the integration of 100 forest rangers into the public service. This means the rangers shall henceforth earn regular salaries and social security benefits. “We hope the rate of poaching will decline in 2013, on condition that we have the necessary arms to do this work,” said Luc Yem, who heads the surveillance unit for the pristine Nki National Park.

Cameroon’s rangers are one of the most ill-equipped in Central Africa. They confront poachers armed with war guns sometimes with bare hands. In the process, many have been wounded and some killed. In recent weeks, government has had to deploy its rapid intervention battalion, a special military force, to prevent the return of the heavily-armed poachers responsible for the mass elephant slaughter earlier this year.

First published in The Post print edition no 01397

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