By Mwalimu George Ngwane*
The Head of State’s call on 6th November 2018 for separatists to lay down their arms as a peace offering and ceasefire is timely and laudable. Indeed it reiterates an earlier call by the Governor of the North West Region Adolphe Lele L’Afrique as contained in a local tabloid some months ago. The said tabloid carried a front page caption titled “Ambazonia fighters promised huge compensation to surrender weapons”. The full story on page 5 of the newspaper further quotes the North West Governor, Adolphe Lele L’Afrique inter alia “Our children, brothers, sisters and loved ones who have been misled and misguided to take up arms against the fatherland are called upon to surrender their weapons to the nearest administrative, traditional, municipal and regional authority and as a follow up they will be entitled to psychological and logistical support for their eventual rehabilitation and reintegration into society”.
This is definitely an innovative twist in what is referred to as an amnesty programme, but which has not been given the visibility and potency it deserves in the current Anglophone crisis. Granted that there have been calls for blanket amnesty for especially the jailed, the Diasporans and the spoilers connected to the conflict, but little attention has been paid, except for military offensive, to the” Ambazonian” combatants, militants or fighters on the ground who wield deadly weapons. An amnesty incentive programme for combatants or fighters entails a cocktail of measures aimed at disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating (DDR) the fighter into society.
Disarmament removes and destroys the weapons, demobilization extinguishes ex-fighters belief in violence and provides them with a more powerful, peaceful alternative while reintegration aids in the socio-economic process of returning to civilian life. Scholars of peace studies have been divided over whether amnesty programmes should be introduced at the beginning (to prevent conflict escalation), during (to mitigate armed violence), or after (to ensure post-conflict peace building) of the conflict dynamics. However what they all agree is that an amnesty programme is cost-effective but not a substitute for a substantive discussion on the root and/or proximate causes of the conflict. In fact fighters are often willing to surrender their weapons only when there is a clear and concrete agenda for addressing the issues that led them to take up arms in the first place. There are basically three kinds of amnesty programmes. The first is “arms for cash incentive”. Here the focus is on the individual combatant who is given financial assistance in exchange for his/her weapon. However the cash is given as an amnesty coupon which he /she can exchange only for food and/or tools for work. This prevents the combatant from using the money to buy more weapons. The second is “arms for capacity-building” which also focuses on the individual combatant but with a bent on what is called “bridging activities”. Here the combatant is provided with sustainable livelihood like free education and especially vocational and literacy training that would help him/her gain employable skills. It is always important to involve the combatants in carrying out their needs assessment, work with them to know the labour market realities so as not to train them for trades that have no demand. It is therefore recommended that the amnesty programme should be based on inclusive consultation, greater degree of combatant-ownership and more closely integrated into the wider process of reconstruction and development. The third is the “arms for development initiative” which is more community than individual based. This is a form of voluntary surrender of weapons in return for a collective incentive. The aim is to shift the mindset of communities from the benefits of owning weapons to the benefits of a weapon-free environment. It enables the community to put the war behind them and turn instead to development. For this to be effectively implemented, the government has to certify that the community is “weapon-free”.
This means the community members have the task of identifying all those with guns and pressure them to surrender for the benefit of a community project. Most amnesty programmes go through three stages with the first stage involving disarming, registering, interviewing and counseling ex-fighters. The second stage involves the absorption of disarmed fighters into any of the amnesty programme and the third stage involves reintegrating the ex-fighters in the society. A few country case studies on amnesty programmes buttress this essay. The Niger Delta region of Nigeria has for more than two decades been engulfed in a resource (oil) conflict. But on 25 June 2009, the then President Umaru Yar’Adua signed an amnesty deal which stated that militants who freely surrendered their arms within the 60-day amnesty period would not be prosecuted for the crimes that they had committed during the course of disrupting the Nigerian oil industry.
In return for the acceptance of the amnesty, the Federal government pledged its commitment to instituting programmes that would rehabilitate and reintegrate ex-militants. The amnesty saw over 15,000 militants surrender their weapons by the deadline date; 13000 ex-militants were deployed for local and foreign training, skills acquisition and other formal education while more than 2500 ex-militants were admitted to higher institutions of learning in various spheres of knowledge. Between 1989-2003, Liberia was knee-deep in fourteen years of war. An amnesty programme was introduced between 1996-2004 within which 24500 of the estimated 33000 fighters had been disarmed and demobilized; more than 9570 weapons and 1.2 million rounds of ammunition were also surrendered while about 90000 (fighters and their satellite associates) got rehabilitated and reintegrated.
The armed conflict in Sierra Leone started in March 1991. The government preferred the Arms for Development initiative developed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). While 42300 weapons were surrendered by 72500 ex-combatants by 2002, the success of the amnesty exchange was enhanced by a community-led approach in which the community, after broad consultations, chose the development project to be funded in the community. In conclusion amnesty programmes are never a quick fix nor a one-size-fit-all strategy hence the need to contextualize and tailor them to the underlying or root causes as well as the proximate or remote causes of the conflict. Some of the amnesty programmes have failed to produce the expected peace dividend because some governments saw them as a conquest, patronizing and repressive bait to buy time for” business as usual” governance. In fact some governments and fighters prefer muscular military option as a way of asserting their legitimacy and authority but reluctantly concede to amnesty programmes for international posturing. Some programmes also fail because the disarmament of the combatants is not done concurrently with government’s downsizing the republican army stationed at the conflict zones. Another obstacle is that amnesty programmes are not decreed at the highest level of the state with valuable inputs from peace scholars. And finally there is a problem when combatants refuse to break links with those who remote control them through a mass propaganda of an elusive political triumphalism. Therefore the Head of State’s recent appeal points to a direction in which a holistic menu of amnesty programmes, humanitarian assistance, inclusive dialogue and other proposals by Cameroonians and Diplomatic services could be put on the table.
*Mwalimu George Ngwane is a Chevening conflict management Fellow, York, UK (2010), Rotary Peace Fellow, Bangkok, Thailand (2015), Commonwealth Professional Fellow, London, UK (2015), United Nations Minority rights Fellow, Geneva (2016) .www.gngwane.com.
First published in The SUN 0516 of Tuesday, November 13, 2018.