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End of a 'secret' German military mission in Cameroon

Cristina Krippahl
July 17, 2019

The announcement that Germany has ended its military mission in Cameroon came as a surprise to many who were unaware of the presence of German soldiers in the conflict-torn African country.

A Bundeswehr soldier on a tank with a German flag
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler

Besides Cameroon, Niger and Tunisia are two other African countries where Germany has military and police training missions not mandated by its parliament. Germany's Defense Ministry confirmed to DW that, according to the law, the government does not have to ask the Bundestag for approval to send military instructors to peaceful countries as long as the German military is not involved in any direct confrontation on the ground. The government also has no obligation to inform deputies about the particulars of these missions.

Germany in Cameroon: Mission should have ended two years ago

Christoph Hoffmann, head of the parliamentary group for Central Africa and spokesperson on development issues for the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), has no problem per se with the procedure, even if it bypasses the elected deputies. After all, no one complains about German soldiers taking part in Canadian training operations. Also, helping other countries militarily makes good sense. "The mission in Cameroon started four years ago, at a time when there were great problems with Boko Haram in the north of Cameroon. And I think it is a humanitarian act to help Cameroon defend themselves against terrorists and terrorism," he told DW. But in the meantime, the situation changed dramatically: "The German military mission [in Cameroon] should have ended two years ago, after the conflict between the Anglophone and the Francophone communities in the southwest turned violent," Hoffmann said.

Read more: Opinion: Key steps needed for Cameroon peace talks

Pressure from the Bundestag

If it hadn't been for another deputy, Stefan Liebich from the opposition Left party, the news that Berlin had ended the mission in Cameroon would most likely not have reached the public.  Missions like these are treated almost like state secrets, with only as many people in the know as is strictly necessary. Liebich asked the Defense Ministry directly and was informed that the mission had ended "as scheduled," information he shared with the media.

Member of the German Bundestag Christoph Hoffmann
Hoffmann says the mission in Cameroon should have been stopped two years agoImage: Fuchs

"The wording 'on schedule' was a little bit disingenuous," Liebich told DW. Only a couple of weeks ago, the government had said that it would decide on whether to prolong the mission by midyear. "That was actually why I asked now, and was then told about the termination. I believe that if it hadn't been for the public debate and the discussion in parliament, the mission would probably be ongoing," he said. 

Cameroonian soldiers securing the streets of Bamenda
Tensions between the Anglophone and Francophone regions in Cameroon have escalated into a full-blown conflictImage: Getty Images/AFP

The debate was launched several months ago by Hans-Peter Bartels, parliamentary spokesperson for matters concerning the Bundeswehr and a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), a partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling coalition. Bartels' public criticism of the government for bypassing the Bundestag first called the parliamentarians' attention to the existence of the 'secret' missions, according to Liebich.

'A good role for Germany'

Ibrahim Mouiche is not so much interested in Berlin's secrecy as in Germany's capacity to help his country. The political scientist from the University of Yaounde II in the Cameroonian capital, who is currently a guest lecturer at the Arnold Bergstraesser Institute in Germany, points out that there were at any one time at most 10 German instructors in Cameroon, who took part in an international mission there. Mouiche believes that such help can be useful. "We have the Anglophone crisis, but also Boko Haram and, in the east, rebels from the Central African Republic who often infiltrate our territory. I think there is an argument for training the security forces," Mouiche told DW. 

German parliamentarian Stefan Liebich
Stefan Liebich's Left party does not want parliament to be bypassed anymoreImage: picture-alliance/M. Kappeler

Mouiche acknowledged that the Cameroonian army does not seem very motivated to end the conflict "from which they obviously benefit." But he felt that it was too easy to blame only the government's side for the abuse and violence. "Some Anglophone separatists have turned to banditry and are causing suffering to the Anglophones themselves." Germany, Mouiche says, has a bigger role to play in Cameroon: "Yaounde does not have a firm political will to negotiate. Germany and the European Union can help put pressure on the Paul Biya government," he said.

Christoph Hoffmann agrees. On a recent trip to Cameroon, he talked to colleagues in the Yaounde parliament. "All of them asked for Chancellor Merkel to come to Cameroon and initiate a mediation process." German parties have signed a joint letter to the chancellor to this effect. "It would be a good role for Germany," Hoffmann said.

Cameroon Anglophone crisis