YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - Cameroon said a recruitment drive for troops to fight separatists and terrorists has seen 10 times the number of needed applications, including -- for the first time hundreds of former rebels.
More than 1,000 youths applauded in Yaoundé on Friday as a sign that they will be patriotic if they are recruited into the Rapid Intervention Battalion, Cameroon’s elite military force.
But it will take more than patriotism to make the cut. Colonel Alain Mvogo, a doctor in Cameroon’s military, outlined some of the medical requirements.
He said doctors and nurses are finding out if the vision, hearing and blood pressure level of all candidates meet the requirements spelled out by Cameroon military hierarchy. He said they are screening out candidates who are overweight.
Cameroon said about 21,000 youths have applied for the 2,200 positions available. In 2017, about 15,000 applied for 2,000 places.
That year, separatists attempting to create an English-speaking state in western Cameroon warned English speakers against joining the army and attacked family members of those who applied. On social media, the separatists said that death awaited any English Cameroonian who joined the military.
Despite the threats, the military said at least 4,000 English-speaking Cameroonians have registered to be recruited this year, including several hundred former insurgents.
Nineteen-year-old former fighter Gerald Minang said he wants to combat the separatists who he said are deceiving young people to carry weapons against Cameroonians. He said he escaped from a separatist camp in the northwestern town of Ndop in March 2020 and relocated to Yaoundé.
"I do not want to hide myself in the bush, taking drugs and killing people,” he said. “I want to stop the burning of schools, destroying of properties and all the rest.”
Lieutenant Colonel Ekosso Lysonge Francis is deputy national director of the Centers for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration. On a visit to the towns of Bamenda and Buea last month, he said the recruitment of former separatists shows President Paul Biya meant it when he promised pardons for fighters who drop their weapons.
He said President Biya has given firm instructions that fighters who have dropped their weapons, are of good conduct and are patriotic should be recruited into the military. He said some of the former separatists will be trained as drivers and mechanics. The DDR centers are already compiling documents to issue national identity cards to former fighters who either destroyed their identification papers or do not have them, he said.
Francis did not say how many former fighters will be recruited for the Rapid Intervention Battalion. The re-integration centers in Bamenda and Buea have about 530 members. Many of them complain that the government has not carried out its promise to give all of them jobs.