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Cameroon - Military Personnel

As of 2000 the Cameroonian armed forces were reported to have a total of about 28,000 men including 14,000 for the Army, 1,500 for the Air Force, 1600 for the navy and gendarmerie 1100. By 2016, IISS was reporting a total of about 23,200 men including 12,500 for the Army, 400 for the Air Force, 1,300 for the navy and gendarmerie 9,000. By some estimates, Cameroon's' military numbered as many as 60,000 troops by 2015, but this seems rather imaginative. The wild excursions depicted in the IISS time series mainly reflect changes in counting rules, rather than changes in actual force structure.

Cameroon's relative stability, in a region plagued by military coups, was perhaps due to a military balance of power. As of 1977 there was a Gendarmerie of 3,000 men and a mobile police force (the Cameroonian Guard) of 2,000 in addition to an Army of 4,000. All three forces were said to watch each other jealously and all were under close observation by the President's own special security police.

In the early 1970s active duty military forces totaling approximately 4,400 men were organized into separate army, air force, naval, and Civic Guard units. Paramilitary police forces supporting national security missions consisted of some 3,000 members of the National Gendarmerie and about 2,200 officers and men of the SN. The French had trained many members of the security forces, provided much of their equipment, and initially filled a number of command positions while Cameroonian officers were being trained. Cameroonians had assumed all command positions during the 1960s, and in 1973 the French military presence consisted of a limited number of officers and noncommissioned officers in technical, advisory, or training positions.

At independence the republic's first military forces were composed of Cameroonians who had served in the preindependence army of French Cameroun. They had been formally released by the French administration and immediately transferred into the new Cameroonian military structure. All French combat units departed by the end of 1963, but limited numbers of French officers and noncommissioned officers remained, at first in command, and later in administrative, technical, and medical positions that Cameroonian personnel were not yet ready to assume. Under French guidance the transferred veterans were formed into two partially manned battalions, a small reconnaissance squadron, and an engineer company. These units were later brought nearer to full strength, and a few additional units were estab- lished during the 1960s. France continued to provide support, and the Cameroonian armed forces continued to use French as the language of command.

By the 1970s, as more Cameroonians gained the necessary training and experience, the total number of French military personnel had been reduced to fewer than twenty officers and about eighty noncommissioned officers. Other foreign military personnel with the armed forces in the 1970-73 period included a few Soviet aircrewmen who operated a helicopter presented to President Ahidjo by the Soviet Union. A small number of foreign military officers reportedly were working with Cameroonian military personnel assigned to civic affairs projects. The majority of the armed forces had become fully accustomed to French military practices and to the use of the French language in their military activities. About one-fifth, however, were from former West Cameroon, where the language used in most schools was English. Some concessions were made for them, such as setting up certain training courses in English. Officers were required to have, or to acquire, a working knowledge of French.

During the early 1970s young men were registered at eighteen years of age for possible military service, but a backlog of volunteers made it unnecessary to draft men. Enlistments were for seven years, and only unmarried men between eighteen and twenty-two years of age were selected. Veterans who were not kept in active service after their first tour of duty were placed on reserve status and were on call for twenty years.

Pay and allowances were relatively attractive in comparison with the remuneration available in most other occupations in Cameroon and were probably the major factor leading to an excess of volunteers. A modified pay system adopted in 1969 included new provisions for technical proficiency pay for certain skills and increased pay for flight personnel, paratroopers, and personnel assigned to special temporary assignments such as duty at civil or military courts.

Since the late 1960s the average recruit was better qualified than those of earlier years. For example, many men on active duty during the first years of independence were unable to read and write, but in 1970 more than 60 percent of the armed forces personnel were literate. The percentage was probably higher in 1973, as all recruits accepted after 1970 were required to be literate in French the language usually used in command or in English, which was used in the schools in former West Cameroon.

In order to encourage loyalty to the republic while negating ethnic or regional affiliations, government leaders had established a policy of assigning recruits from various ethnic backgrounds to each military unit. This rule was carefully enforced, even in organizations of fewer than thirty men. To discourage the development of new regional or ethnic affiliations, units were shifted from one part of the country to another.

A decree announced in October 1972, to become effective on July 1, 1973, required that personnel to be hired in several departments of the government must have completed two years of military service before being assigned to other work. Initially the law was to affect only persons applying for positions in the gendarmerie; the fire brigade; customs; and the Ministry of Water, Forests, and Game. Government employees hired after completing this program would be required to stay in the military reserve forces, subject to re-call to active duty if needed. Later, the military service requirement was to be extended to new employees in all other government departments. The new law provided the authority to call all young men to military service at the age of eighteen if the government should decide to do so.

This new program had implications reaching far beyond the military services. Together with a planned reduction in government scholarships for university students, it reflected a change in President Ahidjo's handling of elite groups. The new law required some of Cameroon's most educated and privileged citizens to serve for two years at nominal pay before moving into the prestige and security of an appointment to a government position. It also provided an opportunity to indoctrinate future public servants with the primacy of national interests. The two-year period in a new environment was expected to help dissipate ethnic or regional loyalties and prejudices before the future employee acceded to a position where he would be expected to support broad national policies.

The new program also was expected to bring major changes in the nature of the military structure, including increased military capability at moderate cost. During and after their two-year tours of active duty, most of the reservists would be men of low rank and modest pay. With this trained reserve available, the government hoped to avoid increases in the active duty forces and the accompanying expenses. Training of the first increment of 1,000 men began during the summer of 1973. The program would have the effect of increasing the size of the active duty forces, as these trainees would be available for immediate action after a short period of training. As the system developed, new increments of trainees could be inducted before the earlier groups had completed their two-year tours of duty if the increase in costs were acceptable to government planners.

Also available for mobilization from civilian life were about 1,500 veterans and about 7,000 other reservists who had been through basic military training. Some reservists had also had several months or more of duty after completing their basic courses. Most of them could prob- ably be assembled quickly, but no official estimate of the required mobilization time was available. The training programs for increasing numbers of recruits could provide an expanded mission for experienced officers and noncommissioned officers, who otherwise might be partially idle. Although this eventuality would have a beneficial effect on morale, other long-term effects could be less positive. Junior officers in the regular forces would also see few personal advantages in the reserve-training program. Some of them had reportedly been unhappy since 1970 because there had been too few opportunities for promotion.

Since the expanded reserve forces program apparently had initiated a fundamental change in the government's military programs, its full impact on the members of the regular forces was not expected to be apparent for several years. Meanwhile, changes in morale during the early 1970s were probably no more serious than cyclical changes affecting most armed services from time to time, and there was little evidence that it was a serious problem.





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