A defence expert has bemoaned the quality of equipment of the Cameroonian Defence Forces saying that could hinder its contribution to African peacekeeping operations. Victorin Hameni Bieleu notes that the Cameroonian Defence Ministry budget for 2014 is 200bn FCAF (about US$ 400 million), which covers staff and infrastructure.
He adds that the staff are sufficiently trained and undergo training courses regularly abroad but they are unable to put what they learn there into practice because of a lack of equipment or because the equipment is obsolate.
He said the main expenses from the budget were on the environment and prospective of defence, training and recruitment of staff, mainly for the army, air force and navy, support to the defence policy, equipment as well as technology to develop research, nuclear energy and spatial observation.
But Hameni Bieleu, who is chairman of the Union of Cameronian Democratic Forces and former instructor at the Yaounde Military School (EMIA), noted that this budget was not sufficient, as 93 per cent was allocated to the running of the armed forces, to pay for the wages and consumption expenses, while only 7 per cent was for equipment and infrastructure.
The duties of the Cameroonian armed forces to secure the air, maritime and land spaces include public service regarding rescue operations to save human lives at sea, border and environment protection, fight against poaching as well as navigation security.
General policing and sovereignty duties have also been assigned to the Defence Forces, like maritime surveillance, control and struggle against illicit trafficking and maintenance of peace and order.
Quoting from a study published in 2010 by Leonard Messe, PANA notes that the Cameroonian Defence Forces has 30 helicopters “Gazelle” and “Puma” and 20 combat “Alpha” and “Foucade” aircraft and radars.
'The Cameroonian air logistics do not match those of Nigeria (90 combat aircraft) or that of Algeria (120 combat aircraft) or Angola (100 combat aircraft). Cameroon does not also form part of the five African countries (South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria, Libya and Tunisia) that possess medium range satellites,' notes the study.
According to the study, the Cameroonian army has 200 tanks and a force of 20,000 men. It thus forms part of the top 15 armies in Africa.
The Cameroonian navy has two submarines, 50 rapid patrol boats, two warships and 2,000 men.
Regarding operational capacity, a study published by Ernest Claude Messigna in 2009 says that compared to world military powers, Cameroon is more than a dwarf, but compared to African military powers, the country stands at a medium level at the 12th place on the ranking of African national armies.
It says armies in countries like Djibouti, Benin and Burkina Faso have got less than 5,000 men with an annual internal defence budget of 50bn FCFA or US$ 100 million.
Meanwhile, the armies of Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, Ghana, Togo, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Gabon, Chad and Equatorial Guinea have less that 20,000 men and a defence budget of not more than US$200 million.
Armies in countries like Algeria, South Africa, Tunisia, Angola and Egypt have more than 80,000 men and an annual defence budget of US$5.5bn for Algeria and South Africa, US$3- 4bn for Tunisia, Egypt and Angola and US$1-2bn for Nigeria and Morocco.
The personnel of the Cameroonian Defence Forces is estimated at 37,000 men, out of which 10,000 work for the national police force. This is insufficient as compared to other African countries mentioned above, estimates Hameni.
According to Hameni Bieleu, the Cameroonian Defence Forces would only be efficient at international level if they are helped by the other countries as they do not have the means to transport their equipment to the countries where they should operate.
Military cooperation agreements signed with China, Russia, the United States and France for the supply of new equipment and an increase of 50 per cent in the staff of the different branches of the Cameroonian Defence Forces would benefit the country but they are too slow to implement, concludes Hameni Bieleu.
By Elizabeth Benkam, PANA Correspondent