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Home arrow Environment arrow Saving the Environment in Sub-Saharan Africa: Organizational Dynamics and Effectiveness of NGOs in Cameroon
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Interview Data

The majority of our data comes from interviews with leaders of 52 environmental NGOs of varied sizes and types in five of Cameroon’s ten regions (provinces).

Sampling Environmental NGOs

Identifying NGOs eligible for the study and selecting a sample proved to be complex and challenging tasks. There are numerous definitions of NGOs, even if one limits the discussion to developing countries, and many different types of organizations have been described as NGOs, including local self-help associations, officially registered local NGOs, and regional, national, and international organizations. Some NGOs lack paid employees, but even among those with paid staff, there is enormous variation in budgets and staff size (Langley, 1995; Salamon and Anheier, 1996; Vakil, 1997).

Cameroonian law regarding the kinds of organizations commonly referred to in the literature as NGOs is complex (see chapter 5). Various types of organizations with different legal statuses and names are authorized by various sections of the legal code, and some local groups operate without any formal registration. Like most Cameroonians who work in this sector, we generally refer to all of these types of organizations and groups as NGOs and pay attention to differences in formal legal status only when these differences are substantively important. To guide us in selecting organizations to study, we defined environmental NGOs as nonprofit organizations pursuing environmental goals that are formed voluntarily, are not agencies of government, and are at least somewhat formalized; that is, they have established goals, rules, and procedures and formally established leadership roles. Our definition includes both grassroots groups formed by citizens and organizations without a grassroots membership, as well as organizations with and without paid staff.

Most of the NGOs we studied can be classified without ambiguity as pursuing environmental goals, but there were also borderline cases, most frequently because of overlaps between environmental and development goals, which are also common elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa (Dierig, 1999; Salih, 1999; Thomas, 2001; Michael, 2004; Nazam, 2005; Dibie, 2007a; Fonjong, 2007a; Brockington and Scholfield, 2010b). In part, this occurs because many environmental and development NGOs have adopted the mantra of “sustainable development,” but the overlap is more than purely rhetorical. Environmental and development goals are, in fact, often intertwined. Examples include NGOs that work to ensure that ground and surface water are potable, combat the side effects of mining or appropriation of land for unsustainable industrial agriculture, halt soil erosion, or reduce illegal hunting in game reserves by providing viable economic alternatives for residents of nearby villages. In addition, we encountered NGOs where environmental goals shared the stage with women’s issues, health, and education. We included in our research only NGOs whose key goals included environmental protection, even if they sometimes also pursued other goals.

There is no definitive list of environmental NGOs in Cameroon and no information about the number of such NGOs in various parts of the country, so no sample can claim to be random or representative. Nevertheless, we did our best to ensure that our sample included a wide variety of NGOs in terms of legal status, size, resources, goals, and location within the country. The last factor is especially important because of the wide variety of biomes represented in Cameroon.

Cameroon’s government divides the country into ten regions. We lacked the resources to conduct interviews in all ten, so we focused our research on five, which we chose to represent Cameroon’s diversity in ecosystems, language and culture, and urbanization. More detail about the geography, ecosystems, and characteristic environmental problems of these regions is provided in chapter 4. We included (1) the Center Region, a fertile area of rolling hills that includes the capital city, which has a population of over two million inhabitants and is the headquarters of most international and many Cameroonian NGOs; (2) the Littoral Region, a low-lying region of coastal ecosystems, which contains Douala, Cameroon’s largest city and commercial hub; (3) the South-West Region, one of Cameroon’s two Anglophone Regions, a fertile agricultural region, with several small cities and the towering Mount Cameroon; (4) the Far-North Region, which lies at the southern margin of the Sahel and has an economy grounded in pastoralism; and (5) the East Region, Cameroon’s least densely populated region, which is characterized by dense tropical forests and an economy based on extraction of minerals, lumber, and other forest products.

We used a variety of methods to identify the NGOs we ultimately included in the research. We began several months in advance with extensive Internet research to identify NGOs working in the environmental field in the five Regions we had selected. Some of these had Internet sites of their own, but most were mentioned only on the sites of other NGOs or in various reports produced by government or international aid organizations. We also located several online lists of Cameroonian NGOs, all of them, unfortunately, dated. This process provided phone or fax numbers or email addresses for some, but not all, of the NGOs we had identified by name—although, unfortunately, there were often several different email addresses or phone numbers for the same NGO. We next engaged in more intensive Internet searches in an effort to locate contact information for the NGOs for which we had none. Some of these searches turned up no information, others resulted in consistent contact information, and others led us again to several different addresses or phone numbers.

Before going to the field, we attempted to contact all of the NGOs for which we had some contact information to obtain advance agreement for one of their leaders to sit for an interview. Some of these initial attempts were successful, but we also encountered numerous nonfunctional phone or fax numbers and email addresses. When this occurred, we resorted to alternative numbers and addresses we had found and, when necessary, to additional Internet searches, in an effort to identify a working phone number or email address. Some of these efforts were successful; however, others were not. Cameroonian environmental NGOs, particularly weaker ones, can be ephemeral, so there was generally no way to know with certainty whether NGOs for which we never obtained valid contact information still existed, although subsequent inquiries in the field suggest that most did not.

We were able to establish contact with the great majority of the NGOs for which we had found apparently valid contact information, and none of these NGOs directly refused our requests for an interview. Some, however, never answered the phone despite repeated attempts and/or did not respond to voice mail messages, faxes, or emails. In most cases, there was no way to be sure whether these NGOs were still in operation. Some of our inquiries may well have gone to persons who were no longer involved with the NGO or to email addresses where they went unread; however, some NGOs may have chosen this method to decline our requests for interviews. In a very few cases, we successfully located these organizations and obtained interviews once in the field, but we did not pursue most of them further.

This initial approach led us to over half of the NGOs where we eventually conducted interviews, but it was more successful in locating organizations in the capital city than elsewhere, and we had some concerns that it might inject a bias toward well-established and better funded NGOs into the study. We therefore undertook to expand our sample though additional efforts in the field. These included “snowball sampling,” in which we asked our first interviewees in a region to suggest other NGOs, queries with government officials and community leaders whose positions made them knowledgeable about the environmental NGO scene in their areas, and inquiries with leaders of networks or associations of environmental NGOs. We used these latter two approaches not only to fill our quotas for the number of NGOs in each Region, but also to purposefully obtain a wide variety of NGOs in terms of goals, size, and resources. Contacting these NGOs was usually not difficult, as we had generally obtained correct contact information from persons or organizations that were in contact with them. Nevertheless, a few did not respond to our calls or emails, and it is possible that they used this method to decline being interviewed. No NGO, however, directly refused to participate.

Using these procedures, we ultimately interviewed representatives of 52 NGOs. Seventeen of these were based in the Center Region. Most were in the capital and some, mainly international NGOs, operated on a national or regional scale. Eleven of the organizations were based in the Far-North, nine in the Southwest, eight in the Littoral Region (mainly in Cameroon’s largest city, Douala), and seven in the East. Five of the 52 NGOs were branches of international NGOs. In two instances, we interviewed separate branches of the same Cameroonian organization in different areas. (There are no true national environmental NGOs based in Cameroon, but a few are multiregional.) While we cannot claim that the sample we obtained is representative, we believe that our procedures did ensure a sample that well represents the diversity of the population of NGOs in terms of region, goals, size, and resources.

 
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