Superintendent Rebecca Nnanga of Cameroon is one of two runners-up for the UN Woman Police Officer of the Year Award 2020. She was recognized for helping increase the number of women police officers in the Central African Republic. She spoke to Africa Renewal’s Franck Kuwonu about the achievement, her experience with community policing and helping survivors of gender-based violence:
How do you feel about being the runners-up of this prize?
I am very proud to have competed and to have been recognized for my personal ability, intrinsic values and actions. It is in honor of all women.
You were awarded for increasing the participation of women in the Central African Republic’s police force. How did you do it?
We realized that the number of women in the police and other institutions was very low. In 2017, only 23% of the force was female. So, we wanted to improve on the situation. We started at the entry exam levels, we did not just take into account the gender of the candidate, but also merit and regional representation. We then compared the scores and identified those females that were skilled enough but low on score and offered to train them further.
So there was no affirmative policy, meaning you didn't set a quota to begin with ?
Absolutely! There was no favouritism, we took the deserving ones. That's how we were able to increase the rate of females in the police. There is a bit of antipathy towards women joining the policing profession. Many thought policing was for men only. Yet, I would say the opposite is true. I did a course on women's Policing at the International School for Security Forces in Yaoundé, Cameroon. I was one of the first female officers to be trained in policing and that’s why I want to make others understand that women shouldn't be confined to household chores. They are capable of doing many other things.
You have also been recognized for your contribution to community policing. How is it different from the regular policing?
Community policing is about bringing the police officers, or the gendarme, closer to populations that need their support in securing people and property. It is essential to establish relations with the population and contribute to the security of vulnerable people. In this partnership, responding to urgent needs means identifying everything that falls within the framework of health and social security. The police officers must be quick to not only act but also be proactive. This means anticipating the commission of offenses and crimes, which is part of the prevention of security needs.
Your experience of community policing in the Central African Republic is not the first, right?
I was introduced to community policing in Haiti where I worked with the Canadian contingent there. I just extended the network from the capital city Port au Prince to the other provinces that had already benefited from this experience.
I was called to MINUSCA [the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic] on 23 March 2015 and the head of the police component, who had confidence and trusted my work in Haiti, said that I should be given the task of community policing because of my experience.
At some point, you were also involved in helping survivors of sexual violence?
I provided support to survivors of sexual violence, more during my first mission in Haiti before the community police. I was dealing with rape survivors age between 4 years to 40 years old. I brought help even to the elderly women, but most of my work was with small girls and boys who were victims of rape. They would come to the police station and we would take them to the hospital for medical care and then follow-up with the courts. Most of the time, we were successful in getting the rapists and aggressors to jail.
In your opinion, which of your achievements is the most deserving of this award?
I am proud of all my achievements in the field of peacekeeping operations. But the most deserving is the women police officers’ recruitment operation from 2019 to 2020 because it was littered with many challenges at the organizational and operational levels.
It was necessary to organize the legal framework that made it possible to follow all the principles of the recruitment process. Then there was a challenge of time. A competition should be organized in a minimum of nine months from the elaboration of the legal framework to the end of the process which is the integration of the schools. There are the different stages - of submitting the files, written and sports tests, medical visits, morality surveys, the deliberations of admissibility and then the final results. All this took me only four and a half months instead of the usual nine months.
You achieved all this even in a difficult environment of a peacekeeping mission?
Yes. And I am glad the UN has recognized the value of our work. Today, I am proud to see children in Bangui who tell me that they want to be like me.
Does being a woman make it easy to work with the people where you are working?
Indeed, people are more reassured when police women and have confidence in them. Apart from the professional aspect, a woman is naturally nurturing. She knows how to listen, understand, and knows how to approach and respond to solicitations from the populations.
What does the future hold for you?
We always say as long as there is life, there is hope. I will continue to work if I am called upon to serve in peacekeeping operations, and I will do so with all my heart. If I am not, there will be other avenues open for me. I am looking at the future positively.