The authorities in Yaoundé, the Cameroonian capital, have set up tighter border controls in the Far North region to guard against infiltration by jihadist Boko Haram fighters from neighbouring Nigeria as civilians flee insurgent attacks and a Nigerian military offensive, seeking safety across the border in Cameroon. A rapid response military unit has also been deployed and beefed up in the northern regions and some tourist hotels now have armed guards.
“We have revised our security strategy. We have registered all expatriates and established police posts in areas where they work. There are security control posts along the border to reduce illegal entry,” said Bob-Iga Emmanuel, the head of police division at the governor’s office in the Far North region.
However, the authorities admit that it is impossible to completely secure Cameroon’s longest border. There are also similar ethnic communities in Cameroon’s Far North and northeastern Nigeria who have family on either side of the border, speak the same language and share common culture, making undetected cross-border movement easy.
“Our main challenge is safeguarding our borders so that we don’t import the Boko Haram problem,” said Albert Sidi, who is in charge of economic, social and cultural affairs at the Far North governor’s office.
Insecurity has stifled the movement of people and trade between Cameroon’s Far North region and northeastern Nigeria – Boko Haram’s stronghold. Northern Cameroon traders have been forced to seek markets in neighbouring Chad or other regions of the country.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has urged Cameroon to help in combating Boko Haram militants, who have been driven out of the main cities in northeastern Nigeria. The two countries have since agreed to conduct separate but coordinated border patrols. Some observers believe that the Islamist militants take detours through Cameroonian territory to move from one Nigerian state to another.
Emmanuel said there had been a rise in arms trafficking from Chad into northern Nigeria and “many people have been arrested with guns”, but did not provide any figures.
The abduction of French nationals in Cameroon in 2013 underscored the widening threat of gunmen linked to the Boko Haram jihadist group in Nigeria, prompting Cameroon to ramp up security. The kidnapping of a French priest in November 2013 is thought to have benefited from collusion by some local individuals. “Border security controls cannot be one hundred percent effective, but it can reduce illegal entry,” Emmanuel said.
However, Cameroon is not part of the Multinational Joint Task Force of troops from Chad, Nigeria and Niger. The task force’s mandate has been revised to include counter-terrorism since Boko Haram actions escalated from sectarian violence to Al-Qaeda-inspired jihad.
Local officials say the slow-down in trade means imported items now cost more and the prices of local products have fallen, as Nigerian bulk buyers are no longer coming to Cameroonian markets.
But the authorities hope that lower food prices will benefit the local population and ensure adequate food stocks for many in the Far North, one of Cameroon’s most deprived regions. Earlier in 2013 the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO estimated that 38,900 people were severely food insecure and 173,000 others were moderately food insecure.
Northern Cameroon traders usually export livestock, rice, groundnuts and soya to Nigeria, and import vehicle spare parts and other industrial products, construction materials, and cosmetic and pharmaceutical products from northeastern Nigeria.
Local petrol stations are also seeing benefits from the restricted movement as prices of contraband fuel, imported from Nigeria and known as “zua-zua”, have gone up, Sidi noted. “The supply of the contraband fuel is not as before and the prices have risen to nearly that of the official petrol station prices, so people would rather buy fuel at the pump stations,” he said. The insecurity caused by Boko Haram is also discouraging the use of illegal border crossings.
The crackdown on Boko Haram has seen the Nigerian military accused of rights abuses by rights groups. A shoot-out near the border that killed 15 people is part of Cameroon’s attempts to send back Nigerians suspected of being Boko Haram members.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions