Thousands Desert Borno In Fear Of Boko Haram
The roads are deserted, nobody wants to be a victim anymore.
Instead of the sound of vendors advertising their wares and children playing in the street, the echo of mortar fire can be heard.
Around the borders of Borno State, Boko Haram launched regular cross-border raids earlier this year, killing hundreds of Cameroonians, most of the town’s residents have fled south.
Am’chide has become a military base to protect the area from insurgents. Soldiers patrol the streets in armoured vehicles and lie in trenches. Only a few elderly residents have remained.
Am’chide has turned into a ghost town.
“Almost everyone has gone,” says 82-year-old Ahmadou Musa, who is sitting in the shade of a large tree. “I’m an old man. I don’t see the need to go anywhere.”
But like others, Musa has ensured his family’s safety by sending his two wives and five children further south to Maroua, the regional capital, which has been safe from attacks so far.
Residents of northern Cameroon, which used to be a point of stability in conflict-ridden Central and West Africa, live in fear.
In May, President Paul Biya declared war on Boko Haram, whose name loosely translated means “Western education is sinful.”
Biya deployed about 2,000 troops and special units to the Far North to stop Boko Haram from crossing the border after he realized the terrorist group was trying to create a base for its fighters and weapons in Cameroon.
Key border points are now protected by tanks as well as a battalion of special troops.
But Cameroonians know their army struggles to secure the nation’s extremely long and porous border with Nigeria. It runs over 2,000 kilometres from Lake Chad, along Nigeria’s Borno and Adamawa States – two of the regions worst hit by Boko Haram – all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.
Because the north is highly populated – almost 6 million of the nation’s 21 million people live here – it remains difficult to monitor movement, despite the presence of the extra troops.
Out of fear, traders who used to buy and sell wares across the country-triangle of Cameroon, Nigeria and Chad have been staying away. Tourists, important for the region, heed travel warnings. Waza National Park, known for its elephant safaris, is deserted. Aid and infrastructure projects have been put on hold.
Already, Cameroon’s Far North has the highest rate of food insecurity in the country, with 54 per cent of households facing shortages, according to the World Food Progamme. The situation is expected to worsen due to the threat of Boko Haram.
But it is perhaps the children of the Far North who are worst affected.
Schools in the border region have been closed for months due to the ongoing attacks, leaving tens of thousands of children without formal education.
“We shut down because of the prevailing security situation. Rockets are being fired so frequently in town that we are fearful they could kill our students,” says a senior education official in the town of Fotokol.
Fotokol, located about 15 kilometres north of Am’chide, is separated from Nigeria by only a small river, which has dried up since the start of the dry season in October, placing the town at even higher risk of attacks.
“Boko Haram insurgents will be able to come across the border almost from anywhere, without having to use any bridge. It could become potentially difficult for the military to handle,” a military source told dpa on condition of anonymity.
Experts are concerned out-of-school children will become a target for Boko Haram, which is reported to have recruited young Cameroonians into their ranks.
“When the education of the youths is compromised, as is currently the case in the Far North Region, I am afraid these children might in the near future constitute a real danger for society,” says Souaibou Issa, a history professor at the University of Ngaoundere, the capital of Adamawa region in northern Cameroon.