So as everyone by now well knows, Cameroon is located in something of an unstable region. While the country itself has remained relatively peaceful over the past 50 years, notwithstanding the constant overtly sexually charged harassment of women. The surrounding nations have been having a rough go of it recently. Boko Haram has made the headlines a number of times in 2013 for their violent attacks in Nigeria as well as their desperate abductions of expatriates here in northern Cameroon. At the same time the Central African Republic (CAR) has been gaining considerably less press until only recently.
The CAR has been wracked by violence since March when the Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize. The conflict has become increasingly sectarian in tone, with the mostly Muslim Seleka militia clashing with Christian militia known as anti-balaka. The issue seems to finally be garnering a little more international attention now with the French deploying 1,600 troopers to assist the 4,000 already deployed by the African Union. Nevertheless, tensions have remained high as 6 peacekeepers from Chad along with 40 others were killed this week according to the Red Cross. This news is on top of the nearly 1,000 people who died in two days of violence earlier this month.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has been working urgently to evacuate Chadian and Cameroonian citizens from the capital of the CAR, Bangui, this past week, while Senegal and Niger have also asked for assistance in evacuating their nationals. IOM is trying to help all that they can, but fear that the situation is deteriorating. The level of fighting is only expected to intensify in the coming days, said one spokesmen.
Meanwhile, back on Cameroon’s longest border, Boko Haram continues to pursue civilian and military targets alike. Cameroon recently revised their security strategy yet again in a futile attempt to tighten up border controls and guard against infiltration by Boko Haram. But, with literally thousands of refugees crisscrossing the border daily it is a delicate task. At last count authorities had registered 8,200 Nigerian refuges in Cameroon and UNHCR had succeeded in verifying 5,000 of them. Most, however, are avoiding registration as they don’t want to move far from their homes (the closest camp in Minawao is 100km from the border), they want to spend the night in Cameroon and the following day cross the border to go work their farms in Nigeria.
The Nigerian military offensive has succeeded in driving the insurgents from most urban areas in the northeast, and the Islamist fighters are believed to have retreated to Nigeria’s Gwoza hills on the border with Cameroon, but violence by the radical militia has not abated. For this reason the two countries have since agreed to conduct separate but coordinated security controls and border patrols. These security barriers however create a trade off in an already fragile region. Local officials say a slow-down in trade has cause imported items to cost more and the prices of locally produced products have fallen, as Nigerian bulk buyers are no longer coming to Cameroonian markets. The informal transportation sector is also feeling the affects from the restricted movement as prices of contraband fuel, imported from Nigeria and known as “zua-zua”, have gone up.
The Far North is well known to be one of Cameroon’s most deprived regions. Earlier in 2013 the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that 38,900 people were severely food insecure and 173,000 others were moderately food insecure. One can only hope that these prophylactic measures of securing the boarder do not increase the numbers of those vulnerable in the coming months.