As West African nations prepare for a May 14 regional security summit, activists in Cameroon have launched a campaign to remind citizens of the ongoing Boko Haram threat in the country’s remote border areas.
A giant red banner proclaiming, “Let’s not forget” goes up in a Yaoundé neighbourhood in the heart of the Cameroonian capital. The fine print below the headline lists 1,200 names of Boko Haram victims.
Pointing to a name, Eric Benjamin Lamere, a member of the activist group United for Cameroon, explains that the youngest victim was just four days old and the oldest was 87. “These are not the only victims in Cameroon, but we managed to gather enough information on those ones so that they could be identified accurately," he explains.
Accurate statistics of Boko Haram victims across the Lake Chad basin do not exist – a reflection of the remote regions the jihadist group target as well as the weaknesses of the West African governments struggling to cope with the crisis.
But the humanitarian toll has been huge. The Washington DC-based Council on Foreign Relations estimates around 28,000 people have been killed in Nigeria alone since 2011, while 2.8 million have been displaced in the Lake Chad region, which includes Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria.
‘We're there – finishing the war’
In Yaoundé, far from Cameroon’s northern border, the Boko Haram threat seems remote – and that’s why the activists at United for Cameroon are on a national awareness mission.
At a military hospital in Yaoundé though, the conflict feels all too real.
A group of special forces officers are visiting Cameroonian soldiers wounded on the frontline. Around 700 soldiers are being treated at the hospital, many of them amputees injured by landmines planted by Boko Haram militants.
"Our hearts are with you. Even if you don't see us, we're there – finishing the war,” a senior Cameroonian military officer tells a wounded soldier lying on a hospital bed.
Too early to proclaim victory
On May 14, the four Lake Chad basin states and their international partners are meeting in the Nigerian capital of Abuja for a regional security summit. The meeting is an opportunity for the affected states – as well as international partners such as France, the US, UK and the EU – to address vital policy issues including the humanitarian situation.
Cooperation between the affected countries in recent years has seen some success in the military counter-insurgency targeting Boko Haram. The number of attacks have decreased with the jihadist group going after smaller, softer targets with reduced success, according to a recent report by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG).
In December 2015, for instance, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari declared that “technically” Nigeria had “won the war” against Boko Haram.
But the ICG has warned that although “the military response to Boko Haram has become more cogent, the Lake Chad states should not too quickly proclaim 'mission accomplished'."
The report, titled, “Boko Haram on the Back Foot?” noted that even if the militant group was forced to “abandon all territorial pretensions in Nigeria’s northeast and the Lake Chad area, or are forced to abandon their guerrilla war, some Boko Haram militants at least are likely to seek to continue their insurgency in some form, probably through terror attacks.”
Joseph Vincent Ntuda Ebode, head of the Centre for Political and Strategical Studies in Yaoundé (Centre De Recherche Des Études Politiques Et Stratégique de Yaoundé), agrees with the assesment. "This is a nonconventional war and even if we defeat the enemy nobody will come to sign a treaty or peace agreement. Also, you know that this war against Boko Haram has another ugly face: the terrorist attacks. And nobody knows for certain if they'll ever stop."
Boko Haram is not the only jihadist group threatening the region.
The January 15 Ouagadougou attack in Burkina Faso – which killed 30 people – and the deadly March 13 shooting in the Ivorian resort town of Grand-Bassam have heightened security concerns across West Africa.
The two attacks were claimed by al Mourabitoun, a militant group allied to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Coming in the wake of the November 2015 attack on the Radisson Blu in Bamako, Mali, the recent terrorist surge has underscored the rise in Islamist violence across West Africa.
Experts warn that regional capitals are particularly vulnerable to terror attacks by jihadist groups targeting poorly secured “soft targets”. The solution, the ICG maintains, would be for authorities to “move beyond military cooperation and design a more holistic local and regional response, lest Boko Haram or similar groups remain a long- term threat.”
Date created : 2016-05-05