Posted on: 25th September 2015
On 20 September, two female suicide bombers killed five people, including themselves, near the entrance to Moran town in the Far North region of Cameroon. This was the latest in an escalating number of attacks attributed to Boko Haram in the country, where a new report finds the group employing many of the same tactics as it has in Nigeria. "Cameroon: Human Rights Under Fire: Attacks and Violations in Cameroon's Struggle with Boko Haram," released by Amnesty International on 15 September 2015, details the Nigeria-based Islamist insurgency's infiltration of Cameroon, which dates back at least to 2009. The report also discusses the tactics of the Cameroonian security services, warning that human rights abuses committed by Cameroonian authorities risks undermining the fight against Boko Haram, and recommending that the Cameroonian authorities learn from the consequences of similar heavy-handed tactics employed in Nigeria.
Boko Haram preachers eroded youths' acceptance of traditional culture.
Boko Haram's presence in Cameroon dates to 2009 when insurgents sheltered from Nigerian security forces in the mountainous border region between Nigeria and Cameroon. Around this time preachers sympathetic to Boko Haram's ideology appeared on the outskirts of Cameroonian towns in the Far North region. Targeting youths, these travelling preachers introduced a strict Islamist ideology, undermining generational and societal cohesion. According to the report, when Boko Haram fighters followed, many young men, having rejected traditional local Islamic culture, were willing to accept money and weapons to attack their own villages. There are now an estimated three and four thousand Cameroonian Boko Haram members. This recruitment was facilitated by poverty rates over 50 per cent, literacy below 24 per cent, and almost non-existent industry in the region.
The close ethnic, cultural, and economic ties between northeast Nigeria and the Far North of Cameroon also facilitated the infiltration of Boko Haram. The subsequent economic stagnation and destruction of infrastructure and resources because of insecurity further exacerbated the humanitarian crisis, paradoxically pushing more recruits to the group. The conflict in Cameroon is therefore both imported and homegrown. Given these dynamics, Amnesty International labels the violence in Cameroon as a "non-international armed conflict," caused predominantly by spillover from Nigeria.
The report looks at the parallel development of Boko Haram activities in Cameroon and Nigeria. It alludes to the expansion of the group's attacks in Nigeria from October 2014 until February 2015 when regional countries intervened militarily under the auspices of a reinvigorated Multi-National Joint Task Force. As attacks escalated in Nigeria, there was a similar escalation in Cameroon. From the beginning of 2014, the violence has caused more than 81,000 people to flee their homes. However, whereas in Nigeria Boko Haram was able to seize territory and deny the Nigerian government control of large areas of the northeast, the rapid deployment of troops to Cameroon's Far North region prevented the group from seizing territory.
According to the report, Boko Haram's campaign in Cameroon consists of systematic aggression against civilians. Whereas in Nigeria much of Boko Haram's violence focuses on the security services, the violence in Cameroon appears to be focused on civilians with the specific intent of instilling terror in communities. There is also a growing trend in the use women and children to carry out bombings. The same trend is growing in Nigeria.
Boko Haram in Cameroon focuses on instilling terror in communities.
Amnesty International also investigates the lack of capacity of the Cameroonian security services to combat Boko Haram and several instances of human rights abuses reminiscent of those committed in Nigeria that have so tarnished the reputation of the military and hindered the campaign against the insurgency. The Cameroonian security services rapidly deployed to the Far North in 2014 in response to increased Boko Haram activity in the region. However, a common tactic is mass 'cordon-and-search' operations aimed at detaining men between 18 and 42 until they could be identified and cleared. Many of these detainees simply disappear, while others die of injuries, neglect, or illness. There have also been several attacks on Quranic schools, which security services believe are being used for Boko Haram recruitment. At one school, 47 students under the age of 10 were detained for six months without charge.
The report found repeated instances of soldiers extorting bribes from families to release detained family members, or even to check registries to find their locations. Bribes were also made to avoid detention in the first place. This is a similar tactic as used in Nigeria where it has a detrimental effect on security-community relations.
The report concludes with a recommendation to the Cameroonian security services to learn from the campaign against the Boko Haram in Nigeria, where human rights abuses, heavy-handed security responses, and communal punishments have turned communities against the state, driven recruits to Boko Haram, and hindered the fight against the insurgency. The current situation in Cameroon resembles the early days of Boko Haram's campaign in Nigeria; the report cautions against allowing these similarities to continue.