Since the beginning of 2020, and specifically during the last three months, northern Cameroon has been witnessing a clear escalation in terrorist attacks carried out by Boko Haram’s militants. In many cases, these include horrific acts that have aroused panic within the Cameroonian society, such as torching homes, looting property, kidnapping some civilians and taking them hostages, in addition to laying mines. This reflects the great danger that the group has come to pose to the border areas in the Lake Chad region despite the efforts made by the military forces and the security services to fight that group in the countries that the group plans to target.

Background

Northeast Nigeria has been the main stronghold of Boko Haram since its inception in 2002. The group focused on rejecting "Western" education and began military action in 2009 in order to overthrow the government and establish what it calls an "Islamic caliphate" in that region. With the passage of time, the group expanded its activities to include the countries overlooking Lake Chad, namely Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin, which contributed to strengthening the context of chaos, which is supported by other terrorist organisations such as the Islamic State (IS, Daesh) and al-Qaeda.

While the Boko Haram group has been subjected to blows by the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) that comprises ten thousand soldiers from the aforementioned countries, which was formed in 2015 to fight the group, in addition to the defections it faced from within,[1] especially after its members pledged allegiance to the state of "West Africa Province" ​​affiliated with the Islamic State, known in the media as "IS" (Daesh), the group continues to pose a serious security threat in the Lake Chad region, including Cameroon.[2]

Rise of Boko Haram’s attacks

There have been numerous indications of an increase in terrorist operations carried out by Boko Haram in northern Cameroon during 2020, the most prominent of which are the following:

  • A suicide bombing was carried out in the Far North Region of Cameroon, near the border with Nigeria, on 4 September 2020, killing 7 civilians and wounding 14 others.[3]
  • An attack was launched on the village of Nguétchéwé, on the border with Nigeria, on 3 August 2020, killing 18 civilians and wounding 11 others.[4]
  • Two members of the group carried out two suicide attacks in the Amchide region in the Far North Region of Cameroon, killing 7 civilians and wounding 5 others.[5]
  • The launch of terrorist attacks on the towns of Heeter, Uzal, Koufa and Mandoussa, located in the northernmost provinces of Cameroon, on 16 February 2020.[6] These attacks caused material losses that affected vital facilities inside those towns.
  • The attack on a village in northern Cameroon, on 4 February 2020, resulting in the torching of several homes, while two civilians were killed.[7]

This increasing activity is an extension of terrorist attacks carried out by the group in the past five years.[8] In this context, the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) issued by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) in 2019 indicated that Cameroon ranked fifteenth in the world as the country most affected by the threat of terrorism, up one place from the previous year.[9]

Motivational contexts

  • Cameroon’s concerned neighbourhood: Cameroon is a direct neighbour to Nigeria’s northeastern regions, which are a stronghold of the Boko Haram. The group exploits the border areas bordering Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad and Niger in order to carry out terrorist attacks against those countries, especially in light of the decline of the regular forces' control over those areas and the group’s advanced armament level. Boko Haram seeks revenge for the killing of its cadres and operatives at the hands of the Cameroonian army, and its attacks result in civilian and military casualties.[10]
  • Worsening relationship between the regime and the opposition, characterising the years of Paul Biya’s rule in Cameroon since 1982, the domination of the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement and the lack of a strong unified opposition movement capable of overthrowing President Biya in the electoral competition, similar to what has been witnessed in many neighbouring countries to Cameroon. This has been exploited by Boko Haram, especially in the absence of any real prospect for settlements of a political nature, which facilitates the execution of the group's operations in light of the internal preoccupation with the dilemma of political stability.
  • Embarrassing the internal conditions: the group carried out an attack in early February 2020 with the aim of provoking the Cameroonian street, ahead of the legislative and municipal elections that were held on 9 February 2020. Those attacks come in light of the weakness of the security capabilities of the army or the police in northern Cameroon, with the decline in financial and logistical support provided to the forces stationed in those areas, which motivates the group to carry out blitz attacks from time to time in northern Cameroon.[11]
  • The rise of the economics of armed conflict: the Boko Haram group has built a huge network of relations and dealings with criminal gangs on the loose borders of the countries of the region, especially villages that need humanitarian aid from international organisations, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), whose assistance is to provide rationed foodstuffs, such as rice and meat, in a manner that facilitates the group’s execution of armed robbery operations, enabling it to increase financing for its operations and enhance its chances of survival in the terrorist arena,[12] in addition to other financing channels, such as taxing residents in areas under its control, ransoming of hostages, and others.
  • Striving to lead the scene of terrorist organisations in sub-Saharan Africa: one of the main drivers of the attacks carried out by Boko Haram is its efforts to spread its hard-line ideology by force of arms in an attempt to secure supremacy over the terrorist organisations active in West Africa in general, and in northern Cameroon in particular.[13]

Implications for security and stability in the Lake Chad region

  • Continuing to target regular armies, as they are the ones primarily concerned with fighting this terrorist group. That is why, in late July 2020, the Cameroonian army killed five members of the Boko Haram group near the border with Nigeria, after a violent clash, and retrieved assault rifles, ammunition and logistical equipment.[14] The situation was not limited to the Cameroonian army, but extended to the rest of the armies of the countries of the region. In March 2020, Boko Haram launched an offensive against the Chadian army, killing nearly 98 Chadian soldiers inside their military base. The army responded by launching an operation called “Boma's Wrath” that began on 31 March 2020, and was declared over on 8 April 2020. According to the army, a thousand jihadists were killed while 52 soldiers were lost during the operation, which was carried out in retaliation for the Chadian army.[15] Ten Chadian soldiers were also killed in an attack targeting a Boko Haram base on 17 September 2020, despite the destruction of the base and the restoration of weapons and ammunition therein.[16]
  • The targeting of refugee headquarters: Boko Haram continues its attacks on the camps that house tens of thousands of Nigerian refugees who have been displaced by armed violence in northeastern Nigeria, near the border with Cameroon, in addition to killing and kidnapping civilians at the Lake Chad Basin. While the Nigerian military has regained control of parts of the country’s northeast, civilians in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger continue to be affected by serious human rights violations, sexual violence, forced recruitment and suicide bombings carried out by the group. In a statement issued by his spokesperson, the United Nations Secretary-General (UNSG) António Guterres called for "those responsible for these atrocities . . . [to] be held accountable . . . [, for i]nternational human rights law and international humanitarian law . . . [to] be fully respected and [for] all civilians in Cameroon and Chad . . . [to] be protected". The statement indicated that the United Nations (UN) remains steadfast in its support to the countries of the Lake Chad Basin in their effort to overcome the scourge of terrorism, and address the security, political, humanitarian and socio-economic challenges in the region.[17]
  • Obstructing the movement of commercial supplies between some Lake Chad countries. Boko Haram’s influence has not been limited to the security dimensions. Rather, it extends to the economic dimensions. In this context, it should be noted that the group focuses on Amchide as a strategic crossing point for trade exchanges between Cameroon and Nigeria, thus constituting one of the most prominent centres of conflict between the Cameroonian army and Boko Haram fighters.[18] The group seeks to carry out armed robberies of some trucks carrying commodities and goods, thus contributing to securing financial resources for the group, in addition to the resources previously mentioned.

Conclusion

According to current indications, the Boko Haram terrorist group is likely to continue to escalate its operations and attacks aimed at causing chaos in the Lake Chad region, including northern Cameroon, exploiting the preoccupation of African governments in dealing with the second wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic,[19] the escalating internal tensions between the regimes and opposition powers, and the effects of the stressful economic conditions, to launch more attacks.[20] The group is also expected to continue diversifying its terrorist operations in order to terrorise citizens by targeting the army, police and civilians in the countries of the region and attracting new fighters from the refugee camps, voluntarily or by force. It will also continue its efforts to take revenge on the army forces in particular because they are concerned with confronting the group’s activities and weakening its capabilities. The threat continues to exist, especially in light of mutual escalation.[21]

References

[1] Exploiting Disorder: al Qaeda and the Islamic state, International Crisis Group, Special Report No. 1, March 2016. https://www.crisisgroup.org/global/exploiting-disorder-al-qaeda-and-islamic-state

[2] See: Ntuda Ebode Joseph Vincent, Mark Bolak Funteh, Mbarakoutou Mahamat Henri, Nkalwo Ngoula Joseph Léa, “The Boko Haram Conflict in Cameroon: Why is peace so elusive?”, New Approaches to Collective Security, Fredrich Ebert Stiftung, 2017. https://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/fes-pscc/14200.pdf

[3] “Cameroon: 7 civilians killed in a suicide bombing”, skynewsarabia, 4 September 2020. Available at: https://www.skynewsarabia.com/world/1373578

[4] “18 civilians killed in a Boko Haram attack in northern Cameroon”, alroeya, 3 August 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/2GgAG7y

[5] “Seven civilians killed by suicide bombers from Boko Haram in Cameroon”, mc-doualiya, 6 April 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/2EANO7j

[6] “Terrorist Boko Haram carries out a new series of attacks in Cameroon”, Saudi Press Agency (SPA), 17 February 2020. Available at: https://www.spa.gov.sa/viewstory.php?lang=ar&newsid=2035563

[7] See within this framework:

“Two killed, 20 homes torched in Cameroon Boko Haram”, The Daily Star, 4 February 2020.

http://dailystar.com.lb/News/World/2020/Feb-04/500536-two-killed-20-homes-torched-in-cameroon-boko-haram-attack.ashx

[8] See within this framework: “Headless corpses killed by Boko Haram in Cameroon”, alarabiya.net, 9 December 2019. Available at: https://bit.ly/36h8CMi

“Victims in two attacks by terrorist Boko Haram in Cameroon and Chad”, skynewsarabia, 23 February 2018. Available at: https://www.skynewsarabia.com/world/1024319

“Two people killed in a suicide attack in Cameroon”, Asharq Al-Awsat, 25 December 2016. Available at: https://bit.ly/3kN1ifF

“4 killed in a twin attack in northern Cameroon”, skynewsarabia, 28 January 2016. Available at: https://www.skynewsarabia.com/world/811519

[10] See in this context:

Edward B. Rackley, "Cameroon’s Far North: Responding to Boko Haram", Oxford Research Group, 31 March 2017.

https://www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk/cameroons-far-north-responding-to-boko-haram 

[11] “Legislative elections in a country that has only known Paul Biya as president”, al-ain, 9 February 2020. Available at: https://al-ain.com/article/legislative-elections-cameroon-atmosphere-tension

[12] “Niger hit by Nigeria’s Boko Haram fallout”, BBC, 22 April 2014. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-27111884

[13] “Two soldiers killed in a jihadist attack in northern Cameroon”, france24, 27 May 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/30bpqkl

[14] “Cameroonian army kills five of Boko Haram terrorist operatives”, Saudi Press Agency (SPA), 27 July 2020. Available at: https://www.spa.gov.sa/2114496  

[15] “Chad's army kills 1,000 Boko Haram militants in a week”, alarabiya.net, 20 May 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/2EBzCuF

[16] “Chad: Ten soldiers killed in a military operation against a Boko Haram base”, france24, 20 September 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/3mS0xUh

[17] “The Secretary-General strongly condemned ‘heinous attacks’ against civilians in the Lake Chad Basin”, United Nations (UN), 4 August 2020. Available at: https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/08/1069462   

[18] “Seven civilians killed by Boko Haram suicide bombers in Cameroon”, elaph, 6 April 2020. Available at: https://elaph.com/Web/News/2020/04/1287919.html

[19] “Taking advantage of the epidemic, ‘Boko Haram’ cooperates with Corona in igniting Nigeria and the borders of Cameroon”, almarjie-paris, 24 April 2020. Available at: https://www.almarjie-paris.com/14891

[20] “Lake Chad Basin Countries and the Security Threat of Boko Haram”, qiraatafrican, 8 October 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/32ONaMQ

[21] “Why did the Multinational Force fail to eliminate Boko Haram in West Africa?”, alhurra, 8 July 2020. Available at: https://arbne.ws/3iSK6og

 

Latest Briefs