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Reportage – Boko Haram recruits young people from Cameroon

Boko Haram militiamen promise safety and, above all, money. Young people join the Boko Haram cause either voluntarily or by force. Now a regional military force is trying to stop the Islamist militant group.

Youssouf is 21, he cautiously looks around and speaks softly: “A few days ago, Boko Haram militiamen came to our village, which is ten kilometers from Bourrah, and they told us to stop wasting our lives here and join them in the holy battle to save our faith and the lives of our families. They also said that Boko Haram is young people’s only future”. Youssouf takes a stick and begins to write some figures on the ground. He adds: “Boko Haram militiamen also told us that we would get paid from $ 600 to $ 800 a month if we joined them. It is a lot of money to us, if you consider that we cannot even make $70 a month from our work”. The young man looks up and then begins speaking again: “I was scared and I declined their offer, but many of my friends accepted”.

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Many young people think that joining Boko Haram is the only chance to help their families and spare their village from gunmen raids. Ben Oyon, a teacher in a small Koranic school of the village, understands their fears. “It is not just a question of money, but of survival. These young people think that if they join Boko Haram, its militiamen will spare the life of their loved ones and will not destroy their villages. They have no choice: they either join Boko Haram or get killed along with their families”.
Boko Haram militiamen’s dynamics are notorious. When they arrive in a village, they plunder and raze houses. They set everything on fire. Beyala, who managed to escape a militant attack only a few days ago, recalls, “Heavily armed militiamen drove up in the early morning and started shooting, and destroying everything. Then they started to execute people, if any policeman or military man was caught alive he had his throat cut”.

Poor and jobless

“We know Boko Haram is recruiting youth in Cameroon,” said Colonel Joseph Nouma of the Maroua Defense Regiment, speaking from the capital city of the Far North. “When you go to border villages, all you see are women and children and old people. Young men are no longer there. They are across the Nigerian border with Boko Haram militants. People are scared and do not want to talk, they do not feel protected. We arrived too late. “More than 6,000 troops have been deployed to the Far North to protect communities from further Boko Haram attacks. The terrorist group’ s leader has recently threatened to intensify raids in the territory of Cameroon.

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Poverty and unemployment persuade young people to join Boko Haram’s ranks. Furthermore, the attacks have affected the agricultural sector of the country. Many farmers, in fact, were forced to leave and the land has remained unplanted. Food insecurity and malnutrition are on the rise.
Increasing violence in the region has also led to the closure of several schools near the northern border with Nigeria. Fopa Mokto, a school headmaster, says: “More than 170 schools in the Far North Region have been forced to close and fear reigns in the few ones which have remained open. Students and all young people are a fertile field for recruitment by Boko Haram”.
A few weeks ago, Cameroon’s Information Minister, Issa Tchiroma, said that over a hundred people, adults and children have been abducted, and international organizations have denounced that children under 12 have been taken into Boko Haram’s ranks.
Folon Teno, father of eight, says he no longer knows the whereabouts of three of his sons. He fears they must have left the village after an attack on his community last month. “What I do not know”, he says, “is if they voluntarily left or if they were forced to do so”.

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Moustaph, a resident of Waza says, “Boko Haram militiamen started to arrive in Cameroon some years ago, their presence was discreet at the beginning, then more and more visible. Boko Haram has been favored by the rampant corruption and power games of local politicians. “While waiting for a solution to overcome the deep economic and social problems, the only chance now is military action. A few weeks ago, the African Union (AU) authorized a force of 7,500 troops from Chad, Cameroon and Niger to fight the militants. The main goal of this initiative is preventing all forms of transfer of arms, ammunition and other type of supplies and recruitment, along the porous borders of the Lake Chad Basin, one of Boko Haram’s major supply areas in the region.

Francis Lang

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