in ACN International, By Eva-Maria Kolmann, Cameroon
The terrorism of Boko Haram is spreading
“What happened during the Paris attacks is what we are experiencing here every day!”
Montreal / Königstein April 22, 2015 – In a document made available to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Bishop Bruno Ateba of the diocese of Maroua-Mokolo, complains that the violence perpetrated in northern Cameroon by the terrorist organization Boko Haram, remains largely unnoticed by the world.
“What happened in Paris during the attacks there is something we experience here every day, and yet nobody in the world says anything about it. Instead the attention of the world is focused above all on the Middle East.”
And yet, in his diocese alone, since the last quarter of the year 2014, no fewer than two senior diocesan staff, three catechists and over 30 other Christians have been murdered, and in addition there have been numerous abductions.
However, it is not only the Christians who are affected by the terror, he adds, for many Muslims have also fallen victim to it. In many places mosques have been burnt down and the imams have had their throats cut, because “they refused to obey the orders of Boko Haram.” Since as early as December 2013 the native Muslim community within Cameroon has adopted an increasingly clear stance against Boko Haram, declaring that it has no right to claim to be Muslim. In fact, Muslims have often been willing to help Christians who were in danger.
It is true, the bishop adds, that in the past three decades there has been a change within Islam in northern Nigeria and northern Cameroon, a change attributable to the influence of Salafist and Wahabi tendencies, strongly promoted and financially supported by Saudi Arabia and more recently also by Qatar. As a result, he says, more and more students are being sent to study in Saudi Arabia, Sudan or Niger. Nor should it be forgotten that it is this particular tendency within Islam that “has produced the terrorists of Al Qaeda, Al Nusra, the Islamic State, Boko Haram and so forth, and nurtured them,” the document states. And while, “this wind of Islamic reform, which is in the process of changing the face of Islam in our region, cannot yet be described as radical Islamism, yet where is the boundary?” Such reformism becomes radical Islamism “once it adopts a clear political plan for an Islamic society.”
In northern Cameroon the Muslim community has not yet crossed this line, by adopting a political plan to impose an Islamic society there. Instead there have been an increasing number of interreligious meetings between Christians and Muslims. “We are enduring this suffering together with them,” the bishop writes.
Already in the past, Boko Haram has used the villages on northern Cameroon, on the Nigerian frontier, as places to retreat to for the terrorists seeking to escape the retaliation by the Nigerian army. Over time, however, more and more weapons have been smuggled into the region. Additionally, in 2013 Boko Haram took advantage of the elections by fraudulently obtaining Cameroonian identity documents, which they are now using to escape government controls and remain unchallenged in Cameroon. Another worrying aspect, it seems, is the fact that many local police are corrupt and willing to issue false identity documents in return for a cash payment that is 5 to 7 times the cost of the official fee – with the result that “undesirable persons now are able to find their way into the country,” the bishop explains.
One of the earliest warning signs of the spread of the terrorist incursions was the abduction of a French family in February 2013, followed in November of the same year by the abduction of a French priest, Father Georges Vandenbeusch. Since July 2014 the attacks have been almost incessant, and above all during the period from 24 December 2014 to 8 January 2015 there was “not a single day when peace prevailed.”
Heavily armed men, travelling in threes or fours on motorcycles are “sowing panic” in the region. People have also observed a “degree of professionalisation” of these fighters, the bishop adds. The use of landmines from October 2014 onwards likewise marked a new phase in the strategy of terror and has dealt a “heavy blow” to the morale of the Cameroonian troops, he writes.
Another major problem lies in the strategy of Boko Haram of enticing away children, aged between 5 and 15, by means of financial inducements for their families, or of simply abducting them by force and th
en compelling them to serve as canon fodder, the bishop reports. According to his information as of December 2014, within a few months no fewer than two thousand Cameroonian children and adolescents have been seized by Boko Haram, including a number of girls.
The infrastructure of the affected region – already one of the poorest in Cameroon – has been severely damaged. According to Bishop Ateba, the terror attacks have caused the closure of over 110 schools and 13 health centres, and many police stations have been destroyed. Over 55,000 people are now refugees in the diocese of Maroua-Mokolo alone. Many have sought shelter with friends and relatives, but more than 22,000 are still hiding somewhere in the bush.
The situation is particularly bad in Amchidé, where a series of attacks by Boko Haram have caused the entire population to flee. As a result, the pastoral activities in the area have for now been brought to a complete standstill. The chapel has been burned down and, according to eyewitness reports, there are human skulls lying in the streets. The local population, all of whom have fled, has been swollen by tens of thousands of refugees from Nigeria, who are likewise trying to escape the terror of Boko Haram.
Bishop Ateba has issued this appeal to the world: “Today we beseech your attention, your prayers and your help. Help us to bring an end to this nameless brutality that is destroying all hope for the future and bringing to nothing all the hard work of generations of believers.”
At the same time he praises the courage of the faithful, who continue to gather together to pray, despite the dangers and the fear. They are like “glow-worms of faith, illuminating the night,” he writes.
ACN is proposing to help with $19 560 for the construction of a multipurpose hall where the 5,200 Catholic refugees in the Minawao refugee camp can gather to pray, join in Holy Mass and be given pastoral and practical support.