The February 2022 kidnapping of five aid workers in Cameroon’s Far North region is a stark reminder of the growing complexities of Cameroon’s security crisis. Osob Dahir investigates the main threat actors amid the deteriorating security situation in northern Cameroon, highlighting the potential for further kidnappings of aid workers and others operating there.
BOKO HARAM IN THE FAR NORTH
Given the proximity of Fotokol to the northern Nigeria border, Boko Haram – or its breakaway faction the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) – remain likely suspects. Boko Haram has been linked to at least 25 cases of abductions and kidnappings for ransom so far this year, according to Cameroonian authorities. The group’s activities in northern Cameroon have fluctuated since 2014. But when the second half of 2021 saw a decline in attacks, likely motivated by the death of its leader Abubakar Shekau in May 2021, many were hopeful that Boko Haram’s push into Cameroon would soon wane. At first, infighting, and subsequent defections facilitated by the Cameroonian government’s promises of amnesty and full integration for former members, had seemed to dampen Boko Haram’s Cameroon efforts. Yet, the hiatus in Islamist militant activity in the north was temporary, and by July 2021, one of the few remaining Boko Haram cells had cemented its position around Lake Chad, while ISWAP too was keen to make new inroads into Cameroon. Now, Boko Haram, and even more so ISWAP, remain an ever present threat along Cameroon’s border with Nigeria, adding to growing insecurity and a rising threat of kidnapping in the region.
PRECARIOUS SECURITY LANDSCAPE
While it is highly likely that Boko Haram or ISWAP militants were behind the 22 February kidnappings, the attack itself, and indeed the spate of 25 abductions and kidnappings for ransom so far in 2022, were in large part a consequence of northern Cameroon’s worsening security environment. Although the region has long suffered from insecurity stemming from Boko Haram’s push into Cameroonian territory, since the start of 2021 tensions in Cameroon’s Far North between herdsmen from the Arab Choa people and pastoralists from the Mousgoum people have risen significantly. In an unprecedent outbreak of violence between the two communities in August 2021, 23 people were killed in a single clash. A further 20 were killed in a skirmish in December, with over 30,000 people having been displaced since the tensions began. The conflict has exposed new vulnerabilities in the security landscape of the region, which have already been exploited by Islamist militant groups. Violence in Cameroon is not isolated to the Far North region, with consistent and widespread violence between government forces and Anglophone separatists in the Northwest and Southwest regions. In response to the burgeoning humanitarian crisis there, aid agencies such as the MSF have increased their operations in northern Cameroon, in turn exposing their personnel to the rising security threats.
"The road to improved security will be a challenging one for Cameroonian authorities, with seemingly worsening crises now present on multiple fronts."
The road to improved security will be a challenging one for Cameroonian authorities, with seemingly worsening crises now present on multiple fronts. In the north, in particular, the intensifying climate-related pressures are likely to exacerbate current tensions and competition between communities, and groups such as Boko Haram and ISWAP remain at the ready to leverage these vulnerabilities. Aid workers and others operating in Cameroon’s Far North will be increasingly vulnerable to security threats, including kidnapping, as they seek to bring much needed relief to impacted peoples.