In recent years, Africa has gradually emerged as a center stage for terrorism and jihadist activity. Islamist conflicts have been more frequent and pronounced in countries in West and Central Africa such as Chad, Mali, Nigeria and Cameroon. Various sectoral groups have risen purporting to be Islamist fundamentalist and have created violence and instability within these regions in their purported quest for religious dominance. In Nigeria, groups such as the Boko Haram have successfully carried out numerous acts of terror and caused political instability. This paper seeks to analyze the emergence and spread of radical Islamism conflict within the republic of Cameroon. The paper will analyze how conflict between radical Islamists and traditional Sufi Islam as well as other faiths has contributed to heightened terror activity in the country. The paper will also analyze how local authorities and the international community have responded to this threat and with what degree of success.
Prior to 2014, Cameroon enjoyed a relatively peaceful atmosphere within a region with heightened terror activity. Despite Boko Haram presence in the region, the country remained peaceful on the account of an implicit mutual non-aggression pact. In 2014, Nigerian-based Boko Haram expanded its terror activities to the neighboring country of Cameroon after Cameroonian president Paul Biya formally declared war on the organization (Tull, 2015). Cameroon has since faced heightened terror activities coupled with religious intolerance. Radical Islamists groups have emerged and challenged traditional Suni Islamists as well as Christians and traditionalists in the south (Crisis Group, 2015). These conflicts have manifested in the form of religious clashes resulting in increased violence and terror activity in the country. The violence has also been directed towards the government with Boko Haram attacking the country’s vice president in July 2014. Currently, Cameroon is fast veering towards political instability like its neighbors Chad, CAR and Nigeria.
The sudden upsurge of terrorist activities in Cameroon can largely be attributed to laxity of local authorities on the threat of terrorism. The Cameroonian government had long downplayed the threat posed by emergent religious radicalism. For instance, before 2013, authorities had ignored Boko Haram presence in the country o the account of an implicit mutual non-aggression pact (Tull, 2015). Even with the insurgency of the Boko Haram, authorities have continued to underestimate conflict potential increasing religious intolerance in the country. Efforts have been directed towards quelling Boko Haram activity and the growing religious intolerance has thus far been perceived as non-problematic by the government. More so, the fragility of the country’s political and military systems has encouraged terrorism activity. This weakness and reduced capacity of state systems to combat the threat of terror has resulted in heightened clashes. As more radical and violent groups continue to emerge, Cameroon is thus a thriving ground for terror activity.
Despite its relative weakness in relation to the unprecedented threat of terrorism, the Cameroonian government has embarked on various measures to combat increased terror activity in the country. In 2014, the government also enacted an anti-terror law to combat the threat of terrorism. The government in 2014 also deployed military to the northern border of the country to fight the advancing Boko Haram troops. The military has since engaged in a fierce battle with the militant organization with relative success. For instance, in 2015, the military secured the release of 84 abducted children held in a Boko Haram Training Camp in Guirvidig (UN, 2015). The government has also launched special military tribunals in Maroua and other regions to try Boko Haram suspects and sympathizers. Sessions within these courts have been executed expeditiously to try the large number of suspects. To assist communities, recover from the economic impact caused by terror activity, the government has also allocated $2.5 million to start initiatives within these areas.
While the government since 2013 has not explicitly supported terrorism activity, there are various concerns in the efficacy of its strategy to suppress increasing terror activity and religious extremism. For instance, in the absence of democracy, the country’s anti-terrorism policy has been misused to suppress dissidents resulting in a lot of criticism against the law (U.S. Department of State, 2019). The law has thus been largely inefficient in combating terrorism as the focus is on political opposition in the ongoing Anglophone crisis rather than the threat of terror. More so, the military tribunals have had a low conviction rate and mostly try terror sympathizers suspected of providing logistical support to terror groups as opposed to actual militants (U.S. Department of State, 2019). More so, the large number of juveniles convicted by these tribunals has been criticized by the international community. The tribunals have thus so far been largely unsuccessful in checking terror activity in the country.
The international community has also played an instrumental role in partnering with Cameroonian authorities against the threat of terrorism. Cameroon has continued its counter terrorism collaboration with the international community by contributing to Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) operations, providing intelligence and surveillance (U.S. Department of State, 2019). Cameroon is also a member of the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership and the Global coalition to defeat ISIS. These partnerships have provided the nation with financial resources, military resources and intelligence to combat terror activities in its jurisdiction.
Cameroon is a member to the Money Laundering in Central Africa task force (GABAC) that has played an instrumental role in assisting Cameroon counter financing to terrorist groups in the country (U.S. Department of State, 2019). The UN has also extended legislative expertise and assistance to Cameroon to help address its inadequacies in dealing with terrorism. For instance, UNODC assisted the nation to amend its military justice code to exclude trying of juveniles. The organization also helped in training the country’s justice enforcement practitioners to bestow them with capacity to effectively counter the threat of terrorism. Lastly, the African Union, has deployed a technical mission to the region to suppress terrorist activity. The AU has also worked with Cameroon to foster dialogue to address the rising religious intolerance in the country.
In conclusion, Cameroon continues to face an unprecedented threat of terror. Religious extremism has seen the rise of violent groups and increased clashes in the country. More so, the country’s fragile political and military systems have made it porous to groups such as the Boko Haram which is thus far the greatest extremist group in the region. The government has thus far been largely efficient in combating the threat of terror. There is thus a need for the international community to direct more efforts to dealing with the threat of terrorism in the region.
Crisis Group. (2015, September 03). Report: Cameroon: The Threat of Religious Radicalism. Brussels: International Crisis Group. Retrieved from www.crisisgroup.org: https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/central-africa/cameroon/cameroon-threat-religious-radicalism
Tull, D. (2015). Cameroon and Boko Haram: time to think beyond. SSOAR.
U.S. Department of State. (2019). Country Reports on Terrorism 2019: Cameroon.
UN. (2015). Violations and abuses committed by Boko Haram and the Impact on human rights in the countries affected. Geneva: United Nations Human Rights Council.