Cameroon’s government has sent ministers to its northern border with Nigeria to convince villagers who fled Boko Haram militants to return. Cameroon invested $10 million on reconstruction efforts after damage caused by the Islamist terrorist group in some villages. But, in northern Cameroon, many villagers are reluctant to go home, and authorities acknowledge the militants are still a threat.

Bulldozers of Cameroon’s Ministry of Public Works fill destroyed portions of the 30-kilometer road linking Cameroon’s northern town of Mora to Banki, a town in northeast Nigeria.

Celestine Ketcha Courtes, Cameroon’s minister of housing and urban development, and Talba Malla Ibrahim, minister of public contracts, traveled to the site this week.

Courtes said they went to find out the effectiveness of reconstruction work on infrastructure damaged during fighting by Cameroonian troops and Boko Haram combatants.

She said Cameroonian President Paul Biya instructed her and the minister of public contracts to visit markets rebuilt to facilitate the purchase and sale of goats, cattle, table birds and food. She said they also saw roads built to ease travel between Cameroon and Nigeria and to facilitate trade between the two neighbors. She said Cameroon’s government is planning to rebuild infrastructure destroyed by the jihadist militant group Boko Haram.

Cameroon said the $10 million was invested this year for reconstruction of schools, hospitals and markets destroyed by Boko Haram. Alamine Ousman Mey is the minister of economy. He said civilians who fled can return and occupy infrastructure that has been reconstructed.

“It started with the reconstruction be it [of] the police as well as custom administrative facilities [buildings]. It has gone further to train those involved in protecting the population and also the community to be part of the stabilization process. It is about bringing back economic life,” he said. 

Mey acknowledged Boko Haram is still a threat. He said civilians should return as the military will protect people to help in the development of their towns and villages.

But this week, Cameroon reported two Boko Haram deadly attacks that claimed the lives of 13 troops and civilians in the border villages of Sagme and Zigi. The latest attack was in Zigi on Tuesday. Authorities say five troops and six civilians were killed. 

Cameroon said several hundred civilians fled the two villages.

There has been no comment from Nigeria, but a Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), established by Lake Chad Basin countries to combat Boko Haram, consists of troops from Nigeria, Cameroon, Benin, Niger and Chad. The troops, which have a base in Mora, are posted along Cameroon’s border with Nigeria.  

Gregory Bonglam is a teacher. He said on Tuesday, he fled Mozogo, a northern administrative unit on the border with Nigeria after yet another Boko Haram attack.

“You never can identify who is Boko Haram and who is not. We were sitting outside and discussing. Little did we know that Boko Haram was around and before we knew it, there were already explosives. Luckily, we were a little far from the incident otherwise we would have been killed. Going back there is really very dangerous,” he said.

Philemon Ndula, conflict resolution specialist with the Cameroon NGO Trauma Center, said Cameroon should ensure there is peace before reconstruction.

“What I will suggest is for the government to talk about recovery. In recovery, there is the physical aspect of building the schools, building the houses, building the hospitals and so on. So that is why I am saying that reconstruction is just a starting point. The psychological aspect is actually the heart of the matter. People can only go out to do their businesses, to go to their farms when they have that minimum security,” said Ndula.

Cameroon says security will improve if civilians collaborate with authorities and report to authorities if they see suspicious activities in towns and villages. The government is also asking for the creation of militias to assist the military fight Boko Haram.

Boko Haram has been fighting for 11 years to create an Islamic caliphate in northeast Nigeria and parts of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin.

The violence has cost the lives of 30,000 people and displaced about 2 million civilians, according to the United Nations. 

 

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