Northern Cameroon is rife with issues created by Boko Haram, the extremist organization which has terrorized the Lake Chad Basin since 2009. Since the group’s turn to violence, over 17,000 people have been killed and 2.6 million displaced. These staggering numbers have set back progress in the region and forced people to focus on survival rather than economic growth and family opportunities. Suicide attacks on markets, places of worship, and restaurants are also common, making people afraid to leave their homes and limiting nearly every aspect of life. This crippling fear has resulted in a complete breakdown of communities. Children avoid school, missing out on a valuable education, and parents stay home from their jobs to protect their families. The group had placed the entire region in a stagnant state where success was not measured by regional progress, but mere survival instead. While the extent of long-term damage caused by Boko Haram remains to be seen, what is clear is that generations to come will be recovering from their effects.
Just as Boko Haram aimed to tear communities apart, family by family, there are those who are trying to counter the group’s influence. Communities realized that this problem could not be tackled individually and that collaboration was key to restoring peace in the region. This thought was the catalyst that led to the creation of vigilance committees (VCs) across Cameroon’s Far North region. These VCs are comparable to neighborhood watch groups that are often seen in the United States and serve as a compliment to the local police and Cameroonian military forces battling Boko Haram. No one knows these communities better than the residents who are aware of potential criminal activity and can alert police to strange or threatening behavior. The willingness and ability of communities to protect themselves and supplement the official security structures are leading to progress and is making a tangible difference in these communities. VCs have on multiple occasions either prevented Boko Haram suicide bombings or minimized the devastating toll through intervention and early warning: in many cases, sacrificing themselves for the larger good.
However, the success of these home-grown groups is hindered by both a lack of equipment that would enable them to more effectively patrol their villages and identify would be ill-doers, and an absence of communication between groups and security forces. This is particularly notable at night and during the rainy season–which is rapidly approaching once again–when Boko Haram fighters can more easily sneak into an area and carry out attacks.
A US Army civil affairs team working with the VCs and the Cameroonian army identified this need and reached out to SoA to fill the gap. With the provision of rain jackets and flashlights, VCs will be able to continue their patrols through the night regardless of inclement weather. The provision of phone cards to village leaders will facilitate communication between disparate communities and security forces, creating a network of vigilant communities and Cameroonian security patrols. This network will be further strengthened through a gathering of regional tribal leaders to discuss security and coordinate the best approach. With your generosity and assistance, Spirit of America can support a sustainable approach to security to help stop Boko Haram and bring stability to 13 particularly vulnerable villages.