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Armed Cameroonian men of the rapid intervention battalion (BIR) patrol in Waza, northern Cameroon on May 29, 2014 (AFP Photo/Reinnier Kaze)

In Cameroon, Boko Haram turn tourist hotspot into a ghost town

June 3, 2014

By Reinnier Kaze* [caption id="attachment_9644" align="alignleft" width="300"]Armed Cameroonian men of the rapid intervention battalion (BIR) patrol in Waza, northern Cameroon on May 29, 2014 (AFP Photo/Reinnier Kaze) Armed Cameroonian men of the rapid intervention battalion (BIR) patrol in Waza, northern Cameroon on May 29, 2014 (AFP Photo/Reinnier Kaze)[/caption] Waza (Cameroon) (AFP) – With a famous nature reserve, elephant safaris, and a reputation as a peaceful haven, the small town of Waza in the far north of Cameroon used to buzz with tourists.

Today, it is like a ghost town. The walls of the hotels are crumbling and guest bedrooms remain stubbornly empty. By early evening, one local official says, the streets are deserted.

Located just a few kilometres from the border with Nigeria, Waza has been gripped by “general panic” since an attack by suspected Boko Haram Islamists who kidnapped ten Chinese in mid-May, said the secretary-general of the town, Tandjo.

The security forces searching for them believe they were quickly taken back over the border, to the northeastern region of Nigeria that has become Boko Haram’s stronghold.

It was the latest in a series of incursions into northern Cameroon by the group, who officials say take advantage of a porous border to evade detection.

Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden”, has killed thousands since 2009 in its fight to establish an Islamic state in the north of Nigeria.

As well as the kidnapping of 200 schoolgirls, it has burnt down entire villages and launched deadly gun attacks, and the violence has not been contained by the border.

Just last week, three soldiers were wounded after coming under attack by Boko Haram Islamists in northern Cameroon.

Cameroon’s President Paul Biya has declared “war on Boko Haram”, and is sending military reinforcements to the region to try and combat the group. Some 1,000 troops are expected to start arriving Monday.

The soldiers will be welcome in places like Waza, but they may not be enough to rescue the town’s crumbling tourist industry.

 – Shaking with gunfire –   [caption id="attachment_9645" align="alignright" width="300"]Photo taken on May 28, 2014 shows the site in Waza, northern Cameroon, where 10 Chinese workers were abducted by Boko Haram on the night of May 16, 2014 (AFP Photo/Reinnier Kaze) Photo taken on May 28, 2014 shows the site in Waza, northern Cameroon, where 10 Chinese workers were abducted by Boko Haram on the night of May 16, 2014 (AFP Photo/Reinnier Kaze)[/caption] It was on the night of May 16 that suspected Boko Haram gunmen targeted Waza, killing a Cameroonian soldier before abducting ten Chinese road workers from their camp.

“The night of the attack, the town was shaking with all the gunfire,” said a 20-year-old Cameroonian who worked with the Chinese and did not want to give his name.

A few weeks on, tensions are still high. Standing guard at the entrance to the camp, a member of the Rapid Intervention Battalion, an elite unit with the Cameroon army, shouts at the driver of a motorbike headed his way.

“Go back!”, he shouts, his arm hovering over the trigger of his gun.

“You should get out of here,” another soldier tells AFP. “We are in a war situation.”

Not far away, two soldiers patrol in front of the construction site where machinery has stood still since the hostages were taken.

Some 22 people have been killed by the Cameroonian army in the aftermath, their bodies, local officials say, also smuggled back over the border by their accomplices.

  – ‘There is fear here’ –  

Tandjo says the town’s residents are terrified of another attack.

“People are traumatised,” he says. “They knew about Boko Haram, but they had never witnessed one of their attacks.”

“From 7pm, people go home and do not leave again,” he says.

Most officials have moved their families to safer areas. One had a heart attack after a bullet tore through his courtyard, says Tandjo.

“There is fear here. We are afraid that there will be another attack”, said the young road worker, one of the few people from the town who is happy to talk about what happened. He has not worked since the raid, and today, sits under a tree, hoping for a change of fortune. [caption id="attachment_9646" align="alignleft" width="300"]Photo taken on May 28, 2014 shows the entrance to Waza National Park, northern Cameroon, where 10 Chinese workers were abducted by Boko Haram on the night of May 16, 2014 (AFP Photo/Reinnier Kaze) Photo taken on May 28, 2014 shows the entrance to Waza National Park, northern Cameroon, where 10 Chinese workers were abducted by Boko Haram on the night of May 16, 2014 (AFP Photo/Reinnier Kaze)[/caption]

During the night, no one is allowed to ride around by motorbike — Boko Haram’s preferred method of transport — in the entire north-east region of Cameroon.

For a once-buzzing tourist town, the change is devastating.

Andre Ndjidda, who works in the Waza National Park, one of the most well-known in Cameroon, says hardly any foreign visitors have ventured there in months, after a series of kidnappings in the far north region.

The trouble in this part of the country, which once had a reputation for tranquility, started in 2013, when Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of the priest Georges Vandenbeusch and the Moulin-Fournier family from France.

They were later released, but their kidnapping made headlines around the world.

“The fate of the park was already decided,” said Ndjidda, of those kidnappings. “(But) The abduction of the Chinese workers sealed the fate for the town.”

*Source AFP]]>

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3 responses to “In Cameroon, Boko Haram turn tourist hotspot into a ghost town”

  1. TANGWE Abraham says:

    Cameroon is truly in a war situation and the response of the armed forces so far is commendable. The only mitigating circumstances is that there are other hidden characteristics of the enemy that those involved in chasing the remnants of Boko Haram from Cameroon may be over looking which remains the possibility of a local terrorist group operating under the cover and tutelage of Boko Haram.
    You may recall that the vestiges of the notion of “couper de route” or armed bandits operating on highway in North of Cameroon took the government quite and effort to shut it out but since that phenomenon dissipated, nothing has ever been heard of those jobless youths who were involved in this business. I mean the lack of any initiative by government to rehabilitate them and make them useful to society instead of acting like hoodlums.
    Would you be surprise to know that these same fellows may be the same ones causing mayhem in the North of Cameroon? Come to think of it; why do you think that Boko Haram created and prodded in Nigeria by some “power mongers” would suddenly take interest in Cameroon? It is true that some western powers are trying to use it to entrenched their hegemonic quests in West and Central Africa because of the riches of these regions but do you sincerely think that these powers would lack willing frustrated Cameroonians to do this for them? We may be looking above our nostrils when the problem is just beyond the same nostrils.

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  2. The talk of other parts of the world is how they are making life better for their people, and how their innovations are contributing to world development, positively impacting on people everywhere. The talk of Nigeria and some other African countries is how some groups are busily destabilizing their countries and making life unbearable for their own people. This is how the world media portrays it. At least, this is the general impression of the world citizenry, and there is evidence, sort of.
    Such a trend shows the extent to which the systems in place in those countries have failed to protect the individuals and their (socio-cultural, etc.) beliefs and practices within the confines of progressive laws whilst ensuring perpetual advancement of the society. Leaders of the societies must bow their heads in shame for not doing enough to ensure the protection of their people and advancement of the society.
    At the same time, we must roll down a clear, all-encompassing, progressive agenda; create the needed platform; provide needed resources; and empower and work with civil society organizations and individuals to build a far better society.

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  3. The talk of other parts of the world is how they are making life better for their people, and how their innovations are contributing to world development, positively impacting on people everywhere. The talk of Nigeria and some other African countries is how some groups are busily destabilizing their countries and making life unbearable for their own people. This is how the world media portrays it. At least, this is the general impression of the world citizenry, and there is evidence, sort of.
    Such a trend shows the extent to which the systems in place in those countries have failed to protect the individuals and their (socio-cultural, etc.) beliefs and practices within the confines of progressive laws whilst ensuring perpetual advancement of the society. Leaders of the societies must bow their heads in shame for not doing enough to ensure the protection of their people and advancement of the society.
    At the same time, we must roll down a clear, all-encompassing, progressive agenda; create the needed platforms; provide needed resources; and empower and work with civil society organizations and individuals to build a far better society. The time to do this is now!

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