Africa

Boko Haram's threat to region escalates

Screengrab of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau taken from a video released by the group in October 2014 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Boko Haram has recently warned that Cameroon will "taste what has befallen Nigeria"

The kidnappings in Cameroon are evidence that the crisis caused by Boko Haram is increasingly a regional one which is spiralling out of control.

It seems Cameroon is being punished for taking on the jihadists.

In recent years the extremist fighters used the remote areas inside the far north of Cameroon as rear bases, but - as the insecurity deepened and the Cameroonian government sent elite soldiers to fight them - the jihadists have seen barracks, villages and their inhabitants as legitimate targets.

Kidnappings have happened in Cameroon before, including a group of Chinese engineers taken last year, as well as French tourists.

It seems money was the motivation as multimillion dollar ransom payments were handed over (we assume to Boko Haram, although copycat gangsters taking advantage of the insecurity may have profited).

The Cameroonian military response has clearly been hurting Boko Haram; otherwise the assumed leader of the group, Abubakar Shekau, would not have released a video calling on President Paul Biya to stop "your evil plot" or "taste what has befallen Nigeria".

'Grim outlook'

It will now be interesting to see how the hundreds of Chadian troops - who have just arrived in Maroua in the north of the country - co-operate with their Cameroonian counterparts.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Boko Haram is accused of a series of deadly attack both in Nigeria and Cameroon

Chad has experience fighting jihadists. It sent soldiers to help oust rebels from northern Mali in 2013.

So far the regional fight against Boko Haram has been ineffectual.

Soldiers from Nigeria, Niger and Chad were supposed to be part of a multinational force based just outside Baga in Borno state. Cameroon was also due to join.

But when Boko Haram fighters attacked there earlier this month, only Nigerians soldiers were present and they were soon outgunned.

Their colleagues from across the borders had left months earlier: Nigeria's military said the troops from Niger had pulled out for reasons best known to themselves - hardly the kind of language that points to a harmonious relationship and a coherent plan.


On patrol with Cameroon army


President Biya knows the outlook is grim and alliances are needed urgently.

"The global terror threat requires a global response, especially from the African Union and other regional bodies," Mr Biya told diplomats recently.

"On my part, I continue to believe that the threat from Boko Haram, al-Shabab and other groups will be eradicated only through a joint international effort," he said.

Hard question

Although refugees and violence are spilling over the borders, Nigeria remains the epicentre of the crisis.

The problem here is February's election and the prospect of power appears to be trumping the political will to turn the screw on Boko Haram.

France may yet play a key role. The former colonial power of Cameroon, Niger and Chad still pulls some strings in those countries.

Britain and the US are giving some training to Nigerian troops but appear reluctant to do much more - partly because of the army's well documented poor human rights record.

Expect more calls this week from African presidents for a regional military force.

The Boko Haram threat is not new, so the hard question to answer is why the countries in the region have so far failed to unite to mount a decisive military response.

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