The threat of militant Islamist group Boko Haram in far north Cameroon is impacting many foreign-invested projects in the region. It has prompted the authorities to beef up security to protect foreign citizens and their work, which is vital in achieving the development goals of the country.
Chinese workers and operations in Cameroon have been part of those affected by the security threats. In May 2014, Boko Haram militants kidnapped 10 Chinese road construction workers in Waza, about 20 km from the border with Nigeria, killing a soldier. The hostages were freed in October 2014.
Chinese oil company Yan Chang Logone Development from Shaanxi Province has been exploring two onshore blocks in Waza since 2009, close to the Sinohydro engineering camp from where the Chinese workers were kidnapped. Following the abductions work halted on these and similar projects in the region. The attacks were blamed on diminishing security guards at project sites and major installations.
At the end of May 2014, the Cameroonian authorities deployed 1,000 members of the elite force Brigade d'Intervention Rapide (BIR) to the Nigerian frontier to battle Boko Haram. They were reinforcements for the 700 troops sent to the region in March to combat the militant organization, considered one of the most deadly terrorist groups in the world. Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan said in October that "over 13,000 people have been killed" in the violent Boko Haram campaign against his country. That figure has no doubt risen as the group increasingly crossed into north Cameroon, attacking military forces, schools, churches and civilians, bombing government buildings as well as kidnapping foreign nationals and locals.
Boko Haram incursions have affected almost every aspect of life in the region, according to Midjiyawa Bakari, Governor of Cameroon's Far North Region. "Food security, particularly along the border, is getting worse due to the regular arrival of Nigerian refugees, who often rely on host communities for food," Bakari told humanitarian news and analysis agency IRIN. In 2014, the region managed to complete only 50 percent of its allocated investment projects. However, the governor said no investment project will be delayed by insecurity in 2015 as the government was providing military protection.
Makhtar Diop, World Bank's Vice President for Africa, was reported by the Nigerian newspaper The Nation on July 25 as saying that Boko Haram's terrorist attacks have set back projects meant to improve the livelihoods of people in famine-stricken north Cameroon. The World Bank is funding agriculture, health, water and road projects in this region, including the Sinohydro road project at Waza.
"When the Chinese workers were kidnapped, work in almost all Chinese sites in the border areas came to a halt. This included the Kribi Deep Seaport where I work," Li Meng, a Chinese engineer, told ChinAfrica. "It took a while before work on the project sites of far north Cameroon could restart. It was only when the local government sent security to the sites that we restarted work."
However, while work has resumed in almost all projects, threats are imminent, Li said, adding, "Fewer Chinese are now working in those projects."
Since the establishment of China-Cameroon diplomatic relations in 1971, the two nations have cooperated in varied fields, including commerce, technology, medical activities and tourism, as well as military cooperation.
In October 2014, the then Chinese Ambassador to Cameroon, Wo Ruidi, signed a memorandum of understanding with Cameroon Defense Minister Edgard Alain Mebe Ngo'o for Chinese-built military equipment worth more than 30 million yuan ($4.9 million). The equipment is to be used in the fight against maritime security threats in the Gulf of Guinea and in the fight against Boko Haram in north Cameroon.
"The Gulf of Guinea and the North Region of Cameroon host a good number of Chinese working on large project sites like the Kribi Deep Seaport, oil wells and road infrastructure, and it should be a natural priority for China to assist Cameroon in the protection of these sites," Colonel Didier Badjeck, a Cameroon Defense Ministry spokesperson, told ChinAfrica.
"We have established a military post at every project site and military patrols are [conducted] each day to deter any attack," Badjeck added.
(Reporting from Cameroon)