Recent arms seizures and arrests of traffickers in Cameroon’s Far North Region have highlighted the escalating insecurity caused by Boko Haram in neighbouring Nigeria and the impact of the unrest in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Sudan.
In January, Cameroon’s security forces arrested a man attempting to transport 655 guns to Nigeria. In September 2013, 5,400 AK-47 rifles were seized on a pick-up truck in Maroua, the capital of Far North Region, according to officials and local media.
“Many fire arms have been seized from traffickers in the region in recent days, coming from crisis countries like Sudan and CAR. The number could be higher due to the disarmament taking place in CAR. This region remains a zone for traffickers because it is closer to Nigeria,” a Maroua Police officer told IRIN.
Cameroon has stepped up security in the Far North Region following Nigeria’s military crackdown on Boko Haram, which has pushed back the insurgents to border regions and forced thousands of civilians to flee into Cameroon.
“Before the deployment of the special security forces of the Rapid Intervention Unit in 2009 to the Far North of Cameroon, the region was highly plagued by highway robbers armed with light machine guns. But today, armed robbery has reduced in the Far North, giving way to arms traffickers now targeting new markets in neighbouring Nigeria,” said a gendarme official with the intelligence division.
“Because of the vast nature of the region’s borders, traffickers sometimes can pass through the region without being detected.”
Security threats in the Far North Region include kidnappings, the undocumented movement of foreigners, and the influx of refugees from CAR, Chad, Nigeria and Sudan. Officials fear refugee camps may conceal militants or become targets for attack.
Cameroon currently hosts some 100,000 refugees, mainly from CAR. And the relentless Boko Haram attacks and clashes with the army forced around 5,000 Nigerians to seek refuge in Cameroon last month, raising the number of Nigerian refugees to about 12,000, of whom 2,185 have been settled in a UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) camp in the Far North Region.
“Maroua faces many security challenges right now, coupled with the [movement of] numerous refugees of different nationalities into Cameroon’s eastern and western borders. But several security measures are taken,” Bob-Iga Emmanuel, head of the police division at the governor’s office in the Far North region, told IRIN.
Regional unrest fuels trade
Observers point out that the Boko Haram insurgency in northeastern Nigeria is a major factor driving the arms smuggling.
“The present regime in CAR is yet to evaluate and recover millions of arms reported to have been looted from government armouries. Where do these arms go to after the war? The Boko Haram war is heightening, explaining the high trafficking of arms through Cameroon’s Far North, which links Nigeria with other crisis zones such CAR, Sudan, Libya and DRC [the Democratic Republic of Congo],” said David Mekong, a Yaoundé-based political analyst.
“After wars, firearms are sold at relatively low prices, a real business opportunity for traffickers. As disarmament and demobilization is taking place in CAR, arms from the conflict can easily reach Boko Haram and others crisis zones,” Mekong said.