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Cameroon market in Yaounde
Image: picture alliance/dpa/J. P. Kepseu

Northern Cameroon: Ghost towns come back to life

Moki Kindzeka JN
June 1, 2017

Despite the ongoing threat of suicide attacks, schools are reopening and trade is resuming. Cameroonians living close to the country’s devastated northern border with Nigeria are determined for life to return to normal.

Cameroon market in Yaounde
Image: picture alliance/dpa/J. P. Kepseu

Hundreds of buyers and sellers are assembled at the Kolofata market, close to Cameroon's border with north-eastern Nigeria and a hotspot for cross-border trade. Livestock and cotton are destined for Nigerian markets while food products bought for resale at other markets in Cameroon.

Police officer Jules Ngonde says for the past one month, the weekly market has been receiving so many traders and visitors that authorities are now dealing with a new form of insecurity.

"There are so many young pickpocketers," Ngonde told DW.  "This man just seized a handbag, keys and the sum of five thousand francs ( $9), according to what the lady victim has told us." When this happens, the police organize controls in the market to try and recuperate stolen items. And they're investigating the rise in this sort of crime. "We've discovered that they operate in groups and later regroup to share their loot," he says.

Schools and mosques burned

Kolofata was attacked by Boko Haram in 2015
Kolofata was attacked by Boko Haram in 2015 Image: Getty Images/AFP/Stringer

This particular village was deserted in 2016 after Boko Haram fighters attackedand killed hundreds of villagers. The militants left mayhem behind, having even torched schools and mosques. In April this year, Cameroon's government reconstructed the market. It also rebuilt schools in the area – for example in nearby Ngule, where pupils have returned to one of the schools that were burned by the insurgents.

"We are reassured that peace has returned," said Boniface Bayaola, Cameroon's Secretary of State for Secondary Education, who was visiting the school. "I have noticed happiness and the readiness to work harder among these children. That is why Cameroon's president has sent textbooks and financial assistance for these children."

Tourism is also picking up. German-born Cameroonian John Sigma who was paying a visit to Cameroon's Waza National Park said his trip was a good experience. "Thanks to God and to the work of the military, the police and the efforts made by all the hotels and agencies, we are seeing positive horizons in front of us," he told DW..

Pupils in blue uniforms sit on benches under a tree for their lessons.
Pupils at a school in Moho, a town in Cameroon's Northern region, which was less affected by Boko Haram's insurgencyImage: Getty Images/AFP/R. Kaze

Vigilance still needed

But Mijiyawa Bakary, the Governor of Cameroon's Far North Region, is still calling for vigilance against the threat of Boko Haram. The terrorist group's strength has reduced drastically, but it has orchestrated at least 20 suicide bombings since January this year."We can not say that 100 percent we have security," Bakary said. "You know how Boko Haram is operating. When people are sleeping, they will act."

Nevertheless, authorities are trying to encourage people to return to the region. The government has promised to protect people from attacks by Boko Haram, and as motivation to return, it has begun distributing free planting seeds to farmers who are still reluctant to go back to their villages.

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