AFRICA/CAMEROON - The unknown plague of kidnappings in northern Cameroon

Friday, 5 January 2024 kidnappings   banditry  

Yaoundé (Agenzia Fides) – Farmers, breeders, merchants and humanitarian workers. These are the preferred victims of kidnappings in northern Cameroon, where a true kidnapping economy has developed. Victims are selected for their perceived ability to respond to ransom demands due to their apparent wealth compared to the rest of the population of an economically depressed area. Most kidnappings are committed by Fulani, Mbororo and Choa herdsmen (Arabs who live mainly in the Bornou region of Chad and northern Cameroon), who speak Fulfulde or Arabic. Their accents are varied and include those of Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Sudan and Central Africa. However, among the kidnappers there are also Cameroonian armed groups, former rebels, Central African and Chadian mercenaries, as well as disloyal and criminal elements of the Cameroonian defense and security forces. The affected area not only includes northern Cameroon, but also neighboring areas of Chad, Nigeria and the Central African Republic. The modus operandi of the kidnappers consists of three stages. First, they collect information from their accomplices in the communities. They then intimidate and blackmail potential victims by sending them messages asking them to deliver a sum of money to a location specified by them. Otherwise, they threaten to kidnap them. Finally, they track down victims who are kidnapped in an ambush or raid their homes. The kidnapped are taken to mountains that are difficult to access and then cross the borders; hostages from Chad or the Central African Republic end up in Cameroon and vice versa. Ransom negotiations take place by telephone. The kidnappers prohibit the victims' relatives from alerting the police and threaten retaliation against the kidnapped, relying on a network of informants in the communities who provide continuous information on the victims' movements and transactions. According to Garoua police, in just three years (2015-2018), kidnappers in northern Cameroon have collected ransoms totaling around €3 million (2 billion CFA francs). The fight against this criminal scourge requires a coordinated cross-border approach between Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria and the Central African Republic. The Multinational Joint Task Force, engaged in the fight against Boko Haram, could expand its actions to help tackle the problem, since all of these countries are member states of the Lake Chad Basin Commission. Telephone companies should also be urged to provide geolocation data of kidnappers during ransom negotiations to free hostages. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 5/1/2024)