An agreement between Cameroon and its western neighbor, Nigeria, is serving as a model for the peaceful resolution of border disputes.
The Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission was created a decade ago to map out the boundary between the two countries. It consists of representatives from Nigeria, Cameroon and the United Nations. The commission says it will soon be out of business.
Prince Bola Ajibola, head of the Nigerian delegation, says the commission has accomplished almost everything it was assigned to do.
"We’ve done it. So we can beat our chest and say, 'Mission accomplished!' We should by 2012 finish all this assignment," he says.
The land and maritime boundary demarcation began in 2008. So far, hundreds of pillars have been implanted, with the consent of both sides. In all, some 3000 pillars will mark the borders.
The border mapping is the final phase of a UN-backed process to end decades of antagonism between the neighbors over ownership of several territories straddling their common border. In the 1980s and 90s, the quarrels, especially over the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula, often spiraled into armed skirmishes. In 1993, Nigeria invaded and occupied the peninsula.
A year later, Cameroon sought arbitration from the International Court of Justice. In 2002, the court ruled in favor of Cameroon, giving it sovereignty over Bakassi. Elsewhere, several villages along the border were to be shared by the two countries.
At first, Nigeria rejected the verdict. The UN intervened, urging the countries to abide by the judgment. That led to the creation of the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission.
It was to oversee the boundary re-demarcation process, the demilitarization of occupied territories, the protection of the rights of affected populations and promotion of joint economic ventures and cross-border cooperation. In 2008, Nigeria pulled out of Bakassi.
Looking back, the commission members say the process is an eloquent example of precautionary diplomacy and the peaceful settlement of border disputes. Commission Chairman Said Djinnit is the UN Secretary General's special representative for West Africa.
"Beyond the physical demarcation of the border," he says, "we need to start the implementation of projects that bring people together along the common boundary." He says the border "should not create a gap between the two countries, but rather a bridge."
Cross-border cooperation deals underway include oil, gas and palm oil production. The African Development Bank is funding the construction of a multinational highway link between both countries to boost trade exchanges. Elsewhere, military forces of the two countries are holding joint training and considering joint patrols in the Gulf of Guinea to combat piracy.
The commission’s latest session was held in the Cameroonian capital, Yaounde, in early March. Officials saluted the growing ambition, especially by Nigerian investors, to set up businesses in Cameroon. They agreed to continue soliciting funds for the cross-border projects and begin them as soon as possible. Sensitization campaigns have also been scheduled to explain the benefits of the venture to the remaining skeptics among the populations lining the common border.
Meanwhile, Nigerians who have opted to stay on in Bakassi still complain their rights are not fully protected. Traders crossing the border also allege harassment and extortion by security officials in both countries. And Cameroonians continue to blame Nigeria for doing little to root out Niger Delta militant groups and pirates who raid Bakassi other localities, seizing hostages for ransom.
Commission members say they will address these lingering concerns and other issues when they meet again in Abuja, Nigeria, in June.