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Cameroon Yet to Build Planned Rehab Centers for ex-Boko Haram Fighters

Soldiers of the rapid intervention battalion BIR, combat ready in Maroua, far northern Cameroon, Jan. 17, 2019.
Soldiers of the rapid intervention battalion BIR, combat ready in Maroua, far northern Cameroon, Jan. 17, 2019.

In Cameroon, many Boko Haram fighters have surrendered in recent months. But Cameroon lacks facilities to rehabilitate them.

Soldiers of the Multi National Joint Task Force fighting the Boko Haram insurgency, sing at their base in Mora on Cameroon's northern border with Nigeria as they train for eventual operations against the terrorist group.

At the same base, there are 87 Boko Haram fighters in custody. The fighters were captured a year ago, when they decided to lay down their weapons and be pardoned and rehabilitated as the government of Cameroon had promised.

Governor Midjiyawa Bakari of Cameroon's Far North region said the former fighters will remain at the base until a rehabilitation center is constructed for them.

Lack of funding

He said they have acquired a 13 hectare land that and are waiting for the central government in Yaounde to provide funds so that they can develop it.

He said Boko Haram fighters that are still reluctant to come out of the bushes or fear that they may be arrested by the Cameroon military and detained should have confidence in the government. He said anyone who comes back will be socially and economically reintegrated and treated as Cameroonians who were simply deceived but have realized that they were wrong and are returning to develop their country.

In December, Cameroon created a committee to disarm and reintegrate separatist fighters in its English speaking regions and Boko Haram terrorists who put down their weapons.

The centers for the separatists have been created in the towns of Bamenda and Buea. The centers for ex-Boko Haram fighters are yet to be built.

That may be why some former Boko Haram fighters are bypassing the government program altogether.

Joehim Kawamza, a 37-year-old former Boko Haram fighter, waters his maize farm here in Mora. He escaped from Nigeria in December 2017 and refused to go to the official rehabilitation center, choosing instead to reunite with his family.

No trust

He said he did not trust the government rehabilitation program. He said unlike some of his peers who are being kept as prisoners in military camps, he has rebuilt his life with the aid of a United Nations and government-backed program that trained him and gave him fertilizers and maize to grow.

He said he and his family will no longer be hungry this year as he has stocked enough maize and groundnuts to keep them going. He said last year, he was treated as an outcast until some white humanitarian workers came, trained them and gave them maize to plant and take care of their families.

He said it is his wish to use the knowledge he got from the U.N. program to empower people who joined or were kidnapped by Boko Haram.

Cameroon's government has said it wants to help former fighters like Kawamza -- but first wants to ensure they have definitively broken with Boko Haram before giving them assistance and training to earn a living.