Muslim clerics, traditional rulers and dignitaries from Cameroon's northern border areas with Nigeria have assembled in Yaounde to be trained in communication technologies and the Internet in order to share information with the military - as part of strategies to combat the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram.
Most of the 100 Muslim clerics and traditional rulers assembled at the Yaounde African Institute of Computer Studies are touching a keyboard for the first time.
Laminou Nana, an Imam from Fotokol along the border with Nigeria’s Borno state, says he does not know how to read and write - which makes this training that much harder.
“I think they should have invited our children because this thing is difficult for us” he says, noting he finds this course very complicated," said Nana.
Mudibo Alidou, from the Ashigashia mosque which straddles the Nigeria-Cameroon border, says he’s eager to learn more after day two of intensive classes.
He says he’s learned how to switch his computer on and log it off but he is interested in sending messages and pictures. He’s calling on all imams and Muslim leaders to study how to make use of the Internet so as to be connected.
Getting up to speed
Trainer Chieck Oumarou Mallam says Muslim leaders, in general, need to get up to speed with IT and its impact on daily life in their communities. But he notes this specific course is designed to teach those in areas which have been targets of attacks and kidnappings by the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram. He says being able to share critical information quickly is essential to help authorities identify and locate terrorist suspects.
"This training is going to enable imams and Muslim dignitaries to be able to work, to communicate with others," Oumarou said. "They are going to be not only in communication with those who are around them, but they are going to communicate and to cooperate with the world to spread peace and harmony between mankind."
Dr. Moussa Oumarou, president of the Cameroon Council of Imams and Muslim Dignitaries, says his group helped design the digital training for computers and mobile phones and it has been used by the government as a tool in the fight against Boko Haram attacks in the north.
He says establishing peace does not involve only the use of weapons and that is why during their 3rd conference of imams and Muslim dignitaries, they decided to collaborate with the government in fighting against Boko Haram. He says no one can be effective in today’s world without some mastery of information technologies.
Mongui Soso, a senior official in Cameroon's Ministry of Territorial Administration, says after the training, these leaders will be able to collect pictures of all newcomers to their communities and forward them electronically to the military as part of enhanced surveillance of the border.
“I have told them that we do not have weapons but we have a duty to inform the military and Cameroon officials of any suspected visitors in our localities” he says.
These first 100 Muslim leaders will be given equipment to take back with them and can now use since Cameroon inaugurated an optical fiber internet network in the north last year.
Boko Haram, which means western education is a sin, has been recruiting young people and attacking schools, mosques and churches in northern Cameroon - which it has been using as a staging ground in its 5 year bloody campaign to establish a caliphate in northern Nigeria. It has targeted and kidnapped dozens of clergy and Muslim religious leaders who criticize the group. The clerics will use equipment for collecting data and keeping an inventory of young people suspected to have been recruited by Boko Haram.