ACHIGACHIA, CAMEROON —
Trade is returning to Cameroon's border communities more than two years since the start of the regional military offensive against Boko Haram militants. But as security improves, local officials warn Boko Haram remains a threat.
Hundreds of buyers and sellers assembled at the Ngule market near Achigachia as police and a few soldiers stood guard. The town straddles the Cameroon-Nigeria border, which officially reopened in January.
At the market, traders sell cotton, sorghum and millet destined for Nigeria. Food items and dresses from Nigeria are also for sale.
Fifty-eight-year old merchant Bouba Lamsi said 80 percent of the population in the area work in commerce. He said business activity is picking up and life is slowly coming to their locality.
It's a stark change from last year when the village was deserted after a large Boko Haram attack on Achigachia and a nearby military command post. Mosques, schools, and the market were burned.
In April, the government of Cameroon reconstructed the market and refurbished the Ngule government primary school, also damaged in the deadly attack. Hundreds have returned to class.
Speaking to VOA as he visited the school, Boniface Bayaola, Cameroon's secretary of state for secondary education, said teachers who are still reluctant to resume work should be informed that peace has returned.
He said he is visiting schools that were shut down due to the insurgency to encourage children with textbooks and financial assistance.
The official said 125 of the 170 schools sealed in the former Boko Haram hot spots of Logone, Chari, Mayo-Sava and Mayo-Tsanaga administrative units have been reopened.
But Midjiyawa Bakari, the governor of the Far North region of Cameroon, urged vigilance. He said Boko Haram has lost significant firepower but has orchestrated at least 20 suicide bombings in the area since January.
"We cannot say that 100 percent we have security," he said. "You know how Boko Haram is operating. They are just seeing whether you are sleeping and they will operate."
Another concern is food security.
El Hadj Toukour Abbo, who reopened his business in Achigachia after a two-year hiatus, sells cattle and livestock to Nigerian traders. But he said he now has to travel to the interior of Cameroon to find the animals.
He said cattle ranchers at the border are now poor and jobless because all of their stock has been stolen. Most herders have lost everything, he added, and prefer to leave their villages and move to more secure places where they can have food to eat and water to drink.
The Cameroonian government has begun distributing seeds to farmers willing to return to their fields, offering assurances of protection in the event of a Boko Haram attack.
But some residents say it is too risky to go home to their villages.