12 Dead in an Ethnic Conflict in Far North of Cameroon

Last week 12 people died in clashes between herders and fishers in the Far North region of Cameroon, according to Reuters. However, VoaNews is reporting that 18 have been killed. At least 48 people were wounded and treated in hospitals in Cameroon and neighboring Chad. Between 40 and 100 houses are estimated to have been destroyed and hundreds of people are believed to have fled. The violence took place between two ethnic groups: Mousgoum fishers and Arab Choua herders living in the city Kousseri. One of the wounded was Mouhamadou Evele, who told VoaNews he was attacked with bows, arrows, and machetes. His three children were abducted and he still does not know their whereabouts. According to Reuters, this is the worst ethnic violence in Cameroon’s recent history.

Cameroon is a republic with more than 250 different ethnic groups and two main languages, French and English. According to Mahamat Bahar, a local customary chief, conflicts between farmers, herders, and fishers have always existed but the reason the violence was deadlier this time was that the local population armed themselves with firearms to protect themselves against Boko Haram. Human Rights Watch has reported that the armed jihadist group has killed at least 80 civilians and looted hundreds of homes in the Far North Region between December 2020 and April 2021. Moreover, they claim that Cameroon’s Far North Region (located between Nigeria and Chad) is increasingly becoming the epicenter for Boko Haram’s violence and that the group is “waging a war on the people of Cameroon.” Militant groups connected to ISIS have also become active in the region. Groups like these have previously utilized ethnic conflict to gain more recruits.

The Far North is one of the regions in Cameroon where the population is increasingly suffering food insecurity. This is partly due to an influx of refugees, internally displaced people, and rising Boko Haram violence. The Far North Region has also suffered floods. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, in last year’s flood, about 70 percent of the region’s sorghum, bean, and rice was destroyed. The violence last week started because of a disagreement over water sources, according to the region’s governor Midjiyawa Bakari. The fishermen created dikes to enable their fishing in an area at the Logone river, where the herders usually had their cattle drink water. The Logone part of the Lake Chad Basin lost 70 percent of its water within the past 50 years, according to Lake Chad Basin Commission. The herders were angry because their cattle were falling into the holes. During this time of food insecurity when farming is difficult, both fishery and animal husbandry are critical sources of food.

The government is using multiple channels to try to establish peace in the area. The state has reportedly urged traditional rulers and local authorities to calm the situation down. Moreover, troops have been deployed into the area. The Cameroonian President Paul Biya has also sent a delegation led by Bakari to Kousseri. Bakari told the news site Xinhua, “The situation is calm and stable but the tension is still very high.” However, if the government wants the peacebuilding attempts to last, they will have to more directly address threats from Boko Haram, ethnic tension, and food insecurity.