Islamic militant group Boko Haram has expanded from its base in Nigeria to neighboring Cameroon, where its presence threatens to seriously hamper international development efforts for a very long time, according to a local politician.
“I think that right now, Boko Haram is probably bringing Cameroon and Nigeria to a point that’s going to determine at least the next 50, if not 100 years,” Kah Walla, president of the National Council of the Cameroon People’s Party, told members of the Cameroonian diaspora during a meeting on Saturday in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Walla, who is gearing up for a presidential run in 2018, added: “People don’t realize the extent of this crisis, how deep it is, and what kind of a determinant it is for these two countries.”
The presidential aspirant wants a robust development strategy to combat Boko Haram in Cameroon’s northern region and is appealing to foreign donors to support efforts on the ground.
“You cannot solve these situations with a solely military strategy. It will not work,” she said. “You have to look at the development aspect of things, and in the short-term you have to look at the humanitarian [aspect.]”
Walla recently visited communities battered by economic hardship and infiltrated by Boko Haram in Cameroon’s Far North Region, a province bordering Nigeria and Chad, where the Islamic militants are also present.
“It was heartbreaking,” she said.
Walla added that community members told her they feel caught in the middle of an ongoing fight between the militants and the government. As one man told her: “Elephants are fighting, and we are [the] grass.”
Offering money and a political agenda, Walla explained how Boko Haram can be appealing to some desperate young people in the Far North Region, where the majority of the population suffers rampant poverty, a lack of jobs, an anguishing economy and corruption.
“It’s important to help to raise money. It’s important to help write projects and proposals, because we need short-term, concrete things to be happening,” she said, adding that young people and women would benefit from entrepreneurship training programs that give them hope and viable alternatives to Boko Haram.
Yet, Walla pointed out, many international organizations are pulling out of the region due to security concerns. As a consequence, local nongovernmental organizations are seeing a decrease in their funding.
“There are NGOs on the ground in the north who are doing good work,” she said. “They really need help at this time.”
But how can donors support such on-the-ground development efforts in a resource-poor and war-torn region while still ensuring accountability of funds? Aly Sanoh, an economist at the World Bank, attended Walla’s talk and cautioned that donors should be careful not to throw money away.
“If you don’t have means to verify, or to follow up the money, you don’t have a lot of options,” Sanoh said. “When it comes to money, accountability has to take over everything. It has to take over emotions.”
One of Walla’s suggestions for donors is to find an in-country partner in the south that can be trusted to bring funds and resources to development projects in the north, where the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, she mentioned, is desperate for resources to operate.
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