CAMEROON – Everybody is afraid of the suicide bombers
On Friday 19 February a double suicide bombing in a market in Mémé in northern Cameroon claimed the lives of at least 20 people and left several dozen injured. The attack by two female suicide bombers, is thought to have been the work of Boko Haram. According to the government over 1200 people have been killed since 2013 in the extreme northern region of the country. Bishop Bruno Ateba Edo of the diocese of Maroua-Mokolo, which covers this region, was interviewed by ACN.
Bishop Edo, who are these attacks meant to be targeting?
It’s the entire population they are targeting.Whether they are Muslims, Christians, or pagans, it’s the entire population you are attacking in a crowded marketplace! Sometimes they may well attack a group of Christians, but last week in Mémé it was a marketplace.
How are the people of Cameroon reacting?
Everybody is afraid of the suicide bombers. There is a kind of psychosis. Whenever people gather together, as they do at markets, people don’t know who is who and it is impossible to keep tabs on everyone. In the villages they have set up community watch committees in an attempt to protect these places, but despite that, people are frequently able to infiltrate.
Who are these committees made up of?
They are the village people themselves, working in collaboration with the army – because in order to do this you have to know the region well and the language. They are working flat out with the army.
Are you witnessing an exodus of the population in northern Cameroon?
The suicide bombers generally work along the frontier, except that occasionally there are attacks elsewhere – as in fact happened at Mémé, which is about 22 miles (35 km) from the frontier. Many people are taking shelter in Maroua, which is the major town in the area and a little further inland. It is generally safer in the towns; the problem is nearer to the frontier because the frontier is very porous – there is no clear frontier as there is in Europe. Here the same major ethnic group, even the same family is often found in different countries – with the uncle in Cameroon, the sister in Nigeria … Sometimes even part of one house is in Cameroon and another part in Nigeria.
Have relations changed between Muslims and Christians with the spread of Boko Haram?
There is a good dialogue between the Christians and the Muslims and good collaboration. For example, the children of the village chiefs often attend our Catholic schools. We are all afraid of the suicide bombers, whether we are Muslims or Christians.
Boko Haram seems to be weakening… What do you think about that?
Militarily speaking, they are already defeated. But there are still the suicide bombers. Previously there were armed attacks, but now there are these isolated bombings.
What is the Church doing to reassure the faithful?
We are preaching hope and we are praying for peace. We have a prayer for peace which I myself composed, and we pray it every day after Holy Mass. We have also called upon our Catholic faithful to show acts of mercy towards the refugees – both the internally displaced and the refugees from Nigeria. We tell our people that despite the suicide bombers, and despite the war, our prayers will help us greatly.
Amelie de la Hougue