As search and rescue intensify to find an entire family kidnapped by armed men on speedy bikes, fear has gripped the local population who have often suffered in the hands of roadside, cross-border bandits.
These armed highway robbers believed to be perpetuated by foreigners often target well-off travellers and traders plying to and fro the northern and southern regions of Cameroon, and not foreign tourists. With this recent kidnapping of a French family and their car taken before being abandoned, it is believed the ambush and harassment have now moved to a tactical level of hostage taking. Crossing Cameroon’s borders from either West, the Nigerian end or from East, the Chadian side, these armed gangs locally called coupeur de route randomly stop vehicles at hasty mounted checkpoints to demand money and jewels. If in the course of an operation an alarm is raised to alert the Cameroonian police or Special Forces, stationed in this vulnerable area, these armed bandits are said to often sneak back into their country of origin. Not knowing what is happening or awaiting them in the other side of the frontiers, the Cameroonian forces can only limit their pursuit to their own borders.
As a way to keep the gangs off Cameroon’s territory, a rapid intervention battalion deployed in the region constantly patrol the areas, especially strategic outlets with abnormal activities. In other security measures to protect the population, soldiers of this battalion who are well trained and armed to the teeth, often escort vehicles traversing the area, especially in the night. However with the area of operation along the Chad Plain vast, and dotted with picturesque high grounds, these Special Forces are often overstretched. With the forces outnumbered by the task and terrain to cover, it is possible that the watchful bandits can move in whenever a loophole emerges along the borders.
Time to act now or never
Whether the bandits are actually part of the militant groups terrorising people in northern Nigeria under the mask of spreading Islam or simply a group of armed thugs, the Cameroon government needs to act now, and act quick to protect its borders and populations. With the militants being chased and tracked down daily in Nigeria, it is but obvious to suspect that they could easily cross over to Cameroon to seek refuge. However because they are armed and equally looking for means to survive as well as keep fighting, foreigners and local people have now become their prey. It is a shame that the French are the one more worried about the situation of the kidnapped family with four children included than the Cameroon government that is good at talking than taking action.
As the nation of concern, and equally as an endeavour to reassure all tourists on a safari trip to the Waza National Park that their safety is guaranteed, Cameroon must leave no stone unturned to lead rescue – for the seven French to be handed over alive and in good health. It shall be an utmost challenge, but Cameroon must brace up for it. Any government in power must protect its populations as well as its territory to prove that it has jurisdiction and supremacy over them. Apart from the search and rescue, Cameroon government must also be vigilant that the militants do not use Cameroon as a launch pad or springboard for attacks in northern Nigeria or initiate some wayward Muslims in northern Cameroon to start their own rebellion against the Yaoundé administration.
The French government led by President Hollande, might be planning other operations to get the family back. Whatever such plans are and how feasible they could get the family from the captives without any casualty, Cameroon must give its accord and must be involved in every stage. For any operation or deal for the release to be successful, Cameroon authorities should play the role of mediators since the militant would obviously not want to talk with the French who they termed as enemies of Islam and their jihads.