A UN top aid official in Cameroon, Najat Rochdi, on Tuesday said Boko Haram Islamist militant group was expanding and the time to stop them was now.
Rochdi, who is Resident Coordinator of UN aids activities in the country, said in Yaoundé that the terrorists’ strategy was to demonstrate its power with daily suicide bombings, using young girls.
“Its offensive is bankrupting Cameroon’s economy and destroying a fragile society, especially influencing the young.
“Boko Haram is giving them a sense, because they are convincing them that it is a sacrifice for the better.
“So we have to show them that they don’t have to die to have a better life,” she said.
She said that there was a chance to stop and uproot their activities in Cameroon, because the group’s recruits were driven by poverty and marginalisation.
“If it was Jihadism, we all know it’s very difficult to compete with God.
“But, because it’s just about having a voice and empowerment and economic opportunities and believing in a future, that’s something we know how to do,” Rochdi said.
She recalled that Boko Haram declared allegiance to the Islamic State in March and stepped up its bombing, tripling Cameroon’s number of displaced people to 158,000.
Rochdi said the group now straddled the borders of Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon with number estimated at 40,000 and ambitions to set up an oil-rich Islamic state around Lake Chad.
“We used to have pockets of Boko Haram, it’s definitely expanding.
“It looks like they are trying to break through inside the country and also towards the borders in the east, the borders with Central African Republic,’’ she said.
She said the impact of the sect’s activity on farming and markets had more than doubled the number of food-insecure people to 2.2 million and that more than 15 per cent of children were acutely malnourished.
Rochdi said that UN was trying to counter Boko Haram by re-establishing markets and the jobs that went with them as well as getting children back to school.
She said that the danger was that Boko Haram could grow and link up with other Islamist groups, potentially triggering a worse refugee crisis in Europe than the one seen this year.