Boko Haram turns Cameroon tourist hotspot into a ghost town

2014-06-02 13:26
Abubakar Shekau claims to be the leader of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram. (Boko Haram/ AFP)

Abubakar Shekau claims to be the leader of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram. (Boko Haram/ AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

kalahari.com

Waza - With a famous nature reserve, elephant safaris, and a reputation as a peaceful haven, the small town of Waza in the far north of Cameroon used to buzz with tourists.

Today, it is like a ghost town. The walls of the hotels are crumbling and guest bedrooms remain stubbornly empty. By early evening, one local official says, the streets are deserted.

Located just a few kilometres from the border with Nigeria, Waza has been gripped by "general panic" since an attack by suspected Boko Haram Islamists who kidnapped 10 Chinese in mid-May, said the secretary-general of the town, Tandjo.

The security forces searching for them believe they were quickly taken back over the border, to the northeastern region of Nigeria that has become Boko Haram's stronghold.

It was the latest in a series of incursions into northern Cameroon by the group, who officials say take advantage of a porous border to evade detection.

Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is forbidden", has killed thousands since 2009 in its fight to establish an Islamic state in the north of Nigeria.

As well as the kidnapping of 200 schoolgirls, it has burnt down entire villages and launched deadly gun attacks, and the violence has not been contained by the border.

Just last week, three soldiers were wounded after coming under attack by Boko Haram Islamists in northern Cameroon.

Cameroon's President Paul Biya has declared "war on Boko Haram", and is sending military reinforcements to the region to try and combat the group. At least 1 000 troops are expected to start arriving Monday.

The soldiers will be welcome in places like Waza, but they may not be enough to rescue the town's crumbling tourist industry.

Shaking with gunfire

It was on the night of 16 May that suspected Boko Haram gunmen targeted Waza, killing a Cameroonian soldier before abducting 10 Chinese road workers from their camp.

"The night of the attack, the town was shaking with all the gunfire," said a 20-year-old Cameroonian who worked with the Chinese and did not want to give his name.

A few weeks on, tensions are still high. Standing guard at the entrance to the camp, a member of the Rapid Intervention Battalion, an elite unit with the Cameroon army, shouts at the driver of a motorbike headed his way.

"Go back!", he shouts, his arm hovering over the trigger of his gun.

"You should get out of here," another soldier tells AFP. "We are in a war situation."

Not far away, two soldiers patrol in front of the construction site where machinery has stood still since the hostages were taken.

Some 22 people have been killed by the Cameroonian army in the aftermath, their bodies, local officials say, also smuggled back over the border by their accomplices.

'There is fear here'

Tandjo says the town's residents are terrified of another attack.

"People are traumatised," he says. "They knew about Boko Haram, but they had never witnessed one of their attacks."

"From 7pm, people go home and do not leave again," he says.

Most officials have moved their families to safer areas. One had a heart attack after a bullet tore through his courtyard, says Tandjo.

"There is fear here. We are afraid that there will be another attack", said the young road worker, one of the few people from the town who is happy to talk about what happened.

He has not worked since the raid, and today, sits under a tree, hoping for a change of fortune.

During the night, no one is allowed to ride around by motorbike - Boko Haram's preferred method of transport - in the entire north-east region of Cameroon.

For a once-buzzing tourist town, the change is devastating.

Andre Ndjidda, who works in the Waza National Park, one of the most well-known in Cameroon, says hardly any foreign visitors have ventured there in months, after a series of kidnappings in the far north region.

The trouble in this part of the country, which once had a reputation for tranquility, started in 2013, when Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of the priest Georges Vandenbeusch and the Moulin-Fournier family from France.

They were later released, but their kidnapping made headlines around the world.

"The fate of the park was already decided," said Ndjidda, of those kidnappings. "[But] The abduction of the Chinese workers sealed the fate for the town."
Read more on:    boko haram  |  cameroon  |  nigeria  |  west africa
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
19 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/News
 

Get fit on a budget

It’s time to throw the “I can’t afford to exercise” excuse out the window.

 
 

Where were you when you last felt alive?

Tips for paddling your first Dusi
Climbing the world’s largest stone arch
Awesome extreme sports people
Watch: 2015 Absa Cape Epic route

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Seen something you like in our catalogue?

Find the perfect gift and save up to R5000 – As seen on the catalogue. Hurry and shop now!

Save up to R1000 on Hisense smartphones!

View the large range of Hisense smartphones. Buy today and save up to R1000!

Toys 4 for the price of 3

Buy 4 toys and get the cheapest FREE! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Mind blowing prices – As seen on TV

Get mind blowing prices on 1000’s of products! Shop now.

Deal of the week!

Save R1200 on the Samsung 48” smart full HD LED television now only R8799. Buy now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

You may prefer to be in charge because then you can call the shots. You are not as flexible as you like to make out to be and you...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.