AMCHIDE, CAMEROON - Officials in Cameroon and Nigeria say economic activity has gradually resumed along their border, despite the continued presence of the terrorist group Boko Haram. Markets have re-opened and border merchants say traveling near the border is safer thanks to a heavy presence of troops.
Gasoline seller Oumarou Fouman, 40, said life is gradually returning to the town of Amchide on Cameroon's northern border with Nigeria. He said many merchants have been crossing into Cameroon from Nigeria with electronic appliances, auto parts and food to sell.
Fouman said he is one of eight men who have resumed buying gasoline from Nigeria and selling it in Cameroon. He said before he crosses over from Cameroon, he calls his suppliers in the Nigerian town of Banki to find out if it is safe to travel.
Seini Lamin Boukar is the traditional ruler and mayor of Kolofata, a Cameroonian town on the border with Nigeria. Boukar and five of his family members were abducted by Boko Haram fighters in 2014 and released after a week.
Boukar said business is picking up in Kolofata and cattle ranchers from African countries have begun visiting the cattle market.
He notes there is still a security problem. On April 7, Boko Haram fighters attacked merchants in Kolofata for food and money, just five days after the cattle market reopened.
"The first thing to do is to help us to finalize the security actions and also to boost the commercial activities. Amchide is a strong commercial city, we have people coming from the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and so on," said Boukar.
Rights groups are also concerned about the safety of civilians on the Cameroon Nigeria border. Illaria Allegrozi is senior central African researcher for Human Rights Watch. She said there has been a resurgence of Boko Haram atrocities in the region with serious consequences for civilians.
"The security situation in this region remains extremely volatile and violence continues to push people out of their homes. We as HRW but also U.N. agencies have documented how hundreds of families across the regions move daily to safer areas to avoid Boko Haram attacks. For example, following the January 8 Boko Haram attack in Mozogo, hundreds of people did not spend the night at home for over a month," she said.
Allegrozi said conditions in Cameroon northern administrative units like Mayo Sava, Mayo Tsanaga and Mayo Moskota do not appear conducive for displaced people to safely return to their homes.
"More needs to be done to effectively protect civilians in the Far North region including by boosting the military presence and patrols and also ensuring that the soldiers uphold human rights standards," she said.
Boko Haram has been fighting for 11 years to create an Islamic caliphate in northeast Nigeria. The fighting has spread to Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin.
The United Nations reports that Boko Haram violence has cost the lives of at least 30,000 people and displaced about 2 million in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad.