Boko Haram is actively recruiting Almajiri school children in northern Nigeria, while concerns mount regarding the possibility that the Islamic extremist group’s next target for mass violence may be Cameroon. The Almajiri system of education is a form of religious instruction in which male children attend school for several hours each day to learn Koran verses, then spend the rest of their time begging in the streets.
“Almajiri” is from the Arabic word for “immigrant,” and in most cases almajiri students have left their birth homes and parents and traveled long distances to attend Koran school. Many almajiris find they have nowhere to turn after the relative structure of their education has been completed, and are easily attracted to Boko Haram. According to some sources, the number of almajiris in Nigeria is well into the millions.
Boko Haram, which translates in English as, “Western education is forbidden,” is waging an ongoing terrorist campaign against the Nigerian government to establish sharia law throughout the country and completely eliminate Western education from Nigerian schools. According to the U. S. Congressional Research Service (CRS), Boko Haram’s ambitions may not end at Nigeria’s borders and may include the intent of engaging not only the rest of Africa, but Europe and even the U. S., in an all-out jihad, or holy war.
So far, most Boko Haram attacks have occurred in northeastern Nigeria. However, the imminent fear of kidnappings and the constant threat of violence have had an adverse effect on the economies of bordering countries Chad and Niger, and Cameroon. The CRS acknowledges reports of Boko Haram fighters using remote areas along the borders to escape from Nigerian military interventions. Concerns over the militant extremist group’s use of border communities for transit and recruiting have been openly expressed by officials in all three countries.
Numerous refugees from Nigeria have sought shelter from Boko Haram’s activities in bordering countries Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. According to the CRS, these three countries combined are now hosting more than 60,000 Nigerian refugees.
Boko Haram is not only recruiting Nigerian almajiri children, but may view Cameroon, on the northeast border of Nigeria, as a prime target for Boko Haram’s next wave of expansion. The stage has already been set for violence in Cameroon through a series of attacks that included the kidnapping of the wife and several close family members of Vice Prime Minister Amadou Ali, and the subsequent killing of the Vice Prime minister’s brother in late July.
The refugees from Nigeria are not the only refugees in Cameroon: Hundreds of thousands of refugees have flooded into Cameroon from the Central African Republic (CAR) in the last year, and influx continues. With its government system overloaded with the needs of large numbers of refugees from both Nigeria and CAR, Cameroon is struggling to provide basic services. The World Food Programme claims that at least 1 out of 3 refugee children arriving in Cameroon from CAR is malnourished, and many have malaria and other diseases. While the government in Cameroon is doing everything it can to help the refugees, the country was unprepared for treating so many. Forty percent of the population of Cameroon lives below the poverty line and seventy percent of the population of Cameroon depends on agricultural or pastoral activities.
Additionally, in Cameroon’s urban centers, homeless children have started to appear. While other African countries besides Nigeria have Koran schools and the accompanying problems with street children, and although the almajiri system is not officially established in Cameroon, street children, or “displaced children,” have become a growing concern.
While Boko Haram continues to recruit Nigerian almajiri children into its organization, Cameroon makes plans to defend itself from being the next target of mass violence. The CRS reports that Niger, Chad and Cameroon have formed a multinational coalition to coordinate their defense efforts against Boko Haram. Despite the political will to cooperate, each country has limited military and law enforcement capacity. And according to a Reuters report, a long-standing border dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon has further limited the partnership to some degree.
By Lane Therrell