Rain does not fall on one roof alone: Nigeria, Cameroun and the Central African Republic. Part 1

Pluie ne tombe pas sur un toit seul (Rain does not fall on one roof alone)

Cameroun bordering west and central Afrcameroonica has been an island of stability for the 53 years of its independence. Ruled by Paul Biya since 1982, it has seen none of the internal strife, civil or conventional wars that its neighbours; Nigeria, Chad or Central African Republic (CAR) etc have come to face.

Other than low level border disputes with Nigeria, which saw Cameroun militarily stymied but ultimately victorious through the ICJ, there has been very little need for Cameroun’s 35,300 man military to trouble itself.

This commentator would suggest that this has changed, not necessarily for reasons within Cameroun’s control but for reasons that it would do very well to try and control.

Cameroun exists in a veritably chaotic neighbourhood. To the south Congo Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, Nigeria to the west, Chad to the Northeast and CAR to the East. It has a neighbour that is significantly stronger than it but with serious internal problems (Nigeria) and others that are extremely weak with limited state control over their territory and severe internal problems (CAR, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Congo Brazzaville).

Cameroun’s Armed Forces:

Cameroun’s Armed Forces consist of an Army, Navy and Air Force with a militarised Gendarmerie. The country is divided into 3 Joint Military Regions (Regions Militaires InterArmees (RMIA)) which are further subdivided into Land Military Sectors (Secteurs Militaires Terrestres (SMT)). The Gendarmerie are organised into Regions (Regions de Gendarmerie) matching those of the military with Gendarmerie Legions (Legions de Gendarmerie) matching the military sectors

Regions Provinces Sectors Sector   HQ Airforce Bordering
RMIA1   (HQ   in Yaounde) Centre SMT1 Yaounde Yaounde
East (Est) SMT8 Bertoua CAR (East)Congo Brazzaville (South)
South (Sud) SMT7 Ebolowa Equatorial Guinea (South)Gabon (South)
RMIA2   (HQ   in Douala) Shore    (Littoral) SMT2 Douala Douala Atlantic Ocean
North West (Nord Ouest) SMT6 Bamenda Bamenda Nigeria (West)
West (Ouest) SMT9 Bafoussam Koutaba
South West (Sud Ouest) SMT10 Buea Nigeria (West)Atlantic Ocean (South)
RMIA3   (HQ   in Garoua) North (Nord) SMT3 Garoua Garoua Nigeria (West)Chad (East)CAR (East)
Far North (Extreme Nord) SMT4 Maroua Nigeria (West)Chad (East)
Adamaoua (Adamawa) SMT5 Ngaoundere Nigeria (West)CAR (East)

Army (Armee de Terre du Cameroun): the 23,000 man Army consists of the following:

Corps Unit Quantity
Infantry Battalion 11
Reconnaissance   (Armoured Cars) Battalion 1
Artillery                               Battalion 1
Anti   Aircraft Battalion 1
Commando Battalion 1
Engineers   and Support Battalion 3
Presidential   Guard Battalion 1
Rapid   Intervention Brigade Battalion 3

The Army has rocket and gun artillery, no main battle tanks but AFVs, APCs, IFVs and recce vehicles.

Cameroun Air Force (Armee de l’Air du Cameroun): has 1800 personnel with a modest inventory of combat and transport. Combat aircraft are 5 converted Impala Mk1 and Mk2 trainers and 4 Alpha jets which have been grounded since a crash in 2011; the 6 CM-170 Magister training aircraft have been grounded as well. Cameroun has 3 Mi-24 and has signed an agreement with Russia for a further undisclosed number, however most transport helicopters ( 5 out of 9 are serviceable) and transport planes (16) are grounded. Structurally it has a good balance of aircraft and helicopters for a small force mainly focussed on internal security however; they are poorly maintained and not used. There are 5 Air Force bases in Garoua (officer and pilot training and attack and training), Koutaba (training for airmen and base of Battalion des Troupes Aeroportees (BTAP)), Yaounde (helicopter and liaison), Douala (logistics and tactical transport) and Bamenda (base of Fusiliers Commando de l’Air (BAFUSCO AIR)). Of these Garaou is the most modern and capable of taking large aircraft.

Navy (Marine Nationale Republique): has strength of 1,500 personnel with major bases in Douala, Kribi and Limbe. It has approximately 2 patrol vessels, 3 coastal patrol vessels, about 30 riverine craft, 2 missile boats and 2 landing craft

Cameroun’s Security imperatives:

The main effort of the Camerounian armed forces is defending the regime and Cameroun’s economic interests. The best equipped and most capable forces are based around Yaounde and under direct command of the President. The navy is structured to police Cameroun’s coast line and the air force equipped with converted ground trainers for ground attack and transport aircraft for rapid reinforcement. Majority of the armed forces is poorly equipped and trained.

Cameroun’s biggefiftybouba_ndjida_national_park_rangerst external threat has been limited conflict with Nigeria over the Bakassi Peninsula; they have very limited experience in all types of operations. Camerounian forces had French Foreign Legion advisers during the Bakassi confrontation and recorded isolated successes in low level skirmishes with Nigeria but were repeatedly defeated in set piece encounters. Camerounian forces as a whole have virtually no experience of modern conventional or asymmetric operations, in hostile internal or peace support environments. The best trained and equipped forces are the Presidential Guard and the Battalion d’Intervention Rapide (BIR) both commanded by former Israeli Colonel Avi Sivan until his death in 2010. However the Presidential Guard has had recent discipline problems and BIR that was specifically set up in 1999 to deal with armed bandits, is also now tasked with securing Bakassi and the CAR border. Of all Camerounian units the BIR is the best trained, equipped and experienced having successfully dealt with bandits in the North and is currently based in Bakassi and the East.

Growing Threats to Cameroun

Northern Cameroun: the 3 northern Regions of Extreme Nord, Nord and Adamaoua are fragile and insecure with porous borders that allow in armed bands from Chad, CAR and Nigeria. They suffer from extreme desertification, disease, deep poverty, political disenchantment and disillusionment, flooding, malnutrition, refugees from Chad, CAR and Nigeria, lower school attendance, child marriages, underequipped schools and hospitals. All these are fodder for the roving bands of Islamist preachers and now insurgents to propagate Islamic fundamentalism.

Boko Haram originated in Borno State (which borders the Extreme Nord Region), which has the largest concentration of Kanuri’s in the Lake Chad Basin. The Kanuri’s extend in various ethno linguistic groups from Nigeria to Chad to Niger to Cameroun. The porous borders and undeveloped nature of the Region permit Boko Haram to use Northern Cameroun as a rest, recuperation, rearming, training and staging area.

This in itself would not present Cameroun with an immediate security problem if Boko Haram and Ansaru solely focused on Nigeria but these groups have rather rudely taken to using Northern Cameroun to raise funds via tax collection and hostage taking, first a French family (the Moulin-Fourniers) were taken in Waza National Park in February 2012 and then a French priest (Father Georges Vandenbeusch).

The Regions have seen an upsurge in elephant poaching in the Waza and Bouba Njidda Game reserves, highway robbery and banditry, attacks on churches and as their safe areas in Nigeria become more and more hostile direct attacks on Nigerian targets from Cameroun. The BIR were deployed again to the region to deal with poaching in 2012 and in 2013 increased banditry. In light of recent attacks a curfew has been imposed on departments bordering Nigeria.

Eastern Cameroun: the Central African Republic shares a 797 km border with Est, Adamaoua and Nord Regions in Cameroun, the current round of instability in this country began in January 2013 when a ceasefire between the government of Francois Bozize and a loose coalition of rebel groups known as Seleka broke down, the rebels advanced ignoring the red line set down by Central African community FOMAC troops and defeated a South African National Defence Force company that bravely but inadvisably tried to stop them.

Chadian and Sudanese Muslim bandits were a significant part of the Seleka coalition that took power and being unable or unwilling to join the CAR military and unwilling to disarm they took to wanton banditry, provoking the formation of Christian Anti Balaka militias who not only defended their homes but attacked their Muslim neighbours. The resultant turmoil led to an intervention by France and the AU which was preceded by an increase in banditry and cross border attacks on Cameroun’s Nord, Adamaoua and Est Regions.

Attacks upon border posts, seizure of hostages, grenade attacks in Garoua and more have prompted a much more proactive response from Cameroun, with the activation of an Army Brigade tasked with securing the Congolese/ CAR border in Est Region with its HQ at Ebolowa, consisting of the 11th Battalion, an Air Force Battalion and 12th Motorized Battalion at Bertoua and 13th Infantry Battalion at Yokadouma and Leta Bir. There are Company locations in Nkentzou, Moloundou, Gbiti, Toktoyo, Oundjiki, Gari, Gombo, Kette, Mobal and other places.

A Gendarmerie unit has also been deployed with the HQ and 2 Squadrons in Bertoua, one in Abong-Mbang, one in Yokadouma and another in Garoua Boulai. The Gendemarie are tasked with securing the lives and property of the populace. The BIR have also been deployed to secure the border acting as mobile shock troops used to react to attacks and incidents

Insecurity in Northern and Eastern Cameroun, Southern Chad and Western and Northern CAR, have a symbiotic nature. CAR being landlockedcameroon_elite_forces with no railways depends on the roads for almost all consumer goods and in the north has been repeatedly plagued by highway robbers (known as coupeurs de routes or Zaraguina), many of whom are Fulani’s, Chadian rebels or army deserters. They attack the local populace who are barely above subsistence level themselves, engaging in banditry, poaching, cattle theft and kidnap for ransom, demanding up to 2 million CFA Francs each from these extremely poor people. The resultant cost of raising the ransom drives poor people even  further into destitution sometimes leaving them no option than to become bandits themselves to support their families. When fighting flares up in Chad, there is increase banditry in CAR and Cameroun due to deserters and retreating rebels. When there are anti Zaraguina operations in Cameroun they move to CAR, when there is civil war or fighting in CAR they move to Cameroun. When the Zaraguina are unable to rob they turn to poaching. Possibly due to the long standing nature of this problem Cameroun takes the threat from CAR more seriously than that from Boko Haram. Cameroun has also signed several treaties with Chad and Car covering security and wildlife protection and purchased microlights to aid the anti poaching effort.

Why is Cameroun so attractive to criminals and insurgents?

s-CENTRAL-AFRICAN-REPUBLIC-REBELS-FIGHT-AGAINST-CAMEROONIAN-ARMY_largeManpower: various rebel groups from Seleka, Chadian rebels, deserters and mercenaries, Boko Haram, defeated Bozize supporters, Fulani nomads, cattle thieves, smugglers, coupeurs de routes/ Zaraguina, poachers from Sudan and Chad. All of these armed, trained, disaffected men make ideal recruits for Boko Haram or Seleka, notwithstanding thousands of unemployed young men interested in jihad, adventure or just getting something to eat or do.

Weapons: The removal of Ghaddafi in 2011 released a lot of weapons into the Sahel. Most now go to Syria and Egypt/ Gaza but a huge proportion were sold to groups who went to Northern Mali, Niger and Chad. The Syrian demand and Gulf money means that most of the best weapon systems are leaving the continent however, there are already established arms markets and networks from Chad to Niger to Sudan that meet in Northern Cameroun, without the surveillance that established routes in Southern Libya or Niger are under. A lot of groups have rearmed using this bonanza meaning there is a surplus of older weapons and technical’s as well

Funds: foreign hostages can generate huge payoffs but these are few and far between, alot more money can be made by taxing or protecting poachers, fuel and goods smugglers, legitimate traders, money changers, cattle raiders and drug smugglers, or doing these activities themselves. Other forms of crime like kidnap for ransom, highway robbery, raiding villages, and protection rackets provide a steady source of funds for sustenance aided by the paucity of police and army in the North.

Ethnolinguistic links: the old Adamawa Emirate straddles Northern Nigeria and Mid Cameroun, with cities such as Yola and Garoua having ancient links going back to the 19th century only divided by the colonial efforts of the Germans, French and finally British. Likewise the Kanem-Bornu Empire straddles Nigeria, Cameroun, Niger and Chad, with Kanuri and its variants spoken across the Lake Chad Basin. These linguistic, family and cultural ties give insurgents valuable protection, local knowledge and a common narrative when recruiting or proselytising. Thus a pan Islamic message can sometimes be subsumed or combined with a Kanuri or Adamawa revivalist message. Actions of the security forces can be described in terms of the corruption of the Sokoto Caliphate or the depredations of the heathen colonialist, with the jihad being described as a continuation of Usman dan Fodio’s jihad against the unbelievers. These links extend into the cultural, political and economic life of this area and are fundamental to shaping the problem

Islamic culture:  in the eyes of many adherents traditional Islamic leaders in Nigeria are corrupt and tainted and in Cameroun Islamic leaders have been deliberately suborned to secular authority leaving a significant ‘belief’ gap that is generally filled by radical elements, including wandering Wahabbi preachers from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Much like the early encroachment of AQIM in Northern Mali there have been reports of brand new mosques built in otherwise destitute villages. There is also a history of Islamic revivalism and mahdism, the 19th century Sudanese Mahdiyya Caliphate had close links to several lamidates (sub states) in the Adamawa Emirate as well as the Bornu-Kanem Empire. All these movements came out of rebellion against the conservative traditional Islamic governments of the time, rejecting modern Islamic interpretations and the old Islamic administrations as well as fighting foreign powers. This theme is still prevalent today amongst hopeless peoples looking for a solution to seemingly intractable problems. Combined with a lack structured formalised Islamic training and poverty and disillusionment Islamic fundamentalism has become an extremely powerful voice.

Covenant of Security: this school of Islamic thought deems that one does not attack a country that provides sanctuary and allows Muslims to practice and live in peace. There is no evidence that this is what is in effect in Cameroun however Christian Paul Biya a few years after replacing a Northern Muslim Ahamadou Ahidjo decided he had evidence of a coup plot, permanently exiling Ahidjo and his family and arresting several of his supporters. It can only be presumed that the narrative was successfully framed in a purely political context not tribal or religious as Mohammed Marwa left Cameroun to begin the revivalist Maitatsine movement in Kano not Yaounde. There have been no overt claimed attacks in Cameroun (except in Amchide) nor have wealthy or prominent Camerounians or businesses been targeted only foreigners, all of whom are claimed explicitly by Nigerian groups, held in Nigeria and justified as reactions to French and not Camerounian actions.

Attacks have been launched from Cameroun repeatedly, some virtually straight from Cameroun, yet there have been no attacks on posts or officials like Seleka repeatedly perpetrates

Safe passage: the 3 Northern Regions in Cameroun permit Boko Haram to transit from Nigeria to CAR, Chad or Niger where they can purchase arms, train and refit in peace. Established transit routes for livestock, people, goods and fuel allow men and materiel to be transported often in plain sight.

Conclusion: the attractiveness of Cameroun to criminals and insurgent groups is clear. The Camerounian response has differed greatly from East to North however despite this response the situation has not been contained, even with the direct intervention of France. Problems in CAR always have an impact on Cameroun and unlike previous crisis; this does not involve a distinct rebel group or coalition against the CAR government but a patchwork of uncoordinated groups who in essence have very little motivation beyond survival, enrichment or self defence. Even if the situation in CAR is calmed the Zaraguina and mercenaries need to go somewhere and the pickings are richer in Cameroun. This is a security dilemma in itself but combined with the insurgency in Northern Nigeria which has been pushed into Cameroun, it is clear that Cameroun faces a 2 front crisis that it is not resourced or equipped to deal with.

For Boko Haram and Ansaru, Northern Cameroun presents them with the best of all worlds. Southern Chad already has a plethora of groups operating and a fairly aggressive and capable army and other than IDP’s no population they can prey off. Southern Niger has the longest border with Nigeria and represents a viable plan B however the Nigeriens have a very robust counter insurgency policy, with French special forces and US drones on hand as well as a much more dispersed population they would be much more exposed and would need to develop links and networks with groups that are already on the French, US, Nigerien, Libyan, Malian, Mauritanian and Algerian radars.

Northern Cameroun allows Boko Haram and Ansaru to mount operations against Nigeria, maintain relevance and sustain themselves as independent movements. Thus Extreme Nord, Nord and Adamaoua Regions represent Vital Ground to Boko Haram and Ansaru.

In the next instalment we will discuss options for Nigeria and Cameroun.


About peccavi

A Nigerian with interests in defence, security, geopolitics, the military particularly small unit tactics, COIN, stabilisation and asymmetric warfare
This entry was posted in Counter insurgency, Defence, Nigeria Strategy, West Africa Defence, West Africa Strategy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Rain does not fall on one roof alone: Nigeria, Cameroun and the Central African Republic. Part 1

  1. Wanlibon says:


    Thanks once more for such an insightful write-up. This is the first time I am reading a well researched and balance situation analysis from the Cameroonian perspective.

    • peccavi says:

      Thanks or the kind words, I’m glad it was useful

      • Wanlibon says:

        You are welcome! It was more than helpful. It is measured in its arguments and counter arguments, gave credit where it is due and raised the sort of strategic questions that should be addressed not by one country but by all the parties involved. It pitches the right tone and rightfully so. I hope it is read by somebody in Yaoundé.

        On another question, do you think the caution and reluctance demonstrated by some of the regional capitals towards Abuja with regarding joint operations is justified? How do you think trust can be developed and nurtured in this neck of the woods?

  2. peccavi says:

    Thanks again! Hopefully policy makers will read it and at least see how the problems look from a different perspective.
    Trust is difficult in international affairs particularly between countries next to each other with competing needs. Self interest is everything and it is in Camerouns interest to resolve these difficulties or else they will be left holding the baby, thus Nigeria needs to pitch it to them in that manner, the biggest problem now is that the entire Nigerian government focus is on the next elections

  3. Pingback: Boko Haram’s Ramadan Offensive 1: | Vox Peccavi

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