By Dibussi Tande
Click here to read Part 1
Impact of Boko Haram Insurgency on (Northern) Cameroon
Whatever the reasons for the failure of Nigeria’s military campaign against Boko Haram, the consequences have been disastrous for Cameroon, with the Far North region bearing the brunt of the group’s indiscriminate savagery. The Cameroon side of the border with Borno state is now dotted with ghost villages, many razed to the ground by Boko Haram or simply abandoned by frightened inhabitants who now make up the estimated 30,000 internally displaced persons in the region. In addition, over 100 schools remain closed since the beginning of the 2014/2015 academic year.
A bridge connecting Nigeria and Cameroon destroyed by Boko Haram insurgents in May 2014 (c) AFP
Boko Haram’s attacks have brought the once thriving economy of the “Grand North” to a screeching halt. The economic downturn in the region which began in 2012 had by June 2014 become a full-fledged economic crisis. According to Rene Sadi, Cameroon’s Minister of Territorial Administration,
Boko Haram has paralyzed trade between Cameroon and Nigeria that has supplied 80 percent of foodstuffs and basic necessities to northern Cameroon since the two countries gained independence more than 5 decades ago. Adding to the woes of the economy of northern Cameroon is the fact that Nigerian fuel, which is widely used, is no longer available. Business transactions and commercial activity have been completely halted by Boko Haram.
In January 2015, Cameroon’s Ministry of agriculture also revealed that the Far North was facing a severe food crisis with a deficit of 132,000 tons of grains, a shortfall estimated at 30 billion FCFA.
The Far North’s erstwhile bustling tourist industry is now in a shambles and its flagship Waza national park the target of numerous Boko Haram attacks.
The socio-economic paralysis in the Far North will only get worst with Boko Haram’s increasing use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to ambush military convoys and civilian buses thereby completely disrupting movement of goods and people in the region. On January 1, 2015, for example, Boko Haram attacked a bus on the Kousseri-Maroua highway, killing at least 15 passengers.
The Right of Hot Pursuit
With the security situation in the Far North region getting worst by the day due to the unrelenting attacks by Boko Haram, Cameroonians, who are perplexed and infuriated by the Nigerian army’s poor, if not disastrous, on-the-field performance in northeastern Nigeria, no longer view Boko Haram as a mere nuisance – albeit a deadly one – but as an existential threat. As a result, there are increasing calls for the Cameroonian military to change its current defensive posture (which may ultimately lead Boko Haram breaking through Issa Tchiroma’s famous “iron wall”) and adopt a predominantly offensive one by unilaterally exercising the right of hot pursuit - even if it means violating Nigeria’s territorial integrity. Says a prominent member of the ruling CPDM: "Si le Nigeria n'est pas capable de régler le problème, on va y aller" / “If Nigeria is unable to settle this issue, then we will take care of it.”
Incidentally, an editorial in Punch, one of Nigeria’s leading newspapers, shares this view. The newspaper underlines "the need to be on the offensive when dealing with the terrorists” and states categorically that "By taking the fight right into Nigerian territory, the Cameroonians can virtually rest assured that their territory is completely free of the Boko Haram elements."
Members of the Rapid Intervention Brigade (BIR) on patrol in Northern Cameroon (c) AFP
Before going on any further what exactly is the right of hot pursuit?
It is an old time maritime practice whereby a state has the right to pursue and arrest a foreign ship outside in the high seas if the said ship violated its laws and regulations while in its territorial waters. Although the right of hot pursuit at sea has been codified in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of 1982, its application on land is mired in controversy and even acrimony with some legal experts arguing that a state cannot unilaterally carry out a military expedition on another state’s territory without this being an act of armed aggression. Nonetheless, there is an emerging school of thought in international law which argues that with the emergence of transnational non-state actors such as terrorists and drug traffickers, every country has the de facto right of hot pursuit. As Lionel Beehner has argued,
“Under certain circumstances, ‘hot pursuit’ can be a necessary and legitimate response to violent non-state actors, provided the response is immediate, proportional, and a means of last resort… States should not have to sit by idly while terrorists enjoy sanctuary in neighboring states. Sovereignty, after all, confers rights as well as responsibilities.”
Recent history is replete with examples of states invoking the right of hot pursuit against non-state actors:
- After the 1994 genocide, Rwandan forces pursued Hutu armed militias across the border into the Congo;
- In 2007, Russia conducted airstrikes against Chechen rebels in Pankisi Gorge, Georgia;
- In March 2008, Colombian forces crossed the border into Ecuador to kill FARC guerrillas;
- In October 2011, Kenyan troops pursued Al-Shabaab terrorists into Somalia after incursions into Kenyan territory;
- Since the beginning of its “war against terrorism”, the United States regularly uses drones to track down and eliminate Al-Qaeda terrorists in Yemen and Pakistan;
- In 2011, US special forces crossed into Pakistan and killed al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in what Pakistani MPs condemned as a "unilateral action... which constitutes a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty" but which the US considered the right of hot pursuit.
- Since 2014, the United States and Arab partners have been conducting airstrikes against ISIS-held territory inside Syria even though the Syrian government considers this an act of war.
Cameroon, Nigeria and the Right of Hot Pursuit
Since the beginning of the Boko Haram Insurgency, Cameroon and Nigeria have not been able to agree on a mutual right of hot pursuit in spite of its obvious benefits. During the May 2014 Paris summit, participants resolved to “implement coordinated patrols with the aim of combating Boko Haram” but said nothing about the right of hot pursuit.
In July 2014, both countries, along with Niger and Chad, agreed to establish a 28000-man strong multinational force but did not agree on the right of hot pursuit. Earlier in March 2014 during a Sahel Cross-border workshop convened to draft a framework document on “hot pursuit” in the region, participants, including Nigeria and Cameroon, were wary of the right of pursuit. They cited a litany of obstacles to its implementation, among them, the fact that the right of hot pursuit would effectively transfer foreign conflicts into their territory.
In the absence of an agreement on the right of hot pursuit, Cameroonian authorities have been careful not to ruffle Nigerian feathers. Thus far, the Cameroonian military has held back, at least officially, from crossing over into Nigerian territory to pursue Boko Haram fighters. According to one report,
Cameroon’s army states that in the absence of “a right of pursuit” into neighbouring countries, it will never carry out ground attacks on Nigerian territory. However, several officers agreed that “for protection in the event of aggression”, they had the right to fire shells across the border.
The Nigerian Daily Trust, however, quotes local residents in the northeast Nigerian town of Bama who confirm that Cameroonian soldiers have crossed over into Nigerian territory on the heels of fleeing Boko Haram fighters: “Cameroonian troops have in the past months repeatedly entered Nigerian territory and back into their country so as to ensure that Boko Haram fighters are kept at bay.”
Some critics argue that maybe the Boko Haram insurgency would never have gotten out of hand if only Cameroon had granted Nigeria this same right of hot pursuit back in 2012 or 2013. Cameroonian authorities, however, point out that at the time, this right was unnecessary because Cameroon and Nigeria had effective presence on both sides of the border, and had both agreed that the best way to contain Boko Haram was to conduct separate but coordinated border patrols. As Cameroon’s Minister of Communications, Issa Tchiroma clarified in a recent interview:
We said that if the Nigeria government is ready to undertake a very important attack against Boko Haram, they have to inform us in order to protect our border in order to put troops and information services in order to prevent [Boko Haram] from entering our country. This has always been the principle accepted by both countries.
“What we were reluctant to accept is to authorize a foreign army to penetrate our soil, because we already have what we need in order to face the situation. We are ready to engage a coordinated cooperation ... so together we deal with them. This has always been the position of our government.
Obviously, the “separate but coordinated border patrols” that Cameroon and Nigeria agreed to implies an effective military presence and occupation of both sides of the border by Cameroonian and Nigerian forces. However, in the current dispensation where the nearest Nigerian troops are allegedly over 100 km inland away from the Cameroon/Nigeria border, Cameroonian forces do not have a partner on the other side. Consequently, the Nigerian side of the border has effectively become a sort of terra nullius which Cameroon must either pacify or conquer on its own if it is to survive especially.
Boko Haram now controls entire border area between Nigeria and Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Source: Telegraph
As Stratfor, the geopolitical intelligence firm, has pointed out, “A shift in Boko Haram tactics from low-level attacks to land grabs in Cameroon” coupled with “massive militant push on the scale of that in Nigeria” would stretch Cameroonian forces to the limit and potentially plunge Northern Cameroon into complete chaos.
Therefore Nigeria cannot insist on its rights of sovereignty at this particular time when it is incapable to fulfill its obligations of sovereignty. As Richard Haass, then Director of Policy in the State Department, declared in April 2002:
Sovereignty entails obligations... If a government fails to meet these obligations, then it forfeits some of the normal advantages of sovereignty, including the right to be left alone inside your own territory... In the case of terrorism, this can even lead to a right of preventive, or peremptory, self-defense. You essentially can act in anticipation if you have grounds to think it's a question of when, and not if, you're going to be attacked.
This, unfortunately, is the situation that Nigeria faces in the northeastern part of its territory...
And,what about the argument that a cross-border military expedition by Cameroon would be an act of armed aggression against Nigeria, and a violation of article 2(4) of the United Nations charter?
True, article 2(4) states that:
All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
However as Matthew Gillett has rightly argued,
Self-defence is a well-established exception to the prohibition on the threat or use of force contained in article 2(4) of the UN Charter, as set out in article 51 of the Charter: Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security…
Under the Charter and under customary international law actions taken pursuant to a claimed right of self-defence must accord with the twin precepts of necessity and proportionality. So long as a use of force in international relations adheres to these requirements, it will not qualify as an act of aggression.
Now more than ever, Cameroon must unilaterally exercise the right of hot pursuit into northeastern Nigeria until such a time when the Nigerian army’s presence becomes effective once again along the Nigeria/Cameroon border, and when Borno state fully reintegrates the Nigerian State. Such a move will not only insulate Cameroon from Boko Haram attacks in the short-term, but will also contribute significantly in eliminating Boko Haram from entire region in the long-term.
To put it bluntly, Cameroon can no longer remain on the defensive under the guise of respecting a neighbor’s sovereignty and territorial integrity when there is no effective sovereign on the other side of the border, and when that neighbor’s territory is being occupied by a mutual enemy.
The time to act is now!
Beyond boko Haram: The Rise of Fundamentalist Islam in Nigeria.
Update: Towns controlled by Boko Haram as of January 14, 2015.
Click image to view full size in a pop-up window. Source: Agence IDE