Many young people in Cameroon engage in violent extremism because they are unaware of the alternatives that are available to them.
In Cameroon, Boko Haram like most terrorist organizations thrives on the vulnerability of young people to get followers. Backed by fake promises of recompense and faced with poverty, young people have steadily joined the ranks of Boko Haram especially when their lives and those of their families depend on it. Boko Haram being Islamist extremists has generated negative perceptions of Muslims in the country where previously, religious intolerance had never been an issue. As a result, stigmatization of Muslims is on the rise. Defense forces carry out arbitrary arrests as differentiating between the terrorists and law abiding citizens become difficult. Arbitrary arrests usher in human rights violations. When people feel threatened by their very own governments, they look for alternatives; alternatives like Boko Haram.
Boko Haram has killed at least 1,400 civilians, 120 soldiers and abducted an estimated 1,000 people from Cameroon. Over 190,000 internally displaced people are in the Far North region and thousands of refugees fleeing Boko Haram from neighbouring Nigeria and Chad. Just as young people play active roles in violent extremism, so are they key to preventing/countering extremism. Making youths aware of the alternatives they have is the first step towards a solution. From my experience, it is easier for young people to listen to other young people they can identify with.
Therefore, as an individual I work towards creating awareness of the alternatives available for young people in Cameroon and how these alternatives can prevent them from engaging in violent extremism. I target two groups of young people: community youth leaders who are educated and have the capacity to train other young people in their communities when they return, and uneducated young people- mostly disadvantaged vulnerable youth who have little or no access to information and are most likely to be radicalized by extremists doctrines.
On one hand, I trained youth leaders through the REPAIR Series (REPAIR-Rebuilding Peace through Actions with Inclusive Reach) by NEWSETA Organization. This training brought together Muslims- Christians, Northerners-Southerners, Anglophones-Francophones and proved that there was unity in diversity and was centred on communication in conflict, conflict handling styles, preventing and countering violent extremism. At the end of this training, the participants were expected to carry out ‘Passing It On’ (PiO) exercises where each participant trains at least 35 young people in their regions. The objective was to create a chain of learning, sensitization and education. 94% of participants carried out PiOs in their regions; with some having 150 participants in attendance. Over 1500 young people were mobilized in this way.
On the other hand, I targeted the vulnerable uneducated young people in my community through the Mind Revolution program. Most of them didn’t consider a workshop like what I offered important enough especially if I wasn’t going to pay them for their time. Although the first workshop attracted only 37 people, word did spread and the next had 100 attendees. Participants now felt like part of the community; armed with alternatives to resorting to violence.
Before these interventions, many Christian youth were afraid of their Muslim counterparts and associated a Hijab or flowing robes with Boko Haram and suicide bombers. Now many Christian youth are cognisant of the fact that being a Muslim is definitely not synonymous to terrorism or Boko Haram. Secondly, Muslims youth accused the Christian South of marginalization and discrimination. They felt that their voices were being ignored and these circumstances were pushing them to turn to extremism as a means of survival. Their minds have been changed.
Nina Forgwe is a Delegate Speaker in the Peace & Security Plenary Session representing Cameroon. She is the Executive Director of The Organization for World Peace (OWP) African Region. She pushes forward dialogue and lobbies for the restructuring of international thought away from destructive tendencies and towards peaceful non-combative strategies to solve conflicts. She has provided over 50 young people from 10 regions of Cameroon with tools on how to prevent violent extremism.