Militants appear to be gaining the upper hand in West Africa’s spreading ethnic/religious fighting. This week, insurgents with Nigeria’s Boko Haram launched a cross-border attack on Kolofata, a town in neighboring Cameroon, kidnapping the wife of Amadou Ali, the vice-prime minister, and killing at least three people. It was their third incursion into Cameroon just this week.
A local religious leader, or lamido, named Seini Boukar Lamine, who is also the town’s mayor, was kidnapped in a separate attack on his home.
Cameroon, Nigeria’s neighbor to the west, had until recently been a refuge from the deadly violence aimed at students, market goers, and security forces. But the spread of Boko Haram hideouts in the French-speaking country prompted Cameroon to send troops against the militants.
Boko Haram has not yet revealed where the nearly 300 high school girls have been hidden since being kidnapped over a month ago.
“The situation is very critical here now, and as I am talking to you the Boko Haram elements are still in Kolofata town in a clash with our soldiers,” said Col. Felix Nji Formekong from the regional headquarters in Maroua.
At the same time, some 22 Boko Haram militants, charged with illegal possession of firearms and plotting a regional insurrection, were sentenced in a Maroua court to 10 to 20 years in prison. Efforts to exchange detainees for kidnap victims have met with little success.
Reports of heavily-armed insurgents lead to speculation that an Algerian airline that crashed last week in Mali killing all 116 aboard was taken down by rockets, however an investigation failed to find hard evidence and bad weather is believed to be the cause.
While West Africa appears to be drowning in a widening insurgent war, diplomacy was being rewarded this week in Washington with the visit of 500 exceptional young African leaders who attended a 6 week intensive leadership training in the U.S., capped by a meeting with President Barack Obama at a Young African Leaders Initiative Summit – to be renamed the Mandela Washington Fellowship. The program will double in size to 1000 participants, Obama said, starting in the summer of 2015.
Muluh Hilda Bih of Cameroon was one of the young leaders at the summit. A journalist with eight years of experience in radio and TV, she plans to work with the disabled in workshops and seminars and continue to use mass media to effect change in Cameroon. She also mentors young girls through the ESTHER Project, an initiative she founded, by speaking at schools, churches and conferences throughout Cameroon.
The young leaders’ Summit precedes next week’s inaugural U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, the largest gathering any U.S. president has held with African heads of state and government.
A full list of this year’s Fellows can be found at https://youngafricanleaders.