Venturing Into Former Séléka Heartland

Cameroon Tribune, in a UN convoy, undertook the 150-km ride from Garoua Boulai on the border in the East Region of Cameroon to Bouar in the Central African Republic, CAR.

Contrary to recurrent rumours in some quarters, travelling on portions of the Garoua Boulai-Bangui highway poses no security challenges. This is thanks to UN MINUSCA peacekeeping troops under the command of Cameroonian-born Major General Martin Chomu Tumenta.

On Sunday, February 15, 2015, Cameroon Tribune joined a United Nations convoy of five four-wheel drive Toyota jeeps on the 150 km-‘foolhardy’ trip from the border town of Garoua Boulai in the East Region of Cameroon to Bouar, deep inside former Seacuteleacuteka rebel territory in the western part of the Central African Republic, CAR.

The highway continues to the CAR capital, Bangui, which is located more than 430 km from Bouar. Bouar is the headquarters of Nana-Mambereacute Prefecture. A prefecture in CAR is probably the equivalent of a region in Cameroon. The town and the surrounding areas were not so long ago occupied by unruly Seacuteleacuteka, anti-Balaka fighters and other armed gangs.

During her debriefing session with the media in Garoua Boulai before departure for the Central African Republic, Kyung-wha Kang, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, had warned of the volatile security situation in CAR:

“Inside the Central African Republic, the overall appearance is that of return of stability and calm, especially in the capital, Bangui. My guess is that beyond that surface level calm, there is vulnerability because you have armed elements even in Internally-displaced People, IDP camps. So, things are quite explosive,” cautioned the UN senior official.

Garoua Boulai, the Cameroonian border town in Lom and Djerem Division, had in the past come under frequent attacks from marauding Seacuteleacuteka troops, later-turned-rebels after their leader, Interim President Michel Djotodia, was obliged by sub-regional leaders to resign in December 2013. Located 250 km from the East Regional capital, Bertoua, Garoua Boulai had since March 2013, when Seacuteleacuteka swept to power in Bangui, become a regular flashpoint in cross-border forays by CAR armed men.

The Garoua Boulai-Bouar road is well-tarred. On the way, you come across names of localities like Cantonnier and curiously Petit Douala! Perhaps, because it was Sunday, it was a rather lonely ride, right up to Bouar. Only a few goods lorries and two public transport mini-buses were bypassed on the way one with several passengers perching behind and also on a huge bundle of luggage on top.

The proximity of security checkpoints to each other was quite far apart maybe three or four including Customs and UN troops on the outskirts of Garoua Boulai and at the entrance to Bouar. On the other hand, checkpoints were guarded by few, lightly armed, relaxed security men who did not bother to flag down the convoy nor try to find out who was on board.

With few human settlements, mostly along the highway like in the Equatorial regions of neighbouring Cameroon, western CAR is still largely uninhabited. This might be the case in the rest of the country. With its vast size of 622, 984 square km, CAR has only 4.6 million people (according to 2012 UN figures) compared to Cameroon’s 475, 442 square km land size and over 20 million people.

Source : Cameroon Tribune

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