7 March 2014

West Africa: Border Trade Between Cameroon and Nigeria At a Standstill

Photo: Monde Nfor/IRIN
Tighter security in Cameroon over Boko Haram threat is choking cross-border trade with Nigeria

Trade between Cameroon and Nigeria has stagnated following the closure of the border in an attempt to prevent Islamist terrorists from launching attacks from Cameroonian territory.

In the past, Islamist militants from the Nigerian Boko Haram sect used Cameroon as a haven from which to carry out hit-and-run attacks on Nigeria which frequently resulted in deaths and destruction of property.

The closure of the border has led to a sharp fall in food exports like sorghum, rice and onions to Nigeria on one hand, while basic commodities imported from Nigeria like fuel cannot enter Cameroon.

Communities at the Cameroonian border town of Amchide have been greatly affected as much of their livelihood depends on cross-border trade.

Businessman Mokom Nevielle told DW that trade was at its lowest since Boko Haram made its presence felt in the border town.

"Ever since those Boko Haram people attacked us here, everything is at a standstill. Look at those bullet-riddled walls," said Nevielle. "Ever since the Nigerian soldiers came here they have been stopping us from crossing, so we can no longer sell and we do not know what to do."

Amchide - a ghost town

In the streets of Amchide, merchants who constitute ninety percent of the population have given way to patrol teams of Cameroon's military. Both the Cameroonian and Nigerian soldiers on their respective sides of the border look nervous.

The Nigerian military was deployed there in mid-February 2014 to stop Islamist extremists using the porous border zone between the two countries to prepare attacks.

Fuel vendor Moustapha Bakari says this has had disastrous consequences not only for merchants but also for the residents of northern Cameroon who depend on fuel imported from Nigeria.

Boko Haram attacks have often left a trail of bloodshed and destruction

"Fuel is now very expensive. A litre now costs 600 CFA francs ($1.3, 90 eurocents). Customers are refusing to pay, so it is no longer a profitable business," he told DW.

The only currency exchange market that serves traders between the two countries is no longer operating. Nchoutou Soule, who makes a living from it, said business was at a standstill.

"We normally do money changing from the CFA franc used in Cameroon to the Nigerian naira and vice versa. But for some time now, we do not have customers," he said.

Fongot Edwin, a senior customs officer in Cameroon says his staff are finding it difficult to meet revenue targets. He is happy that the central government has provided them with semi-automatic weapons to fend off any attacks by Boko Haram. "Most of our colleagues now carry the Kalashnikov type of gun," he said.

Spiralling prices for commodities

At the Amchide motor park, transport fares have increased by up to seventy percent due to fuel shortages. Shoe vendor Halirou Kakoy says such an increase is unprecedented during the eleven years that he has lived there.

"Everything is becoming expensive, the price for a pair of slippers has doubled and so no one wants to buy. Nothing is moving here," he said.

Huge quantities of agricultural produce are now piled up in Cameroon because of the sealed borders. Onions cultivated there can no longer be exported so farmers are becoming poorer and poorer. Businessman Jean Paul Ndam fears for the future.

"I believe that in the days ahead there will be serious food shortages in the north of Cameroon," said Ndam. "We are expecting disastrous consequences since we can no longer import."

For its part the Nigerian army says it was exercising emergency powers because it was imperative to seal off the border between Cameroon and parts of Nigeria tom prevent illegal crossings.

But for now the people in Amchide hope that the situation will get better soon so they can resume their cross-border trade with their neighbors in Nigeria.

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