On Friday Feb. 19, 2016, a double suicide bombing in a marketplace in Mémé in northern Cameroon claimed the lives of at least 20 people and left several dozen injured. The attack, by two female suicide bombers, is thought to have been the work of Boko Haram. According to the government, more than 1200 people have been killed since 2013 in the extreme northern region of the country. Bishop Bruno Ateba Edo of the Diocese of Maroua-Mokolo, which covers this region, spoke with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)
By Amélie de la Hougue
Who are these attacks meant to be targeting?
Bishop Ateba Edo: It’s the entire population they are targeting! Whether they are Muslims, Christians, or animists, it’s the entire population you are attacking in a crowded marketplace!
How are the people of Cameroon reacting?
Everybody is afraid of the suicide bombers. There is a kind of psychosis. Whenever people gather together, as they do at markets, people don’t know who is who, and it is impossible to keep tabs on everyone… In the villages they have set up community watch committees in an attempt to protect these places, but despite that, attackers are frequently able to infiltrate.
Are you witnessing an exodus of the population in northern Cameroon?
The suicide bombers generally work along the frontier, except that occasionally there are attacks elsewhere—as in fact happened at Mémé, which is about 22 miles from the border with Nigeria. Many people are taking shelter in Maroua, which is the major town in the area and a little further inland.
It is generally safer in the towns; the problem is nearer to the border, because it is very porous. Here the same major ethnic group, the same family is often in different countries, with the uncle in Cameroon, the sister in Nigeria … Sometimes even part of one house is in Cameroon and another part in Nigeria.
Have relations change between Muslims and Christians with the spread of Boko Haram?
There is a good dialogue between the Christians and the Muslims, and good collaboration. For example, the children of the village chief often attend our Catholic schools. We are all afraid of the suicide bombers, whether we are Muslims or Christians.
Observers claim that Boko Haram seems to be weakening. What do you think about that?
Militarily speaking, they are already defeated. But there are still the suicide bombers. Previously there were armed attacks, but now there are these isolated bombing.
What is the Church doing to reassure the faithful?
We are preaching hope and we are praying for peace. We have a prayer for peace which I myself composed, and we pray it every day after Holy Mass. We have also called upon our Catholic faithful to show acts of mercy towards the refugees—both the internally displaced and the refugees from Nigeria.
We tell our people that despite the suicide bombers, and despite the war, our prayers will help us greatly.
Bishop Bruno Ateba Ebo (l) and Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme of Maiduguri, Nigeria visiting refugees in Cameroon (© ACN)
Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.