Catholic Agencies Struggle With Dual Crises of Terror and Drought

A Catholic aid official warned that church life faces “grave disruption” from Boko Haram in Cameroon, and a local bishop said the Nigeria-based group had caused a “psychosis of fear.”

“This movement opposes all Western values and is also hostile to Muslims who won’t accept the reign of Shariah law,” said Rafael D’Aqui, head of the Africa section at Aid to the Church in Need. “They’re now trying to draw world attention with cross-border attacks, and since foreign priests and nuns are a key prize, the missionaries on whom the local church depends have had to leave.”

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D’Aqui said on March 16 that Boko Haram had infiltrated Cameroon’s northern Yagoua and Maroua-Mokolo dioceses after suffering military setbacks in neighboring Nigeria, despite “huge efforts” by Cameroon’s armed forces. He added that Boko Haram marauders were still regularly taking control of whole villages, abducting child hostages to be brainwashed and used in “random suicide attacks.”

Extremist groups “are obtaining huge sums of money from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere to build mosques where there were previously no Muslims and train imams in a hard, radical school,” D’Aqui said. “There’s a militant fraternity now, which is intent on invading and establishing a presence in Christian areas.”

Catholics account for 38 percent of Cameroon’s 20.4 million inhabitants, with Protestants making up 26 percent and Muslims 21 percent. More and more, Catholic communities have been attacked by Boko Haram.

In an interview in early March with the German-based news service Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Bruno Ateba Edo of Maroua-Mokolo said that some villages had set up interfaith patrols and “watch committees” in collaboration with the army but said there was “no clear frontier” between Cameroon and Nigeria, with families living on both sides and speaking the same languages. “It’s the entire population they’re attacking in crowded marketplaces—there’s a psychosis of fear,” Bishop Edo said.

Formed in 2002, Boko Haram publicly allied itself with the Islamic State in March 2015 and has killed at least 17,000 people in Nigeria during a seven-year insurgency. The group also operates in Chad and Niger and has left 2.3 million displaced and 5.6 million facing hunger, according to a U.N. report of March 9.

As churches in central Africa struggle with the human menace of Boko Haram, a crisis of a different character accelerated in eastern and southern Africa, where 36 million people grapple with the worst drought in decades. Over 10 million people face hunger in Ethiopia. Agencies are racing to save the country from falling into a famine similar to the crisis in 1983-85, which killed around a million people.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of Ethiopia said nine dioceses are affected by what they see as the worst-ever effects of climate change and environmental degradation. “The severity of the situation is continuously increasing the number of people affected,” said Cardinal Berhaneyesus D. Souraphiel, the archbishop of Addis Ababa.

Linked to extreme El Niño weather conditions, the drought has hit countries like Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Malawi and Zimbabwe, among others. The conditions have reversed normal weather patterns, upsetting people’s livelihoods.

“In parts of Somaliland, where people live on livestock and agriculture, the problem is serious,” said Roman Catholic Bishop Georgio Bertin of Djibouti, a country in the horn of Africa. In 2011, a drought made worse by Islamic terrorism forced thousands of Somalis into a refugee complex in northeastern Kenya.

“We are intervening,” said Bishop Bertin, who is relying on the help of Caritas, the international Catholic relief organization. “We are providing food to very poor families.”

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