Boko Haram casts shadow over Chad`s economy

Though Chad has so far been spared from an attack by Boko Haram, the fact the Islamist militants are so close and so dangerous has been bad for business in this landlocked country.

AFP| Last Updated: Nov 07, 2014, 10:51 AM IST

N`Djamena: Though Chad has so far been spared from an attack by Boko Haram, the fact the Islamist militants are so close and so dangerous has been bad for business in this landlocked country.

Closed borders, security force patrols and the constant fear of violence spilling over its frontier has sent prices soaring and left business owners with one more worry.

"Prices for commodities have spiked," Moussa Oumar, the owner of several auto parts stores in Chad`s capital city N`Djamena told AFP. "Customers complain, but I have no choice."

The armed militants of Boko Haram operate in the extreme north of Cameroon which borders their Nigerian stronghold of Borno State -- a mere 50 kilometres (30 miles) from N`Djamena.

"Boko Haram is just over there, on the other side," taxi driver Dounama Boukar said pointing across the Chari River that delineates the border with Cameroon.

For now Chad has been spared a direct attack by Boko Haram, whose bloody five-year campaign to carve out a hardline Islamic state in northern Nigeria has left 10,000 people dead.

Yet the threat posed by the Islamists is ever present -- with bloodshed continuing despite government claims the group had agreed to a ceasefire last month.

In an effort to protect its borders, Chad has outlawed all vessel traffic on the Chari, its tributary the Logone River as well as its section of Lake Chad.

River and shoreline patrols enforce the ban, leaving the waterways that were once thronged with commercial traffic nearly deserted. Not surprisingly, the drop in movement is bad for business. 

"There are far fewer people," Boukar, the taxi driver, said as he waited for clients in the baking sun at a border crossing from Chad to Cameroon.Security forces are frequently in the area, checking vehicles for any contraband and weapons headed for Boko Haram fighters.

Many manufactured products like telecom equipment and auto parts come from neighbouring countries and Chad`s cattle exports to Nigeria form a crucial trade link.

Yet most of these products must make a dangerous journey through the Nigerian border town of Gambaru, which has been hit by numerous Boko Haram attacks. The disruption has hurt trade.

"The spare parts I sell, I order them from Nigeria," auto parts store owner Oumar said. "Since the closure of the Cameroon-Nigeria border, my stores are no longer supplied."

He continued: "Still, I have resupplied a bit through a friend who had some stock in Kousseri (Cameroon), but not at the same price. That`s why I have had to raise the price of spare parts." 

Boko Haram`s raids have also disrupted road traffic, including to the key central African port of Douala in Cameroon, disastrous for a landlocked country seeking to get its products to market. 

The Islamists are "a destabilising element" for Chad because their attacks isolate the country from trading partners, a French military source in N`Djamena told AFP.