MAROUA, CAMEROON - The government of Cameroon this week began rolling out an unlikely weapon in the fight against Boko Haram militants.
Authorities are distributing thousands of goats and sheep to young Cameroonians in villages along with border with Nigeria.
The program aims to providing livestock for a basic income in order to stop the Islamist militant group's recruiting tactics. The hope is that the livestock will empower thousands of vulnerable families and stop them from joining the extremists, who promise jobs.
In the village of Salak, 17-year-old Oumar Nafisatu received four sheep.
Nafisatu says she is looking forward to having baby sheep so she can sell them to pay for her school fees. She is the only one to take care of herself, she says, after her father and mother passed away.
Boko Haram fighters killed Nafisatu's parents, along with 21 others, when they attacked her village in 2017, forcing her to flee.
Just a week later, Nafisatu's only sister was killed in a suicide bomb attack in a mosque at Kolofata. Boko Haram had recruited her with promises of a job as a house cleaner, then forced her to carry out the attack.
Cameroon's government plans to distribute 60,000 goats and sheep by the end of the year. The minister of livestock, known only as Dr. Taiga, said the animals will go to those who have suffered in the fight against Boko Haram.
He said the initiative is to help families who are vulnerable by providing animals that are fruitful and enable them to have money. They will provide for their basic needs, said Taiga, take care of their families, and help to avoid temptations that can jeopardize peace and bring chaos.
The Lake Chad Basin Commission, with eight member nations in the region including Cameroon, says some areas attacked by Boko Haram have unemployment rates as high as 90 percent.
Midjiyawa Bakary, governor of Cameroon's Far North region, notes there have been no major Boko Haram attacks in the past year but says the militants are still recruiting, and the military remains on alert.
He said people should be vigilant because Boko Haram is recruiting jobless youths with promises to improve their living conditions. Village militias, known as self-defense groups, should be reactivated to work in collaboration with the military, officials, traditional rulers and the clergy, said Bakary. He said they can share information on any suspected activities that may upset the peace that has been returning to villages and towns.