BAMENDA, CAMEROON – Ali Hajarah, 27, belongs to the Mbororo community, a traditionally nomadic ethnic group that has settled throughout Cameroon. She is light-skinned, slim and tall, and her long hair frames her face.
The nomadic Mbororos are traditionally cattle herders and traders. But like many others in the community, Hajarah’s family has opted for settled life. Originally from Nigeria, the family settled in Wum, one of the villages of the Northwest region of Cameroon, 42 years ago when they were in search of grazing land for their cows.
Hajarah grew up with relatives in central Nigeria, where she attended school.
“When I was about 5 years old, my uncle, my father’s brother, came and took me to Nigeria, which is where I grew up,” she says.
She returned to Cameroon at age 12 to live with her parents, but she refused to attend school there.
“I ended my education at primary six,” she says. “Stubbornness made me not [want] to go back to school.”
Her parents let her stay home. According to Mbororo tradition, education is rare, especially of a daughter, Hajarah says. Early marriage is more common.
Hajarah says she fell in love with a Mbororo man and married him at age 14. They had a child together before they separated a few years later.
Hajarah eventually remarried, becoming the fourth wife of her second husband. She says she loves her marriage and her husband, who is one of the richest Mbororo men in the Northwest region. But she says not completing her education is one of her biggest regrets.
“I have seen the importance of education, but my husband will not allow me to go back to school,” she says. “He doesn’t allow me to do anything, not even to go out of the house and join associations with others.”
She says that according to traditional Mbororo beliefs, the woman’s place is in the home. So she has given up on education for herself. But she is happy that they have strayed from tradition enough to enroll their three sons in school.
Traditionally nomadic Mbororo people who have settled in Cameroon recognize benefits of a sedentary lifestyle, such as access to education. But they say they still feel like outsiders, clashing with locals and suffering insults from them. Local community members who reject Mbororos’ presence complain that their herds destroy their crops and that they are not true citizens of Cameroon. The government and an organization specific to the Mbororo are working to create harmony between the two groups and to promote education for Mbororo girls.
Approximately 2.8 million Mbororo people reside in Cameroon, though many are still seminomadic, according to a joint survey conducted by the Ministry of External Relations and the Ministry of Social Affairs in 2005. The population stands at 85,250 in the Northwest region, according to the most recent census, conducted in 2005 by the Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Organization, which works to empower Mbororos to become successful, active members of their communities.