Since January 2014, the security situation in the Far North of Cameroon has been dramatically affected by the multiple attacks of the armed group Boko Haram. According to Amnesty International, between July 2015 and July 2016, Boko Haram carried out at least 200 attacks in the Far North region, killing nearly 500 people.
On December 27, 2014, a joint cordon-and-search operation conducted by the army, the gendarmerie and the police, turned into a disaster for the people of Magdeme and Doublé - two villages located in the Far North. That day, these villages were ransacked by security forces, and more than 130 men and boys were taken by force - never to reappear again. Nearly two years on, families from these villages insist that the Cameroonian authorities clarify the fate of their loved ones.
How to tell the story of these missing individuals while preserving the anonymity of their relatives - who agreed to testify - and prevent retaliations against them? In a safe and discreet place of Maroua, families brought a few pictures and identity cards to prove the existence of these souls that are untraceable - and the hope of reuniting one day still remains. Using these images, I reconstructed the faces of the disappeared by producing papier-mâché masks on-site. Worn by their relatives, these masks allowed them to embody - for a moment - a son, a husband, a nephew, a brother, a best friend, and to share their stories.
«Boukar has always been a good father. He educated our boys well and instilled basic values in them, such as respect for women and Boukar loved learning. He studied in Yaoundé and spoke several languages, including English and French. He, therefore, insisted that our children should go to school. The children often ask after their father. I try to avoid answering whenever I can because I just don’t know what to say to them.»
«I know of nobody more considerate than Badama. I’m not saying that just because he’s my son, it’s the truth! He loved helping people. He also used to enjoy spending time watching television with the local children.»
«Ali is a courageous, respectful and committed man. I see him as my own son. He is principled and committed to the values of Islam. He would often intervene to help reconcile couples or resolve family conflicts and would willingly share his perspective of love, forgiveness and patience with them. Now, Ali is no longer here... I am doing my best to look after his family until his return.»
«Abba is my brother-in-law. He and another brother ran a shop with my husband. Abba loved watching television, particularly football matches. I have been married to his brother now for 18 years and I watched Abba grow and become a man. My mother - in- law has not been well since her three sons disappeared. My husband, Abba, and another brother were all taken by the soldiers on the same day.»
«Mal Moussa loved fashion. Whatever he was wearing, he always had a hat on. I don’t think anyone ever saw his hair because he never took his hat off! Mal Moussa has been my best friend for as long as I can remember. We grew up together and we own a shop together. When I think back about it, I sometimes wish I had been there in the village when Mal Moussa and my three cousins were taken. I wish they’d taken me too because I can’t bear not knowing where they are.»
«Abba is the elder of my two sons. He had very many friends and loved going out with them. He didn’t have any children of his own yet so he would spoil his nephews and nieces with biscuits and sweets. His brother was more stay-at-home, talking to me and playing with his nephews and nieces. My sons were very close. They are both abducted.»
«I haven’t been able to stop dreaming about Goni since he disappeared. At night, I dream that he arrives home to wake me up. When I open my eyes, I realize he is still missing. I was very close to him. He would listen to me and when I had problems he would be the first to step in and support me. He said he would always be there for me. He was generous with everyone. I really hope we find him before his daughter’s wedding so that he can attend the ceremony.»
«My nephew Momodou was a respectful boy. He would listen to his parents and help is father in the field. Momodou used to contribute to the household finances by grinding cereal for the villagers with his father’s mill. The village children liked to spend time with him because he had pigeons and he would let the kids feed and play with them.»
«I had a really good relationship with my sons. I taught them to tend the fields and, as I got older, they began to take charge of the family. If I needed anything important, I knew I could rely on them. We were a close knit family, and we all lived together under the same roof. My only hope now is that we will find Boukar and my other sons. Their fate is in God’s hands. He alone can perform a miracle.»