Boko Haram, renamed Islamic State’s West Africa (ISWA) since its allegiance to Daesh, has come out of its initial local context, based in Nigeria. It is today planning armed violence at regional level, from Nigeria to Niger and from Chad to Cameroon. The violence of this radical group has created an acute humanitarian crisis in the four countries and increased the vulnerabilities of the population. It calls into question the approaches to this armed phenomenon among researchers, the military and developers alike. What action can be taken to fight against this multifaceted phenomenon, which is at the same time political, religious, economic and social? This question was discussed at the Agence Française de Développement.

© AFD 2016
© AFD 2016

The debate was coordinated by Serge MICHEL, journalist at Le Monde Afrique. The speakers were Susanne MALLAUN, Head of Unit for East, West and Southern Africa, Indian Ocean at the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO) ; Marc-Antoine PÉROUSE de MONTCLOS, Researcher at Chatham House (London) and at the Research Institute for Development (IRD, Paris) ; Christian SEIGNOBOS, Geographer and Emeritus Research Director at IRD and Hélène VIDON, Rural Development Project Manager at AFD. The debate was organised in partnership with Le Monde Afrique and Afrique Contemporaine.

Please find below the conference synthesis. You can also watch the video !


Multifaceted crisis

The conflict with Boko Haram in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon has triggered an acute humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad region, where the terrorist group has now retreated to. This crisis is firstly demographic: “In the zone, we have counted some 2.8 million displaced persons, including 2.3 million in Northeast Nigeria alone” (S. Mallaun).

There is also a food crisis: “It is estimated that over 6.7 million people suffer from extreme food insecurity in this zone” (S. Mallaun). The economic retaliation measures applied by the States in the region deprive local communities of important sources of livelihoods: “The army in Niger, for example, imposes economic sanctions which prohibit agricultural production in the Diffa region, in the far East of the country. It has closed the border with Nigeria, where 80% of regional agricultural production used to be sold” (M.-A. Pérouse de Montclos).

Basic infrastructure is also affected by the conflict: “In addition to acute malnutrition, there are huge needs in terms of access to basic healthcare, water, sanitation and protection” (S. Mallaun). This problem is even more acute because “certain regions in the four countries have long been neglected by States” (H. Vidon).

Finally, the crisis caused by the conflict is also political. The violence perpetrated by armed forces in the region has exacerbated the conflict.

The fight against Boko Haram is multifaceted and calls for a complex response: humanitarian, military, and development by States and the international community.


Challenges of humanitarian response

States in the Lake Chad Basin continue to have the main responsibility for providing aid to their populations. International aid can only be complementary. However, due to the scale of the crisis, international humanitarian aid must be scaled up in order to meet the needs of the most vulnerable populations. This firstly requires giving it more financial resources: “We are faced with a major humanitarian crisis which does not receive sufficient international attention […]. This year, the amount of aid allocated by the European Commission stands at EUR 57m: it is a lot, but it is nothing compared to the needs of populations” (S. Mallaun).

The channeling of aid is also a fundamental issue. It is difficult to access populations, which poses problems of misappropriation. “Organizations like Doctors Without Borders (MSF) establish themselves in cities, but cannot access rural areas. We don’t know if the food goes to where it should go” (M.-A. Pérouse de Montclos). However, “since the end of 2015, more international organizations have nevertheless established themselves in Northeast Nigeria, as well as in the far North of Cameroon. We consequently have more opportunities to allocate funds and help these vulnerable populations” (S. Mallaun).

This challenge also concerns the camps for the displaced around Maiduguri: “They are shut in by the army, with the emergency agencies of the Nigerian State […] which prevent any independent verification. The army is consequently also pinpointed concerning emergency aid issues” (M.-A. Pérouse de Montclos).


Challenges of military response

The success of the international coalition, which comprises Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, in its fight against Boko Haram will depend on several factors. The first is financial: the operation conducted in the field is “one of the few multinational operations 100% financed by African countries. Yet three of them (Nigeria, Niger and Chad) are currently suffering from the fall in oil prices” (M.-A. Pérouse de Montclos).

This challenge of international military support is also institutional: “Nigeria doesn’t want the African Union to take control. Yet the European Union can only negotiate peer-to-peer with its counterpart, the African Union” (M.-A. Pérouse de Montclos).

The second factor concerns the violence of the armed forces in the States in the region. “When civilians are killed, it causes resentment, especially among young people, who will sometimes join Boko Haram in order to avenge their parents who have been killed by the army, or out of fear of in turn being tortured to death by soldiers. The troops are perceived as being occupation troops […]. Society has been ripped apart and as long as this brutality continues, it will fuel the conflict” (M.-A. Pérouse de Montclos).

Finally, access to and sharing information will be a decisive factor in the fight against Boko Haram. “The lake area is where we have the greatest shortcoming: information doesn’t get through at all, we don’t know what Boko Haram is doing there. It must be said that the intelligence services in the region are not so at all. The vigilance committees are as afraid of the army and police force as they are of Boko Haram, so there are only double agents” (C. Seignobos).


What strategy for development aid?

Development aid is currently being deployed in the Lake Chad zone. “In the field, non-governmental organizations have already started to conduct resilience actions: to give small livestock back to families, reestablish agricultural activities… The idea now is to scale up” (H. Vidon).

AFD, for its part, is working on a major regional project, targeting the four countries bordering the lake. Given the difficulty of having access to populations and of the security context, this project plans to give priority to working “on the periphery of crisis zones, in relatively stable zones which host displaced populations” (H. Vidon). “It will be combined with other new or ongoing projects and, in the medium term, more structural investment projects in order to support economic development and promote a better distribution of resources between the different regions in the countries involved” (H. Vidon).

Two challenges will be particularly important in order to ensure the sustainable development of the zone. The first concerns the redistribution of resources: “At this stage, State services are present in the zones affected by the conflict and they are well-intentioned. But they have very few resources. Long-term work needs to be conducted in order to rebalance public resources, in coordination with the central States” (H. Vidon).

The second challenge will be to separate development aid from the fight against terrorism. “Part of development aid is designed as a component to fight against terrorism. It’s dangerous, as the implementation times are not the same […]. Militarizing development aid can also create risks for humanitarian actors, who find themselves involved in a large-scale strategic system and are perceived as the social arm of an army” (M.-A. Pérouse de Montclos).



The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of their institutions or of AFD.


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