For more than a decade, the Lake Chad Basin has been affected by instability. Violent extremist groups and the pre-existing socio-economic situation, as well as the recent COVID-19 pandemic, have created and contributed to an endless spiral of violence. According to the 2020 Fragile States Index, affected states of the Lake Chad Basin – notably Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria – were categorised as alert countries, while Chad is characterised as a high alert country. Similarly, the 2020 Peace Index estimates that the economic cost of violence as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) in the Lake Chad Basin affected states are: Cameroon (7%), Chad (6%), Niger (8%) and Nigeria (8%). Together, these countries continue to suffer from economic contraction, exacerbated by the recent COVID-19 pandemic. It is estimated that over 10.7 million people in the region are directly affected by the continued crises and remain in dire need of humanitarian assistance.
The #LakeChadBasin’s blended response to crisis-affected settings, combining hard and soft security interventions, represents a model for enduring regional stability that could also resonate in other parts of Africa @jmartynsTweet
Regional response to the Lake Chad Basin crisis was initially dominated by a military approach. In 2015, the AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) authorised the deployment of the Multinational Joint Taskforce (MNJTF) against Boko Haram. In its 484th Communique of 29 January 2015, the AUPSC authorised the MNJTF to deploy up to 7 500 military personnel to conduct military operations to prevent “the expansion of Boko Haram activities and other terrorist groups and eliminate their presence”. The AUPSC, and subsequently the MNJTF Concept of Operations, envisaged policing and civilian tasks, including but not limited to civil–military coordination and the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of disengaged fighters back into their communities. Yet, the main effort by the MNJTF was predominantly the conduct of offensive operations. The question about the efficacy of military operations, with specific reference to the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, has been addressed elsewhere and is not the focus of this brief. Rather, it is important to explain how military operations opened the possibility for a developmental response to stabilisation.
Recognising the necessity of complementing military efforts with politically-driven soft security, regional stakeholders initiated a stabilisation strategy. In August 2018, member states of the Lake Chad Basin affected states, with the support of the AU and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), as well as other international partners, adopted the Regional Stabilization, Recovery and Resilience Strategy (RSS) for areas affected by Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin Region. This RSS was subsequently adopted by the AUPSC in December 2018. The strategy comprises nine pillars: political cooperation; security and human rights; disarmament, demobilisation, rehabilitation, reinsertion and reintegration of persons associated with Boko Haram; humanitarian assistance; governance and the social contract; socio-economic recovery and environmental sustainability; education, learning and skills; prevention of violent extremism and building peace; and empowerment and inclusion of women and youth. This strategy is aspirational and remains a work in progress across the various pillars, and its effective implementation will lay the foundation for building peace in the Lake Chad Basin region. In particular, the RSS will enable the establishment of renewed horizontal trust between communities in the affected states, and also seek to promote vertical trust between communities and state authorities.
In less than two years, the RSS has made some remarkable achievements in three main areas. First, it has created the necessary political platform for civil–military cooperation. Stabilisation has been described as a political process that requires a strong partnership between military actors, local administrators, regional or federal governments and regional institutions, working in a concerted manner towards a common objective. The RSS has formalised this process through the establishment of the Governors’ Forum, which brings together the governors of the eight affected territories of the Lake Chad Basin, together with the MNJTF, Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC), AU and other international partners, to discuss progress towards achieving stabilisation in the region. This platform is instrumental in achieving two broad objectives: first, it ensures regional political buy-in and coherence on various policy support and programmatic interventions. This is a watershed moment because the alignment between military operations, political and development initiatives has often been a missing link in regional interventions. The second is that the Governors’ Forum represents the manifestation of a coordinated regional response to a crisis in the Lake Chad region, which transcends national boundaries. Affected states are stronger and more effective when they work together to address their common challenges.
The second key achievement of the RSS is that it has facilitated a politically-led developmental response to the instability in the Lake Chad Basin region. Building on the adoption of the RSS, the UNDP launched a Regional Stabilization Facility (RSF) in July 2019. The RSF is predicated on two windows: immediate and extended stabilisation. Immediate stabilisation targets communities that remain vulnerable to continued infiltration and attacks by seeking to improve community safety and security, delivering essential infrastructure and basic services in recovered territories, and facilitating access to livelihood opportunities. Extended stabilisation facilitates the transition from stop-gap humanitarian assistance to longer-term development and resilience. One year on, the RSF has made some progress across the Lake Chad affected states. Provision of solar-powered streetlights and the construction of rural roads in the Diffa region of Niger, a “cash for work” programme aimed at bolstering youth empowerment in the far north of Cameroon, and the upgrade of the Damboa water supply scheme in Nigeria’s Borno State are some of the illustrative examples of how the implementation of immediate stabilisation is laying the foundation for recovery, and long-term peacebuilding.
Third, the RSS embodies a New Way of Working by translating the security-development-humanitarian nexus into practice. Through the RSS, coordination among local, national, regional and international stakeholders, including the private sector and civil society, is possible. In April 2020, the RSS Task Force was established. This taskforce provides an operational coordination mechanism among varied stakeholders to enhance coordination and working modalities in support of the effective implementation of the RSS across its nine pillars. Since its establishment, the taskforce is represented by approximately 30 institutions and organisations beyond the UN system, under the leadership of the RSS Secretariat. An expansion of membership is expected. Such a coordination structure offers a unique opportunity for collective efforts to promote security, stability and prosperity in a region that continues to experience protracted violence. Despite these successes, stabilising the Lake Chad region will require increased political engagements by the affected states, committed to assuming primary and sustained responsibility for service delivery, accelerating financing to scale up initial support, deepening coordination among actors, and prioritising tackling the systemic causes of the conflict in the region over the predominance of short-term approaches.
The emerging developmental model of stabilisation in the Lake Chad Basin could be an inspiration for addressing the protracted security challenges in the Horn of Africa. Established in 2007, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) was mandated to degrade the threat posed by Al Shabaab in Somalia and neighbouring states. Despite the progress recorded by AMISOM in its military operations, there is growing recognition that a reconfiguration of the mission is necessary for building peace. It is against this background that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted resolution 2520 (2020) – which, inter alia, requested the Secretary General to “conduct an independent assessment, by 10 January 2021, and present options to the UNSC on international support to the whole security environment in Somalia… including the role of the UN, AU and international partners”. Ensuring that any new configuration for security in Somalia and the region fosters a people-centred approach, which prioritises service delivery over hard security preoccupation, will be key. This is not to reduce the importance of a robust capacitation of a Somali-led security effort with the support of a regional security presence. Rather, military operations should be significantly transformed to support a people-centred stabilisation approach. The stabilisation experimentation of the Lake Chad Basin region may offer some insights into the altered focus, immediate preoccupation and long-term horizon for peace and stability in Somalia and the Horn of Africa.
Dr Jide Martyns Okeke is the coordinator of the UNDP Regional Programme for Africa.