Fixing the Lake Chad crisis from the bottom-up

Photo: EC/ECHO/Anouk Delafortrie
Photo: EC/ECHO/Anouk Delafortrie

While the current crisis in the Lake Chad region is often framed by the violence perpetrated by Boko Haram, other factors have converged and exacerbated the crisis.

The Lake Chad Basin region comprising of Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and the Central Africa Republic (CAR) is in the middle of a serious conflict. News reports often refer to this crisis as the ‘Boko Haram crisis’, which is somewhat of an understatement given that this is one of the world’s most complex humanitarian disasters.

Some refer to the #LakeChad crisis as the #BokoHaram crisis. It is much more complex and involves weak governance, #climatechange and a humanitarian emergency. Here’s what @AlozieModesta and @ChikaCharles think you need to know

A Crisis of Marginalisation and Neglect

While the current crisis in the Lake Chad region is often framed by the violence perpetrated by Boko Haram, an Islamist extremist group that has occupied the region since 2009, other factors have converged and exacerbated the crisis. First, climate change is causing Lake Chad, the primary source of water in the region to recede. More than one hundred million people live here. Many of them drink from this lake and weave mats and baskets from its reeds to sell to others and for use in their homes. Lake Chad also supports fishing and irrigation-based agriculture, the primary source of livelihoods for the local populations. The shrinking of Lake Chad has caused serious food insecurity in the region and its neighbouring countries. Reports from ECOWAS-WFP-ECA estimate that 25 million people in the Lake Chad region are unable to meet their food needs, and in the context of COVID-19, food scarcity in the region continues to intensify.

In addition to the effects of climate change, poverty rates in the region are high.  There has been serious governance failures over many years, manifesting as acute underinvestment in social services. Most people in the Lake Chad Basin do not have access to schools and hospitals. This neglect and marginalisation has generated a sense of despair that the Boko Haram movement was able to utilise to its advantage. At the same time, the violence perpetrated by Boko Haram has further compounded the problem by depleting the little remaining social capital, including the weak healthcare, education and transport infrastructure in the region.  This has further exacerbated the socio-economic underdevelopment of the Lake Chad Basin.

The impact of this crisis has been especially severe on the local communities. Thousands of people have died. Communities have been emptied.  As the crisis intensifies, over two million people – the majority of whom are women and children – have been displaced within and outside their home countries, leaving their belongings behind and arriving in new communities with no source of livelihood and unsure of when to return home. According to data from the United Nations (UN), over 10 million people in the region need urgent humanitarian assistance and protection. Without urgent humanitarian intervention and strengthening the resilience of the local communities, the crisis will continue to proliferate with terrible consequences for the region’s present and future generations.

Military intervention hasn’t stopped the #LakeChadBasin crisis. Here’s is how the #lakechadbasingovernorsforum can contribute to a bottom-up solution to the crisis by @AlozieModesta and @ChikaCharles

Multinational Joint Taskforce

The countries in the Lake Chad Basin, and the world at large, have been making efforts to find a lasting solution to the crisis. Pioneering efforts were predominantly a military approach, including the Multinational Joint Taskforce (MNJTF) endorsed by the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) in 2015. The MNJTF have made some progress in stabilising the region. The number of Boko Haram incidents has reduced, and with the help of MNJTF, humanitarian officials have been able to access many remote areas previously inaccessible. Yet, the military approach is not sufficient on its own, and as a result, there has been an increasing call for alternative approaches and programmes that will effectively resolve the region’s problems. The security-development-humanitarian nexus, or what some authors have called the blended approach, has been cast as a better approach to managing the complex security and humanitarian crisis and build the resilience of the local communities. Put simply, this nexus seeks to ensure that security and humanitarian assistance is delivered together with other long-term development assistance. The Regional Stabilisation Facility for the Lake Chad Basin is one of the UN’s efforts at adopting this blended approach. The overall aim of this facility is to address the security and humanitarian concerns of the local communities while also building local capacity and resilience. 

Governors’ Forum

In 2018, the Governors’ Forum was established as an annual platform where the governors from the Boko Haram affected parts of the Lake Chad region, as well as other stakeholders, can come together to discuss opportunities for strengthening regional cooperation to ensure effective management of the Lake Chad Basin crisis. With the support of the AU and United Nations Development Programme, the Forum developed the Regional Stabilisation, Recovery and Resilience Strategy (RSS) for areas affected by Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin Region. Through nine different but related pillars, the RSS responds to the security, humanitarian and long-term development needs of the local populations in the region. These nine pillars include; 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. 

While these nine pillars remain important to address the Lake Chad crisis in a coherent and timely manner, effective country-level, regional and global coordination and partnership is essential to implementing the pillars. Through this coordination and partnership, knowledge and resources can be merged and jointly used to increase the coherence of the response to Boko Haram. The first Governors’ Forum was held in Maiduguri, Nigeria in 2018. The second took place in Niamey, Niger in 2019, and from 4-5 October 2021,  the 3rd was held in Yaoundé, Cameroon, with over 500 people including the governors, civil society groups, MNJTF, policymakers, and representatives of intergovernmental organisations in attendance. 

An exhaustive discussion of the deliberations emerging from the 3rd Governors’ Forum is provided in the final report of the 3rd Governors Forum, with three main issues emerging in line with the objectives of the RSS. First, the security situation in the Lake Chad region has improved, although Boko Haram attacks have not been completely defeated, in part due to inadequate resources, including sophisticated weaponry. The second was the launching of the Territorial Action Plan (TAPS), which is critical for the implementation of the RSS, because it serves as a mechanism through which the governors can implement the RSS at the national and local levels. Through the TAPS, the governors can commit to a regional framework of addressing humanitarian, development, and security issues in the Lake Chad Basin while also maintaining local priorities. During the Forum, the governors noted the need to strengthen collaborations between the governors and relevant partners and called for more funds to be directed towards the implementation of TAPs. Increased funding and technical support will allow security, humanitarian, and development projects to be adapted to evolving situations, and to meet the needs of the local communities. Third, the Forum emphasised the need to demobilise and de-radicalise ex-Boko Haram members before reintegrating them back into the community. The Forum noted the need to strengthen social networks and create livelihood opportunities to facilitate the reintegration of ex-fighters in the local communities. This can be achieved by creating access to jobs and businesses and through investment in climate-smart agriculture to restore local livelihoods.

The next Governors’ Forum will be held this year in the Republic of Chad. A platform like the Governors’ Forum where all or most of the stakeholders can come together to discuss progress made towards addressing the Lake Chad crisis and advance cross border interventions remains vital for sustaining an inclusive, local-oriented solution to the Lake Chad crisis. 

Dr. Modesta Alozie is a Lead Research Fellow at University of Warwick and Dr. Chika Charles Aniekwe is a Senior Advisor and Head of Stabilisation, UNDP/ Lake Chad Basin Commission

Article by:

Modesta Tochukwu Alozie
Lead Research Fellow on the Data and Displacement Project at the Department of Politics and International Relations, Univerisity of Warwick
Dr. Chika Charles Aniekwe
Senior Advisor and Head of Stabilization for the UNDP/LCBC Lake Chad Basin Regional Stabilization Strategy

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