Unending War Against Insurgency in the Lake Chad Basin Region: What is the Way Forward?

Unending War Against Insurgency in the Lake Chad Basin Region: What is the Way Forward?

Despite its intensity, the situation in the Lake Chad Basin (LCB) is one of the least known ongoing humanitarian crises. The statistics are startling. The UN has classified 12.5 million people as being in need, 5.2 million people as being food insecure, 2.6 million displaced as well as 79,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. This is all in addition to more than 37,500 deaths due to the conflict since 2011.

A key factor that precipitated the insurgency has been the disappearance of Lake Chad itself, depriving a once food-rich region of its essential resources. An exacerbant to this has also been the population boom in recent years within the LCB. The UN estimates that the total population of the basin should double between the years 2011 and 2031. In this context, also of note is the deep territorial insecurity of the LCB states. All four of the LCB states rank in the top 19 of the Fragile States index. This fragility is combined with a high-level of mutual distrust between the states, notably including the Bakassi Crisis between Cameroon and Nigeria. The nexus of food insecurity, rapid population expansion, state fragility and mutual distrust was blown into a full-scale humanitarian crisis with the extra-judicial killing of Boko Haram leader Mohammad Yusuf in 2009. This act plunged the region into a full insurgency, in which the 4 LCB states, Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria and Niger, have been unable to cope.

This asks the question, what is a way to end the ‘unending war against insurgency’. One path that has shown signs of promise is the Multinational Joint Task Force, more succinctly known as the MNJTF. This ad-hoc arrangement, composed of Chad, Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Benin, had significant early success in combating Boko Haram. However, despite this, the MNJTF have found it increasingly difficult to cope with the insurgent group. Boko Haram have often managed to disperse and regroup in response to major MNJTF offensives, and the MNJTF have struggled to reply with sufficient flexibility, organisation and force. Indeed, the most deadly attack on the MNJTF occurred in March 2020, with about 90 Chadian soldiers killed in an MNJTF base.

The most obvious option is a redoubling of the efforts of the MNJTF, in line with the 2015 ‘re-invigoration’. As the International Crisis Group notes, this could involve a further clarification of the objectives of the MNJTF and further compliance with human rights training, in turn allowing for further funding by international donors. Indeed, an agreement, however unlikely, could also be reached to allow the respective militaries of the MNJTF to ask transnationally, being able to more effectively chase Boko Haram soldiers into other member states’ territories.

But perhaps a more integrated, multidimensional approach is required.  Indeed, if the MNJTF do eventually succeed in extinguishing the Boko Haram insurgency, it is hard to see if this could promote an enduring peace, as exhibited in the difficulties that the G5 Sahel have faced in fighting similar insurgencies. As such, it can be recommended that the MNJTF, in addition to engaging in a ‘re-re-invigoration’, should place greater emphasis on providing support to liberated areas. This could take the form of providing greater emphasis and funding on the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC), the civilian body responsible for providing the overall humanitarian response to the crisis. Importantly, as a non-state actor the LCBC is not tied as tightly to the national interests of the mutually distrustful LCB states, potentially allowing it to act with legitimacy in providing infrastructural and economic support in areas that the MNJTF cannot.