Since 2015, the conflict between Chad’s armed forces and Boko Haram has destabilised the Lake Chad region in the west of the country. Defeating this resilient insurgency requires the state to go beyond a purely military campaign and relaunch trade, improve public services and reintegrate demobilised militants.
Following Jan closure of northern border with Libya to prevent jihadists and rebels crossing into Chad, govt 3 March announced partial reopening at Wour crossing point for humanitarian and economic reasons; cross-border trade and free movement in north remained disrupted. In continued standoff between govt and unions over working conditions, parties signed compromise agreement 6 March; unions suspended strike for additional month to foster further talks on outstanding issues. French mining company employee kidnapped 23 March south of Abéché in east, allegedly taken to Sudan.
Regional armies in the Lake Chad basin deploy vigilantes to sharpen campaigns against Boko Haram insurgents. But using these militias creates risks as combatants turn to communal violence and organised crime. Over the long term they must be disbanded or regulated.
Ahead of Chad’s presidential election on 10 April popular discontent is rising amid a major economic crisis, growing intra-religious tensions and deadly Boko Haram attacks. The regime that portrays itself as spearheading the fight against regional jihadism could see all sorts of violent actors gain influence at home if it pursues exclusionary politics and denies its people a viable social contract.
The Sahel’s trajectory is worrying; poverty and population growth, combined with growing jihadi extremism, contraband and human trafficking constitute the perfect storm of actual and potential instability. Without holistic, sustained efforts against entrenched criminal networks, misrule and underdevelopment, radicalisation and migration are likely to spread and exacerbate.
Sensible, inclusive regulation of pastoralism that has mitigated tension in parts of the Sahel should be extended to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR), where conflicts have worsened with the southward expansion of pastoralism.
The fall of Qaddafi’s regime, followed by his death on 20 October, could pave the way to promises of democracy in Libya but left neighbouring countries facing new potential problems that could threaten stability in the region.
The Boko Haram insurgency is weakening in the Lake Chad basin, but its underlying socio-economic drivers remain to be addressed. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2017, we urge the EU and its member states to support regional governments with winding down vigilante groups, funding youth employment projects, rebuilding agriculture and trade, and restoring public services.
Jihadist groups have regrouped in the neglected hinterlands of Sahel countries and are launching attacks from them. To regain control of outlying districts, regional states must do far more to extend services and representation beyond recently recaptured provincial centres.
Originally published in Slate Afrique