The struggle against Boko Haram in south-eastern Niger is increasingly sharpening local conflicts over access to resources. There is no military solution to this insurgency, and the authorities should instead put the emphasis on demobilising militants, solving local conflicts, reinvigorating the economy and restoring public services.
After lull in Boko Haram (BH) attacks in Diffa region in SE since end-2016, BH 29 March ambushed Nigerien-Chadian military in Boulatoungour, three BH and one soldier killed; BH 9 April attacked army position in Gueskerou, govt said security forces killed at least 57 militants including “emir”. Ethnic tensions threatened to rise again in Agadez region in north: Ibrahim Ag Alambo, arms smuggler and relative of leader of former Tuareg rebel group Nigerien Movement for Justice (MNJ), 6 April announced creation of militia to protect Tuareg from bandits. In response, alleged Toubou representative said move would prompt creation of Toubou self-defence group. Dissident journalist Baba Alpha and civil society activist Maikoul Zodi, accused of fraud in separate cases, arrested 3 and 5 April respectively; Amnesty International said arrests “arbitrary”. Students 10 April protested in several cities against studying conditions; one killed in Niamey in clashes with security forces; students 17 April declared open-ended strike. After deal struck 21 April, classes resumed 26 April.
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.
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.
Suicide attacks on military and mining targets, followed by a violent prison break in the capital, revealed Niger’s fragile stability in a crisis-ridden neighbourhood.
The Sahel, a vast region bordering the Sahara Desert and including the countries of Mali, Niger, Chad and Mauritania, is increasingly referred to by the U.S. military as "the new front in the war on terrorism".
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.
La lutte contre Boko Haram doit se faire avec le souci d’éviter les amalgames et d’apaiser les tensions intercommunautaires.
Originally published in Le Monde
Originally published in Jeune Afrique