A spate of mass killings in Niger’s Tillabery region has raised the spectre of broader civil strife. Most worrying is the ethnic dimension to the crimes. Authorities should move quickly to prioritize civilian protection lest vigilantes take matters into their own hands.
In south-western Niger, organised banditry could reinforce mistrust between ethnic groups and foster insurgencies that jihadists could exploit. The Nigerien authorities should take action to remedy the injustices experienced by communities living off livestock, initiate intercommunal dialogues and better supervise fledgling self-defence groups.
Since 2013, when it sent troops to Mali, France has led international efforts to root out Islamist militancy from the Sahel. Yet the jihadist threat has grown. Paris and its partners should reorient their military-centred approach toward helping improve governance in the region.
Islamist militants are making further inroads into Tillabery, a region on Niger’s border with Mali. To fend off the threat, Niamey should supplement its counter-insurgency campaign with initiatives aimed at soothing communal tensions along the frontier and starting dialogue with locals in the jihadists’ orbit.
Trafficking – a catch-all term for illicit movement of goods and people – has long sustained livelihoods in northern Niger. But conflicts are emerging due to heightened competition and European pressure to curb migration. Authorities should persevere in managing the extralegal exchange to contain violence.
In Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, a gold boom is offering a new source of funding and potentially even recruits to several armed groups, including jihadists. Sahelian states should reassert their presence in mining areas and take steps to formalise artisanal gold mining.
The Nigerien government and its allies’ use of military force and non-state armed proxies to curtail jihadist groups along the Niger-Mali border is stoking intercommunal conflict. Niger should instead adopt a political approach which includes reconciliation, dialogue and, in some cases, pardons for militants.
Launched in February 2017, the G5 Sahel joint force is an experiment in a region crowded by sometimes-competing military and diplomatic initiatives. Weapons and money will not be enough to resolve the Sahel’s crises, so the force must win the trust and support of both local populations and regional powers.
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.
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.