Securitizing The Lake Chad Crisis
Lake Chad, surrounded by Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria has historically been one of the largest lakes in Africa and has long been a vital resource for its neighbouring countries. The region is the scene of what has been defined as one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. Over 11 million people live in the region and have to rely on scarce resources that worsen depending on heavy rains and dry seasons. Around the basin, 3.6 million people are food insecure, making the region one of the most food insecure areas in the world. The Chad Basin is also the site of a significant displaced and refugee population who live in makeshift camps with weak infrastructure and no proper access to water or sanitation. With the ever-increasing population and the continuing effects of climate change, it seems evident that there needs to be a push to improve the situation in the region. Unfortunately, current attempts to salvage the Basin still seem to lack an important focus on the most vulnerable people in the area putting most of their funding and focus into one specific issue.
One of the most vital actors in the region is the Lake Chad Basin Commission. The organization was established by the four countries that border the Lake along with the Central African Republic (CAR) and Libya. They aim to manage the lake’s resources and facilitate better governance of the region. However, their analysis of the region still seems skewed towards Boko Haram - the insurgency group that has been dominating the region for the past few decades. Their ‘Regional Stabilization Strategy’ hedges on first defeating Boko Haram, and then focussing on replenishment efforts in the region. However, the conflict has been ongoing for years and does not seem as if it will be coming to an end soon. By harnessing all of their efforts and funding on dismantling Boko Haram, other vital issues are being swept under the rug.
The Northeast region of Nigeria has always been a hotspot for Boko Haram, the militia group that emerged from the Borno State in the early 2000s. They have established control in the region, taking over the already scarce resources around Lake Chad and perpetuating an unsafe environment in the region, displacing millions of people from their home and causing them to be dependent on aid and live in a hostile and unsafe environment.
The neighbouring governments have relied on militarized strategies that have neglected to look at why terrorist organizations have been able to dominate the region. This is why it is crucial to first address the humanitarian implications of the Chad Basin Crisis and focus on improving the quality of the lives of the people who are currently suffering. This includes those who might have been forced into insurgent groups to improve their livelihoods. People that the Nigerian government have currently been neglecting.
Historically, Nigeria’s focus on violence has not been effective. When Boko Haram first came to power in 2009, President Jonathan pushed for a militarized response. As a Christian Nigerian, Jonathan did not have a strong relationship with governance in the Northeast and corruption within his government prevented Nigeria from truly cooperating with other international actors. Jonathan’s reliance on militarization also ignored the root causes of the conflict and its weakened military was never seen as an actual threat to Boko Haram. Rather than eradicate these insurgency groups, the government’s military has only wound up amplifying the dangers in the region, leaving civilians caught in the crossfire. The 2015 election of Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim former military leader from the North of Nigeria, was supposed to be a saving grace for the country. His links to the Northeast region and ability to facilitate more cooperation from across the world were seen as vital assets to the fight against insurgency. Yet, his promises of freeing the country from Boko Haram still failed. Rather than take a different approach than his predecessor, Buhari continued to rely on militarization as well as a ‘post-conflict stabilization strategy’ that assumed that the conflict was almost over. This was clearly not the case. Constant police interventions have already alienated the already-struggling local communities and pushed them to sympathize with opposing militia groups. The officers deployed by the regional anti-terrorist coalition often do not speak the same language as those living in Northeast Nigeria and the high levels of governmental corruption and lack of transparency mean that the military have lost most of their credibility.
Furthermore, neighbouring countries that face the same threats from Boko Haram are not helping. Many IDPs who fled to neighbouring countries have had to return to Maiduguri because of the lack of border support. Countries like Cameroon have boldly announced they would rebuild the damage caused by Boko Haram but their promises ring empty. Without a consistent action plan to make this work happen and the fact that a large amount of their funding has been directed to militarization, they are unable to help those fleeing the country.
This is why a focus on sustainability and targeting the influence of climate change is vital. The Lake Chad Basin Commission has been pushing for a lake replenishment effort and, along with private sector partners, they have developed a program to divert water from the Congo River Basin and replenish Lake Chad. This has been seen as a solution to restore jobs in farming and fishing as well as reduce the insecurities in the region. However, the plan still strongly relies on the private sector and fails to acknowledge whether or not these works could be a long term solution. This is why there should be a dual focus on improving the lives of the people in the region. Replenishment efforts need to be resilient towards climate change in the region.
It is clear that Nigeria’s efforts along with the ones of Chad, Cameroon and Niger have not been enough to help the population in the region. Their overemphasis on military action has only resulted in the population feeling more alienated. These governments have the responsibility to prioritize the needs of the civilians in the region and ensure that they can have a safe future.