In 2015, the EU needs to face up to the mounting challenges coming from the heartlands of Africa. It needs to work with its African partners to urgently find a regional solution to the threat of Boko Haram before it spirals across borders, and out of control….
With an increasing number of atrocities committed over recent months, Boko Haram has made headline news all over the world. In one of the most recent attacks, several hundred people were reportedly killed in villages near Baga, a town in North Eastern Nigeria. The UN has registered some 154,000 refugees in Nigeria’s neighbouring countries of Chad, Niger and Cameroon, with 14,000 refugees crossing Lake Chad this month alone. The AUC Chairperson has stressed the urgency of a coordinated African and international response, in view of the increasing threat that Boko Haram poses to regional peace and security. The statement came ahead of this week’s African Union (AU) Summit, where African leaders dedicated a special session on the growing regional threat posed by Boko Haram, amidst growing fears of a jihadist arc reaching from Northern Cameroon to the Sahel, with Boko Haram at its epicentre in Northern Nigeria.
Following the abduction of 200 schoolchildren in Borno State in March 2014, one of Nigeria’s three North Eastern states under a state of emergency, Boko Haram was declared a terrorist organisation by the UN, who warned of further crimes against humanity being committed by the group. The international community, including the EU, has given more attention to this growing regional problem, which was initially viewed as an internal Nigerian affair.
A Regional Puzzle That is Not Fitting Together
The EU and EU Member States have had this menace on their radar for some time. Already in 2012 a multi-stakeholder conflict analysis workshop was held with participation from across EU institutions as well as Nigerian civil society. The Boko Haram insurgency was discussed at the EU-Nigeria Ministerial Dialogue in November 2014 and the EU’s Special Representative for the Sahel attended the 3rd Regional Ministerial Meeting of Ministers of Defence and Foreign Affairs, which brought together ministers from Benin, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Chad and Niger plus a range of ambassadors and senior officials from the AU, ECOWAS, international organisations, China, the US and several EU member states.
The only official present at this meeting from Nigeria was its Ambassador to Niger, a display of Nigeria’s continued conviction that it can deal with Boko Haram on its own. Earlier this month, Sambo Dasuki, Nigeria’s security adviser, ruled out the need for a United Nations or African Union-backed force. This week, President Goodluck Jonathan gave preference to election campaigning at home ahead of the February 14th general elections, instead of attending the African Union Summit where Boko Haram was to be debated in a dedicated session proposed by Niger. Indeed, the upcoming elections are a key element in this equation with Boko Haram being one issue amongst many. The election outcome will determine future responses to this crisis.
Last night, the AU’s Peace and Security Council (PSC) received the report of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission on regional and international efforts to combat the Boko Haram terrorist group and possible ways forward. It recommended that the PSC authorise the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), set up by the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC). Its members are Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. The proposed force would consist of up to 7,500 troops for an initial period of 12 months. This follows a request for such an authorisation by the LCBC and Benin following their Ministerial meeting in Niamey on 20th January. Following the African Union’s Peace and Security Council’s approval, it remains to be seen whether the MNJTF will see the light of day, and if so, under whose lead? The LCBC plus Benin had already adopted a strategy to combat Boko Haram on November 1st 2014, but the initiative fell apart later that month when the details of its implementation had to be formulised.
A Sharpened EU Approach
The EU and its Member States are major stakeholders in the region, and it will be a challenge for them to find an appropriate strategy to respond to the threat of Boko Haram. The regional puzzle is complex with a self-assured Nigeria reluctant for an international response. ECOWAS, as the only regional organisation that can potentially deal with this issue, is overly influenced by Nigeria, its most powerful member. Nigeria’s neighbours are calling for international assistance and the AU Commission is unable to do much in the face of frayed unity and a lack of buy-in from other African leaders. Added to this concoction is a private sector interest – Nigeria is a major oil producing country with large stakes by several European multinational corporations and businesses.
Federica Mogherini’s declaration on the Boko Haram insurgency, as the EU’s High Representative, underlined the need for intensified regional cooperation between Nigeria and its neighbours. She stated “the EU remains committed to providing a comprehensive range of political, counter-terrorism and development support measures to Nigeria and its neighbours, while continuing to provide humanitarian assistance to the populations affected by the crisis.” This would come on top of all the EU’s current support, be it for the Office of Nigeria’s National Security Advisor, its support to women, girls and gender-based violence under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights and its contribution to the Global Partnership on Education (GPE) that supports increased access to education in the region, particularly in Nigeria.
While these are laudable steps, questions should be answered as to whether the EU can move ahead in responding to Boko Haram’s terrorist activities without a more dedicated strategy that would give attention to the wider context. Before, during and after the upcoming elections the EU and its Member States, together with other important stakeholders such as the Unites States, will need to engage with Nigerian political and informal authorities to strengthen the call for a regional approach. The US Secretary of State recently visited Nigeria – precisely to underline this message. The group’s violent attacks date back to 2009, and yet the threat of Boko Haram was not explicitly part of the EU’s Strategy for Security and Development in the Sahel, which was formulated in 2012. Northern Nigeria is a gateway to the enormous space of the Sahel, which has been a hot bed for arms trafficking, organised crime and terrorist activities.
While counter-terrorism has been part of the Sahel strategy, and Nigeria has been present at regional Sahel meetings, the EU should step up it efforts to engage Nigeria to find a durable solution. This should also complement the EU’s Strategy for the Gulf of Guinea, which deals with organised crime, piracy and oil theft. A useful step could be to formulate a long-term EU political strategy with a Political Framework for Crisis Approach (PFCA), with strong engagement with Nigeria itself, in close coordination with regional partners, influential EU Member States, the United States and the United Nations.
Given the increasing threat of Boko Haram to regional stability in Africa, the EU should move it higher up on its political agenda in 2015. There is a need to prominently face up to the mounting challenges coming from the heartlands of the African continent.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and not necessarily those of ECDPM.
The authors wish to thank Damien Helly (ECDPM) for his contributions to this article.
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