African securityCountering Boko Haram: can a regional approach help Nigeria?
By David Mickler
Published 23 February 2015
Boko Haram has killed more than 10,000 people and forced more than a million others to flee. It has captured 30,000 square kilometers of Nigerian territory, has reported links to al-Qaeda, and has been dubbed “Africa’s ISIS.” Nigeria and its neighbors have now proposed a regional taskforce to tackle the brutal Boko Haram insurgency, which has waged war in the northeast of the country since 2009. But will it work? The taskforce would consist of 8,700 military, police, and civilian personnel. It would conduct coordinated military and intelligence operations to prevent Boko Haram’s expansion and to stabilize areas previously under its control. It would also protect civilians, help displaced people to return home and enable some humanitarian assistance. There are, however, deeper issues regarding the conditions that have enabled Boko Haram to flourish, which are beyond the mandate and capacity of any regional intervention force. These include political marginalization and socio-economic underdevelopment in the predominantly Muslim regions of Nigeria’s north, religious radicalization, and wider governance challenges, such as corruption, in the Nigerian polity.
Nigeria and its neighbors have proposed a regional taskforce to tackle the brutal Boko Haram insurgency, which has waged war in the northeast of the country since 2009. But will it work?
Boko Haram has killed more than 10,000 people and forced more than a million others to flee. It has captured 30,000 square kilometers of Nigerian territory, has reported links to al-Qaeda, and has been dubbed “Africa’s ISIS.”
So, where has the plan for a regional taskforce come from? What does it propose to do? And will it have UN Security Council authorization?
What’s happening in Nigeria?Nigeria is home to Africa’s largest economy and its largest population. It is also Africa’s largest democracy, albeit a fragile one. But Nigeria has faced an increasingly brazen campaign of violence and terror by Boko Haram.
Attacks occur almost daily on both government and civilian targets, and recent events have raised the stakes. In April 2014, Boko Haram sparked international outrage by kidnapping nearly 300 schoolgirls from Chibok. In January this year, ten-year-old suicide bombers were reportedly used in attacks and militants decimated the people and town of Baga.
Boko Haram has also expanded its attacks into Cameroon, Niger, and now Chad. This has made stopping it more than just a Nigerian problem.
The Nigerian government, a leader in African peace and security governance, has been unable to counter this violent challenge. Declaring a state of emergency in three northeastern states, it has deployed under-resourced Nigerian army forces and been accused of extra-judicial killings of suspected insurgents. Its failure to halt attacks has been a source of frustration and criticism.
The crisis even threatens Nigerian democracy. National elections due to have been held on February 14 were postponed for six weeks. The government claims this is due to an inability to securely conduct the poll in the affected states.
Towards a regional responseThe Nigerian government has used its regional power and influence to control how Boko Haram features on African and international security agendas. However, it has reluctantly come to accept that it needs external help.
As the Boko Haram insurgency has spread, Nigeria’s neighbors have sought to co-operate to halt its progress. In mid-2014, the search for a regional solution gathered momentum. Representatives from Nigeria and its neighbors in the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC), Chad, Cameroon, and Niger, met with counterparts from Benin, France, the United States, and the U.K.