What's In Blue

Posted Wed 11 Jan 2017

Discussion on the Lake Chad Basin Crisis

On 12 January, the Security Council is expected to receive briefings from Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tayé-Brook Zerihoun and OCHA head Stephen O’Brien on the Lake Chad Basin crisis precipitated by the Boko Haram conflict. This will be followed by consultations.

Zerihoun is expected to cover political and security developments, while O’Brien will brief on the conflict’s humanitarian crisis. Boko Haram remains a threat despite gains made against the extremist group by regional countries that have increased military cooperation over the past two years through the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF). Having lost most of the territory it held from its peak in 2014 and 2015, Boko Haram has relied more on asymmetric attacks mainly targeting civilians, the latest deadliest attack occurring on 9 December when 57 people were killed by two women suicide bombers in Madagali, Nigeria. On 24 December, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari announced that Boko Haram had been driven out of its stronghold in the Sambisa forest. Such pronouncements about the group have often proven premature. Members are likely to be interested in Zerihoun’s assessment of the group’s continued strength.

Zerihoun may highlight the schism that has emerged within the Boko Haram leadership. In August, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), to which Boko Haram declared loyalty in 2015, announced that it recognised Abu Musab al-Barnawi as the group’s leader. Abubakar Shekau, who is sanctioned under the ISIL (Da’esh)/Al-Qaida sanctions regime as Boko Haram’s leader, released a video saying he remained in charge. Barnawi has criticised Shekau’s indiscriminate violence against Muslims. Members may be interested to learn whether these signs of division have provided new opportunities to engage in talks with elements in the insurgency. They may also use the session as an opportunity to consider whether to subject Barnawi too to financial and travel ban sanctions.

Members could welcome the 13 October release of twenty-one of the Chibok school girls following negotiations facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Government of Switzerland. Approximately 250 of the kidnapped girls, however, remain unaccounted for. While the Chibok girls’ abduction in April 2014 was well publicised, Boko Haram has abducted thousands of civilians in total during the conflict.

In covering the humanitarian situation, O’Brien may note that the humanitarian crisis as a result of the conflict has worsened despite the successes against the group. As of December 2016, OCHA said 11 million people across the Lake Chad Basin were in need of humanitarian assistance and 2.4 million people are displaced. High levels of food insecurity affect 5.1 million people in Nigeria’s north-eastern Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states, a figure that has nearly doubled since March 2016. In parts of Borno State, famine-like conditions have been reported in displaced persons camps, while some areas remain inaccessible for humanitarian actors due to the continued threat posed by Boko Haram. A 19 July 2016 UNICEF press release said that in Borno State, 134 children would die per day from causes linked to acute malnutrition if the humanitarian response was not quickly scaled up. UNICEF reiterated a similar warning in a 13 December press release.

On 7 December, OCHA announced that $1.5 billion would be required to meet emergency needs in the Lake Chad Basin during 2017. Of $739 million requested for the humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad Basin in 2016, only 49 percent was received as of 8 December 2016. Members may want to discuss the needs of the MNJTF, which the Secretary-General described in his 19 December report of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) as “remain[ing] seriously constrained by the lack of funds and assets” (S/2016/1072). On 13 December, the MNJTF’s mandate was renewed by the AU Peace and Security Council, until 31 January 2017. Members are likely to recall the importance of addressing underlying causes of the conflict in the Lake Chad Basin, such as poor governance, economic development and the impact of climate change, which are problems that could lead to continued conflicts even after Boko Haram is defeated.

An issue some members may raise is the possibility, which has been floated over the last year, of a Council mission to the Lake Chad Basin. The session could be an opportunity to consider how such a mission could generate a better understanding of ways the Council can support security initiatives or efforts to address the humanitarian situation while raising greater international awareness of the crisis. The humanitarian crisis, as O’Brien may note, is one of the world’s largest, but has tended to be overlooked. The Council last received a briefing on the Lake Chad Basin crisis on 27 July – the first time that it held such a session – which was organised by the UK to draw more attention to the situation.

On Friday (13 January), the Council will have its regular semi-annual briefing on UNOWAS. The Secretary-General’s latest UNOWAS report covers the Boko Haram-related crisis in the Lake Chad Basin, but the US requested a separate meeting in order to focus more attention on the crisis. Friday’s UNOWAS meeting is expected to focus mainly on The Gambia and the UN Integrated Sahel Strategy,

Postscript: Fatima Askira of the Search for Common Ground Nigeria was also one of hte briefers.

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