Dispatches from the Field: Security Council Members Visit Chad
Today (4 March), Security Council members continued the Chad leg of their visiting mission of the Lake Chad Basin with meetings in N’Djamena. While members came primarily to assess the crisis in the region, and the challenges facing Chad, caused by the conflict with the terrorist group Boko Haram, a number of today’s discussions focused on the broader security risks and underlying development problems that are placing great pressure on Chad.
The depth of the challenges facing Chad was highlighted in an early morning meeting with the UN Country Team. During the briefing by Resident Coordinator Stephen Toll, members were told that within the current humanitarian appeal for Chad, just one quarter of the total emergency funding required is for the Lake Chad region. Chad hosts 394,000 refugees from the Central African Republic, the Lake Chad region and Sudan; 104,000 Chadian internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the Lake Chad region; and 97,000 Chadian returnees. Food insecurity affects 4.3 million people, or approximately one-third of the population, and with Niger, Chad ranks at the bottom of the Human Development Index. Compounding these problems, the government is facing a budgetary crisis due to high security expenditures and an economic recession caused by a decline in oil prices.
In total, 127,000 people are displaced in Chad from the Boko Haram-associated violence, with the majority coming from island communities in Lake Chad. During their discussion with the UN Country Team on Boko Haram, members were updated on developments regarding the surrender starting in late July 2016 of 1,200 former Boko Haram fighters and associates. The majority of these were women and children, who the government returned to their villages of origin by the end of 2016. Chad released all the remaining men who had surrendered by late February, but it seems it did so without determining their former status and without their participation in deradicalisation programmes, due to a lack of resources and capacities. Some of Chad’s efforts to deal with the Boko Haram threat have had a negative impact that has worsened the underlying causes of the conflict. The closure of the border with Nigeria, a prolonged state of emergency, and restrictions on movement have further exacerbated unemployment and food insecurity.
Members received briefings during the day from the force commanders of France’s counter-terrorism Operation Barkhane, and of the Multinational Joint Taskforce (MNJTF), which Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria have established to combat Boko Haram. Visiting first an Operation Barkhane base, members received an overview of the operation deployed across Chad, Mali and Niger. Operation Barkhane has helped strengthen the MNJTF through a coordination cell that shares intelligence, and provides training and logistical support.
Members were briefed at the MNJTF’s headquarters by Force Commandeer Major General Lamidi Adeosun of Nigeria and his deputy. They said that although Boko Haram has been weakened over the last two years, it remains a threat and has the ability to adapt. Despite notable progress made in setting up the regional force and its successes against Boko Haram, challenges facing the operation include lack of equipment and financial difficulties, including slow disbursement of donor funds.
It seems that the Abu Musab al-Barnawi-led faction of Boko Haram, which operates around Lake Chad and on the islands. is considered the greater threat at present. (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant recognised Abu Musab al-Barnawi as Boko Haram’s leader in August.) This faction appears to have a better relationship with local communities and does not carry out indiscriminate attacks against Muslims, unlike the the Boko Haram-led faction of Abubakar Shekau. While humanitarian access is generally good in the Lake region in Chad, MNJTF operations have limited humanitarian access around the islands.
Much of the discussion during the day seemed to highlight broader security challenges and development problems. Following the meeting with the UN Country Team in the morning, Council members met with Prime Minister Albert Pahimi Padacké and several members of his cabinet. Padacké said that the government was committed to dealing with security threats emanating from Boko Haram and from Libya. He updated members about ISIL’s activities in southern Libya following the campaign, involving US airstrikes, which drove it out of Sirte earlier in the year, and the Chadian government’s decision in January to close its border with Libya since it was concerned that ISIL might try to link up with Boko Haram. As the UN Country Team noted, this had a negative economic impact on communities in northern Chad, similar to the effect on communities from the closure of the Nigerian border.
Padacké focused on the government’s development priorities. He stressed the importance of a planned donor conference this year for support for Chad’s first 5-year development plan. Development priorities include poverty alleviation, education, health and gender equality. Chad recently adopted a law prohibiting marriage under the age of 18 in order to prolong girls’ schooling. It has also set a 30 percent quota on women’s participation in government decision-making, which Padacké said he hoped would soon be exceeded. The prime minister also emphasised the importance of maintaining a focus on the issues that have led to the shrinking of Lake Chad. . Both Chad’s development plans and military operations were under strain due to the economic crisis and budget difficulties. The focus on development and the need to address the root causes of the conflict area are a shift from the security approach taken when Chad first intervened against Boko Haram two years ago.
The Council delegation concluded its visit to Chad by meeting with international and local non-governmental organisations. Among the messages conveyed by the participants was that it was critical to go beyond humanitarian assistance to a greater focus on development.
The delegation arrived on Saturday evening in Niger, and met with President Mahamadou Issoufou. Details of this meeting, as well as Sunday’s meetings in Niger, will be covered in our next dispatch.