Security Council Visiting Mission to the Lake Chad Basin Region
This evening (1 March), Council members depart New York to begin a visiting mission to the Lake Chad Basin region, where the terrorist group Boko Haram continues an insurgency that has resulted in one of the world’s greatest humanitarian crises. The mission will visit all four countries of the Lake Chad region: Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. France, Senegal and the UK are co-leading the legs to Cameroon, Chad and Niger. The Nigeria leg is co-led by Senegal and the UK. The chairperson of the AU Peace and Security Council is expected to accompany Council members.
The Council mission is intended to enable members to assess the security and humanitarian situations, while increasing the international focus on a conflict that has received less attention than other crises. In the face of improved military cooperation among the countries of the region, Boko Haram has lost much of the territory it held at its peak in early 2015 and much of its conventional military strength. However, the group continues to wage a deadly insurgency in Nigeria’s northeast -from where it emanated- and in areas of Cameroon, Chad and Niger around the Lake Chad Basin. Despite the gains made against Boko Haram, the humanitarian crisis precipitated by the conflict has worsened. Across the region, 10 million people need humanitarian assistance, according to OCHA, and 2.3 million people have been displaced, a number that has tripled over the last two years. Famine-like conditions have been reported over the past year in some parts of Borno State, Nigeria.
During the mission, which will start in Cameroon, members are expected to meet heads of state and relevant authorities in the capitals of all four countries. They will also meet military commanders during the mission’s different legs. The delegation will visit the headquarters in N’Djamena of the Multinational Joint Task Force, the regional force that the AU and Lake Chad Basin Commission have set up to combat Boko Haram. Members will also engage with civil society groups, with a focus on women and children, as well as with representatives of the UN country and humanitarian teams, and the diplomatic community in the region.
In both Cameroon and Nigeria, members will travel to areas of the conflict to meet displaced persons, including a stop in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, where the city’s population has more than doubled to over two million people through the influx of civilians fleeing violence. As part of their visit to Maiduguri, members will meet Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima, who has strongly criticised the performance of many of the relief agencies that he has said focuses too much on the camps when the majority of the displaced population live among host communities.
Members are likely to convey a number of messages outlined in the terms of reference for the mission. Among these are encouraging the four governments to further enhance regional military cooperation, while getting their assessment of predicted challenges and recommendations for further strengthening such efforts. On the humanitarian situation, members are likely to urge scaling up of efforts to address the humanitarian crisis and closer coordination among governments, donors and international non-governmental organisations. Other issues that members may discuss include the need to enhance the protection of civilians; the importance of counter-terrorism measures complying with international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law; concerns over premature return of displaced persons and sexual exploitation in displaced persons camps; and challenges of improving humanitarian access.
The mission comes at a time of apparent efforts to increase the focus on the crisis and to prevent its further deterioration. An international donor conference was held in Oslo on 24 February for Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, with donors pledging $672 million for the next three years. OCHA has appealed for $1.5 billion to meet emergency needs in the Lake Chad Basin during 2017, more than double the $739 million requested last year.
The mission is an opportunity to assess and consider initial recovery efforts and the underlying causes of the conflict, such as poor governance, under-development and climate change. As part of their visit, members are likely to be exposed to the conflict’s impact on the region’s economy, due in part to the significant disruption of commercial trading links, which for Chad are possibly more important than humanitarian assistance.
Ahead of the mission, members have held several meetings in preparation. This included a meeting of the Council’s Informal Expert Group on Women, Peace and Security on 27 February that covered the gender dimensions of the conflict, notably the abductions of thousands of women and girls during the war by Boko Haram, use of female suicide bombers, and sexual exploitation in the internally displaced persons camps of women and girls.
Members have also been updated on a mission to the four Lake Chad Basin countries undertaken last month by representatives of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate together with the heads of the UN’s West African and Central African regional offices. The purpose of the mission was to promote regional cooperation in dealing with captured and detained persons affiliated with Boko Haram, an issue highlighted in the Council mission’s terms of reference.