The Sahel is a word derived from the Arabic word ‘Sahil’ meaning shore. The region, characterized as a semi-arid belt of barren, sandy and rock-strewn land, stretches approximately 3860 km across the breadth of the African continent. The Sahel includes parts of the Gambia, Senegal, southern Mauritania, central Mali, Burkina Faso, southern Algeria, Niger, northern Nigeria, Cameroon, Central Chad, significant portions of Sudan and South Sudan and Eritrea.
Militants and armed radical groups have expanded and entrenched their positions throughout the Sahel and the Sahara over the last decade under the umbrella of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb (AQIM).
The Sahel region has historically had to face a myriad of challenges. It is one of the most vulnerable regions of the world, as political turmoil, severe climatic conditions and fragile economies, have colluded to rend this region into a near catastrophic state. It is simultaneously facing the challenges of extreme poverty, the effects of climate change, frequent food crises, rapid population growth, fragile governance, corruption, unresolved internal tensions, violent extremism and radicalization, illicit arms and drug trafficking and terrorism. Mali has arguably been the country to have suffered the worst in the crisis of the Sahel. Although the crisis erupted in Mali, most countries in the region face the same threats to peace and security.
Hence, more coordinated and comprehensive efforts are needed to bring sustainable peace back to Mali and the region at large. Nigeria is a state that has been hit hard by the menace of terrorism. Boko Haram, a militant group espousing a radical form of Islam, that is intolerant of cultural practices associated with Western, non- Muslim lifestyles and education, poses a frightening threat to Nigeria and to the security of its people. However, the threat of terrorism is not confined to Nigeria alone. The terrorist organizations, Al-Qaeda in the
Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Somalia’s Al- Shabaab have increasingly begun to carry out terror attacks in several states in the region with increasing ruthlessness and confidence. Militants and armed radical groups have expanded and entrenched their positions throughout the Sahel and the Sahara over the last decade under the umbrella of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb (AQIM).
The Security Council will have to focus its energies on formulating a viable and effective holistic strategy, referring to and making use of the previous action taken by the UN, in order to deal with the crisis in the Sahel region and curb the spread of terrorism. The global community must continue its efforts to approach the Sahel and West Africa’s interconnected problems with a comprehensive regional and international collaboration and strive for a holistic solution during the conference. Such an effort must address the immediate security threat posed by violent extremists and transnational criminal networks, while at the same time building the institutional capacity needed to address the Sahel’s political, economic and humanitarian challenges.
…the countries of the region are predominantly Muslim, meaning that extremist militants can blend in easily and draw recruits.
History of the Topic
Militancy in the Sahel
In recent years, there have been indications that the Sahel region of Africa is emerging as a safe haven for Islamist militants. The seizure of more than half of Mali’s land area by Islamic militants, the growing violence of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, and years of religiously inspired violence in Somalia seem to confirm this trend. Militants and armed radical groups have expanded and entrenched their positions throughout the Sahel and Sahara over the last decade under the umbrella of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb (AQIM). They move from one country to another – a hard core of operatives working in an area that covers parts of southwest and south Libya, southern Algeria, northern Niger, northeast Mauritania and most of northern Mali. They also have connections to Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.
There are several reasons why these organisations chose the Sahel as their terrorist bases. Firstly, the countries of the region are predominantly Muslim, meaning that extremist militants can blend in easily and draw recruits. Secondly, the sheer size of the Sahel region and the lack of effective border controls mean that militants have vast areas in which to hide and train, and they can cross relatively easily between countries. Thirdly, the collapse of the Qaddafi regime in Libya in late 2011 and the subsequent chaos in that country have allowed weapons and militants to flow into neighbouring or nearby states such as Algeria and Mali.
State building in Somalia has been hindered by the ability of the militants to seize and control vast territories over long periods of time. In Mali, militants have been able to severe the North from the South of the country. Political instability as well as the dire humanitarian situation in the Sahara-Sahel has the potential to spread to the entire region. Islamic militancy is on the rise and tensions are escalating all over the African continent.
In the Sahel, combinations of bad governance, poverty, and insecurity as well as several internal and external factors have contributed to extremist violence.
Islamic militancy in Somalia first surfaced in the mid-1980s with the formation of al Itihad al Islamia (“Islamic Unity”), which expanded its military operations in the early 1990s. Al Itihad disappeared from the scene after 1996, yet its ideas and main actors continued to play roles in the highly diverse United Islamic Courts (UIC) movement that emerged in the mid-2000s. In 2006, the UIC managed to secure control over Mogadishu for some months before being crushed by the Ethiopian intervention in December of that year. This subsequently gave rise to al Shabaab, which represented a new generation of Islamic militants ever more determined to use violent action to achieve their goals.
Causes of Extremism in the Sahel and West Africa
While local factors in West African and Sahel countries have contributed to extremist violence, the rise of global jihad in the wake of the US-led “war on terror” since 9/11 has also played a part in spreading radical militancy in the region. In the Sahel, combinations of bad governance, poverty, and insecurity as well as several internal and external factors have contributed to extremist violence.
The Sahel has, unfortunately, provided an ideal ground for extremist violence to take root and spread beyond national borders. Poor political and resource governance have often led to explosions of violence by disgruntled segments of society, and a number of studies have linked bad governance to insecurity in West Africa. For example, Mali’s Tuareg have been fighting perceived marginalization by the central government and demanded an autonomous homeland in the country’s north. Following the March 2012 coup in the capital Bamako, the Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad seized towns from government troops in the north, but was soon driven out by militant Islamist groups. Nigeria’s increasingly violent Boko Haram militia, which wants an Islamic state, should be seen as a reaction to the government’s entrenched corruption, abusive security forces, strife between the disaffected Muslim north and Christian south, and widening regional economic disparity, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
While African Islamic militancy remains interlinked with broader ideological currents, it is clear that circumstances in local contexts have been important catalysts for its emergence and trajectory. These are largely home-grown phenomenon, wherein individual Islamic militant groups emerge and evolve from local concerns, are created and run by locally situated actors, and have an agenda that focuses on the immediate context. The Malian government’s failure to consistently invest and maintain a strong state presence in the north, for example, created an environment, that made it easy for Islamic militancy to expand and thus fostered the escalation of violence in this region. Notably, it was local militant Islamists, rather than AQIM, that were behind this escalation.
Repression by governments or external forces can cause Islamist militants to fight for their very existence and at the same time deepen perceptions of state illegitimacy.
Additionally, poverty and underdevelopment and a sense of marginalization and exclusion that comes from lack of governance, particularly at the local level, are also seen as drivers associated with violent extremism. Therefore, it logically follows that supporting and propagating development is a long-term approach to undermine the spawning factors of extremism. Poverty, unemployment and socioeconomic deprivation partly explain the rise of extremist movements, both of a violent and nonviolent nature. It is easier for militant groups to recruit unemployed youth who see no future for themselves, than those who have a job and a perspective in life. African youth, moreover, are not only marginalized economically, but often alienated from their cultural contexts and burdened by questions of identity and belonging. Contacts with Salafi or Islamist groups and exposure to charismatic leaders, such as Boko Haram’s Mohammed Yusuf, frame this alienation in religious terms, in which Islam is presented as the all encompassing, powerful, and the only solution. Both local circumstances and global events are presented as evidence of a world threatening Islam and contradicting the will of God.
In addition to being the only option for salvation, membership in Salafi or Islamist movements—whether militant and non-militant also represents a source of empowerment. These groups may not bring an end to poverty or provide jobs, but they give disgruntled youth an alternative universal model for belonging and for social action in which disillusion is exchanged for dignity and marginalization with meaning. Moreover, the emphasis on purity and morality, coupled with the notion of an exclusive access to the truth, generates attitudes of superiority. This, in turn, fractures the society and builds rigid boundaries. “Others” are seen both as threats to religious purity and as targets for expansionist activities. When such thinking is cultivated in tight-knit groups with strong leaders, the road to militancy and violence can easily be a short one.
Other factors such as West Africa’s wide geographical area, weak public institutions and people’s and governments’ loyalty towards tribes and clans rather than the nation states are also contributors to crime and extremist violence in the region. In a bid to end insurgencies, Nigeria and Mali have attempted to negotiated settlements, but they have also resorted to the use of force, which is limited in resolving the fundamental causes of rebellion. Repression by governments or external forces can cause Islamist militants to fight for their very existence and at the same time deepen perceptions of state illegitimacy. The French-led intervention in Mali has dislodged the Islamist rebels from their strongholds, but triggered fears that the fleeing militants could destabilize countries in the region from where they hail, target foreign nationals in neighboring countries and even win the sympathy of other extremist militia. And the start of the withdrawal of French troops from Mali, four months after recapturing northern cities from Islamist insurgents, is being touted by the militants on internet forums as the beginning of their victory.
Stances of major players involved in the issue
The Dominant Militant Groups
AQIM’s main target outside of Africa is France due to its colonial history and France’s on-going support for governments the group wants to overthrow.
AQIM: Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) was officially born in January 2007 when the Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC/Groupe Salafiste pour la Predication et le Combat) merged into al- Qaeda as its North African wing. That was three years after Abu Mus’ab al- Zarqawi had pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden, thereby transforming his own organization, Al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad, into al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, better known as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Al-Qaeda was therefore extending its operational network towards the West and explicitly threatening European countries such as France and Spain.
AQIM’s main target outside of Africa is France due to its colonial history and France’s on-going support for governments the group wants to overthrow. It was not long before AQIM struck at the very heart of the capital city of Algiers: on April 11, 2007, three simultaneous suicide at tacks hit the government palace and two security stations. In December they bombed the UN headquarters in Algeria as well as the Constitutional Court, killing 33. AQIM has been effectively on the offensive since the spring of 2007, alternating between “local” Algerian targets and “global” ones. AQIM operates primarily in the northern coastal areas of Algeria and in parts of the Sahel region, including parts of the desert regions of southern Algeria and northern Mali. Their goal is to free Northern Africa of Western influence and install regimes based on sharia. Members are drawn mostly from Algerian and Saharan communities such as the Tuareg, as well as from tribal clans of Mali. The organization mainly employs conventional terrorist tactics, including guerrilla-style ambushes and mortar, rocket, and IED attacks. Its principle sources of funding include extortion, kidnapping, smuggling and donations.
AQIM leader Abdelmalek Droukdal announced in May 2007 that suicide bombings would become the group’s main tactic. The group claimed responsibility for a suicide truck bomb attack that killed at least eight soldiers and injured more than 20 at a military barracks in Algeria on 11 July 2007. This was also the opening day of the All- Africa Games. In May 2009, AQIM announced it had killed a British hostage after months of failed negotiations. In June of the same year, the group publicly claimed responsibility for killing US citizen Christopher Leggett in Mauritania because of his missionary activities.
In 2011, a Mauritanian court sentenced a suspected AQIM member to death, and two others to prison for the American’s murder. In 2012, AQIM took advantage of political chaos in northern Mali to consolidate its control there and worked with the secular Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) to secure independence in Kidal, Gao, and Timbuktu for ethnic Tuaregs. The Islamic militant group Ansar al-Din subsequently formed to support the creation of an Islamic state in Mali ruled by sharia, and a dissident group of AQIM members broke off to form Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and support Ansar al-Din. Separately, AQIM has provided funding and training to members of the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram and has been known to have affiliations with Somalia’s Al-Shabaab.
The Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahedeen, commonly known as Al-Shabaab, is a militant group based in Somalia fighting for the creation of a fundamentalist Islamic State in Somalia. Al-Shabaab means ‘The Youth’ in Arabic and emerged as the radical youth wing of Somalia’s now-defunct Union of Islamic Courts in 2006 (UIC), as it fought Ethiopian forces who had entered Somalia to oust the ICU from power and back the weak interim government. The campaign carried out by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has significantly weakened the militant group in the last couple of years, yet Al-Shabaab remains a massive threat to the stability of the country. Due to significant support from local clans, Al-Shabaab still remains in control of most of southern and central Somalia. The group’s terrorist activities have mainly focused on targets within Somalia, but it has also proven an ability to carry out deadly strikes in neighbouring countries, as was shown by the attack on Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya in September 2013.
…Al-Shabaab has strong links with pirates operating in the Indian Ocean. This expands the source of their funding and enlarges their popular support through redistribution of the loot.
Typically terrorist attacks conducted by al- Shabaab target Somali government officials, AMISOM forces, perceived allies of the Federal Government of Somalia, humanitarian aid organizations and other international workers. Most of its fighters are said to be predominantly interested in the nationalistic battle against the Federal Government of Somalia and are not supportive of global jihad. However, al-Shabaab repositioned itself as a militant Islamist group in recent years, as the formal allegiance with al-Qaeda, declared in 2012 emphasizes. Al- Shabaab advocates the Saudi-inspired Wahhabi version of Islam, while most Somalis are Sufis. Al- Shabaab has destroyed a large number of Sufi shrines, causing its popularity to further plummet. It is also assumed that Al-Shabaab has strong links with pirates operating in the Indian Ocean. This expands the source of their funding and enlarges their popular support through redistribution of the loot.
The southern port city of Kismayo with its vibrant economy (trade of charcoal) was taken over by Al-Shabaab in 2008 and, building up an extensive racketeering operation there, served as a crucial asset for the militant group. Experts consider the liberation of the Kismayo port by Kenyan forces in October 2012 to be a huge strategic setback for Al- Shabaab and a great success for the AMISOM mission. In a regional context, there seems to be a great interconnectedness between Al- Shabaab and other militant organizations operating in Africa, as Al-Shabaab militants were reported to have fought alongside the forces of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the Northern Mali conflict starting in 2012. The group supposedly also has ties to Boko Haram.
Nigeria’s militant Islamist group Boko Haram – which has caused havoc in Africa’s most populous country Nigeria through a wave of bombings – is fighting to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state including the implementation of sharia courts. Its followers are said to be influenced by the Quranic phrase which says: “Anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed is among the transgressors”. Boko Haram promotes a version of Islam which makes it “haram”, or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society. Western education is considered a sin. This includes voting in elections, wearing shirts and trousers or receiving a secular education.
Until 2009, the group did not aim to violently overthrow the government. That however changed, when in July 2009, Boko Haram members refused to follow a motor-bike helmet law…
Boko Haram regarded the Nigerian state as being run by non-believers, even when the country had a Muslim president. Mohammad Yusuf, a radical Islamist cleric, created Boko Haram in 2002 in Maiduguri, the capital of the north-eastern state of Borno. Yusuf criticized northern Muslims for participating in what he saw as an illegitimate, non-Islamic state and preached a doctrine of withdrawal. But violence between Christians and Muslims and harsh government treatment, including pervasive police brutality, encouraged the group’s radicalization. Human Rights Watch researcher Eric Guttschuss told news service IRIN that Yusuf gained supporters “by speaking out against police and political corruption.” Boko Haram followers, called Yusuffiya, consist largely of hundreds of impoverished Islamic students and clerics as well as university students and professionals, many of whom are unemployed. Some followers are also members of Nigeria’s elite.
Until 2009, the group did not aim to violently overthrow the government. That however changed, when in July 2009, Boko Haram members refused to follow a motor-bike helmet law, leading to heavy-handed police tactics that set off an armed uprising in the northern state of Bauchi and spread into the states of Borno, Yobe, and Kano. The incident was suppressed by the army and left more than eight hundred dead. It also led to the televised execution of Yusuf, as well as the deaths of his father in-law and other sect- members, which human rights advocates considered to be extra-judicial killings. In the aftermath of the 2009 unrest an Islamist insurrection under a splintered leadership emerged. Boko Haram began to carry out a number of suicide bombings and assassinations from Maiduguri to Abuja, and staged an ambitious prison-break in Bauchi, freeing more than seven hundred inmates in 2010.
Boko Haram’s capabilities have also markedly increased since its beginnings. Attacks attributed to the group increased from 21 in 2010 to 186 in 2011, and soared to 526 in 2012. In June 2011, the organization conducted the first suicide bombing ever in Nigeria. A few months later, a car full of explosives rammed into a United Nations’ building in Abuja. Boko Haram has also conducted highly coordinated assaults, displaying enough manpower and weaponry to temporarily threaten entire cities. In this sense, while Boko Haram has demonstrated the capability to engage in large-scale terrorist violence, the organization conducts smaller- scale attacks throughout northern Nigeria on an almost daily basis. The advance in capabilities has occurred in concert with an expansion in area of operations. Though they started out launching attacks in the northeast corner of Nigeria, Boko Haram has moved on to initiate attacks as far west as Sokoto state and as far south as Kogi state, while increasing its presence in the central regions (Kano, Kaduna, Bauchi, and Plateau). Targeting has also expanded from an initial focus on Nigerian security forces and government institutions, to include churches, bars, telecommunication infrastructure, schools, traditional leaders, and even the media.
Boko Haram cannot be considered as one group with one objective, instead it has many splinter groups that aim to achieve different targets.
Influence of AQIM can be seen in the attacks of the groups since the beginning of 2013, according to experts. In the escalation of conflicts between the group’s fighters and the military, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the northern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe in May 2013 that is to be continued until May 2014. In April, the Nigerian government tried to broker a cease-fire with the sect but failed. The sweeping offensive against Boko Haram has been going on for almost a year, and the military has described the group as being in disarray and no longer capable of attacking major population centres. But the success of the operation remains unclear. The attack in Damaturu, apparently carried out by a significant number of insurgents in a heavily fortified city, as well as ongoing attacks on civilian as well as military targets, has cast further doubt on the effectiveness of the military offensive.
Boko Haram cannot be considered as one group with one objective, instead it has many splinter groups that aim to achieve different targets. At least two splinters, one focusing on local grievances and one focusing in regional expansion, can be identified. The groups has been able to acquire better weapons and recruite more fighters than the regional state police troops have. Thus, some Nigerian politicians believe the groups cannot be (militarily) defeated.
Important Issues Regarding the Topic
Malian returnees from Libya in 2011, who were heavily armed with weapons acquired during the crisis in Libya, exacerbated tensions in northern Mali, and Tuareg ethnic militias started a rebellion in January 2012. The issue of returnees from the Libyan civil war causing unrest in Mali emphasizes the problem of militant groups being able to operate freely in the mainly unpopulated desert-areas of the Sahel and the Sahara. Malian combatants, who fought as mercenaries hired by Muammar al-Gaddafi in his attempt to stay in power, fled back to Mali with weapons supporting the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA). The Western powers have arguably underestimated that getting rid of Gaddafi would have severe repercussions in the Sahel region. In mid-January 2012, the MNLA, along with Islamic armed groups including Ansar Dine, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Movement pour l’unicité et le jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest (MUJAO), initiated a series of attacks against Government forces in the north of the country.
The militant group Ansar Dine, closely associated with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), seeking to impose shariah law consolidated its hold over three key cities in Mali’s restive north, after ousting Tuareg rebels that earlier helped it seize control of the region.
On 22 March 2012, President Toure was overthrown by low- and mid-level soldiers, who were frustrated with the poor handling of the rebellion by the President. Intensive mediation efforts led by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) returned power to a civilian administration in April with the appointment of interim President Dioncounda Traore. The post-coup chaos led to rebels expelling the Malian military from the three northern regions of the country and allowed Islamic militants to set up strongholds. The militant group Ansar Dine, closely associated with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), seeking to impose shariah law consolidated its hold over three key cities in Mali’s restive north, after ousting Tuareg rebels that earlier helped it seize control of the region.
In the course of the conflict, hundreds of thousands of northern Malians fled from the violence to southern Mali and neighbouring countries, exacerbating regional food insecurity in host communities. Authorized by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2085, a United Nations mission was deployed in Mali in order to contribute to the rebuilding of the capacity of the Malian Defence and Security Forces and support the Malian authorities in recovering the areas in the north of its territory under the control of militant groups. As a result of the French and African military operations alongside the Malian army in northern areas, the security situation in Mali significantly improved.
By the end of January, State control had been restored in most major northern towns, such as Diabaly, Douentza, Gao, Konna and Timbuktu. Most terrorist and associated forces withdrew northwards into the mountains while others, mainly local Malians, reportedly blended into local communities. One of the greatest challenges of Mali will be resolving the simmering secular separatist rebellion in the northern region of Kidal. Ethnic Tuaregs there have sought sovereignty ever since Mali’s independence from France in 1960 and their latest rebellion gained momentum in the power vacuum after the coup. While they were temporarily sidelined during the rule of the radical jihadists, the Tuareg separatists are now largely back in control of Kidal and the return of the Malian military remains deeply unpopular.
The Tuareg claim that the central government has been ignoring and oppressing them for decades and thus the establishment of the independent Tuareg state Azawad is the ultimate goal of the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA). In the meantime, the MNLA has backed away from declarations of independence made by some of its members earlier. In the temporary ceasefire agreement signed on June 18th 2013, the group recognized Mali’s territorial integrity and borders. On July 1st 2013, the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) transferred its authority to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) in accordance with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2100 from April 2013.
The international community has showed its determination in tackling the threats that jeopardize Mali.
The mission is mandated to support the political process and carry out a number of security- related stabilization tasks, “with a focus on major population centres and lines of communication, protecting civilians, human rights monitoring, the creation of conditions for the provision of humanitarian assistance and the return of displaced persons, the extension of State authority and the preparation of free, inclusive and peaceful elections”. In a democratic presidential election conducted in July and August of 2013, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was elected president. The international community has showed its determination in tackling the threats that jeopardize Mali.
However, the conflict is far from being solved. Serious security challenges still remain, including continued terrorist activities and military operations in some areas. The need to restore the integrity of Mali’s territory and ensure the physical security of communities in the north continues to be a central priority.
In October 1, 1960, Nigeria gained its independence from the United Kingdom after decades of colonial rule. Democracy was restored in 1999 after a sixteen-year interruption; from 1966 until 1999, Nigeria had been ruled (except the short-lived second republic, 1979-1983) by military dictators who seized power in coups d’état and counter-coups during the Nigerian military juntas of 1966-1979 and 1983- 1998. Nigeria is the top oil producer in the entire African continent as well as the most populous African nation. Despite the wealth of resources that it has, Nigeria today, under the democratically elected Goodluck Johnson, is fighting a crucial fight for its survival against the terrorist organization Boko Haram that has consistently been carrying out assassinations and suicide attacks throughout Nigeria.
Today the north of Nigeria is undoubtedly poorer than the south in almost every conceivable measure.
Causes of the escalation of terrorist activity in Nigeria – North-South Dynamics
The north of Nigeria is significantly different from the south, a split roughly mirrored by a Muslim-Christian divide. During the colonial period, indirect British rule in the north buttressed such divisions, allowing the region to retain a degree of tradition at the cost of adaptation to a changing environment. This is most permanently demonstrated through the continued emphasis on Islamic education, or almajiri schools, which prioritize rote memorization of the Qur’an at the expense of developing more technical skills – playing into the origins of the name “Boko Haram.” The reinstatement of democracy in 1999, underwritten by an implicit “zoning” bargain whereby the presidency is to take turns alternating between the two regions, also symbolizes the north-south divide.
However, when current President Goodluck Jonathan (Bayelsa state) ran for re-election in 2011 after former President Umaru Yar’Adua, (Katsina state) died in office, many felt cheated. Rumours abound that angry northern elites utilized Boko Haram as a means to express their displeasure. While this has been nearly impossible to prove and links during the infancy of the Boko Haram movement may have been terminated by today, some politicians from the north have been put on trial for alleged support. Periodic bouts of unrest between Muslim and Christian communities in Nigeria’s central regions, though largely attributed to resource competition, also reinforce religious divisions and underline northern Muslim fears regarding southern domination. Boko Haram has been able to tap into these grievances, and present the movement as a “defender” of Nigeria’s Muslims.
Today the north of Nigeria is undoubtedly poorer than the south in almost every conceivable measure. Combined with limited resources and deteriorating environmental factors, such as a rapidly shrinking Lake Chad, parts of northern Nigeria are economically destitute environments. Poor government leadership and corruption have contributed to the current socio-economic situation, and generate an environment lacking viable job prospects for large numbers of youth. The heavy handed response by security forces towards Boko Haram and the overall lack of justice has also engendered resentment towards the Nigerian state. Reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have detailed allegations of mistreatment and the disappearance of young Muslim males, generating a backlash amongst the population, security forces are ostensibly deployed to protect.
The heavy handed response by security forces towards Boko Haram and the overall lack of justice has also engendered resentment towards the Nigerian state.
In part, as a response to the socioeconomic situation and decades of poor leadership, Zamfara became the first Nigerian state to introduce shari’ah law in 1999 – a move followed by 11 other states in short succession. Local support for shari’ah was driven by its perceived ability to reform the north and generate prosperity. In reality, this did not transpire, allowing Boko Haram to argue that its implementation has been inadequate and further call for more extreme measures. A multitude of cultural, social, and political factors define Boko Haram’s operating environment. Nonetheless, factors external to northern Nigeria, along with issues like porous regional borders and conservative religious influence from Gulf nations, also contribute to Boko Haram’s success in the North.
This insurgency has also given rise to a refugee crisis, as scores of people have fled the affected villages and towns and headed for the border with Cameroon for their safety. There are fears of insecurity spilling over into Cameroon’s Far North Region, where authorities say there are 8,128 Nigerian refugees, but only 5,289 are registered by UNHCR. Deadly attacks by Boko Haram, and Nigeria’s military crackdown on the Islamist gunmen, have displaced entire communities across north-eastern Nigeria. The Cameroonian authorities fear that the lack of registration could ease Boko Haram infiltration into the country. Early on in October 2013, UNHCR received a report that the Cameroonian border security forces had forced 111 people back into Nigeria from a Cameroonian village on the border. Therefore; there is a potential risk for the relations between Nigeria and Cameroon to be adversely affected by this growing refugee problem. Tensions between the two governments have already begun to appear as some incidents have already taken place to put both countries on guard, such as the kidnapping of a French family of seven by Boko Haram in February 2013. More significantly, such incidents and the tension and uncertainty they create could provide a feasible to Boko Haram members to spread their activities of terror into neighbouring Cameroon as well.
Human Rights Violations
In its crackdown, the Joint task force of the Nigerian government has detained hundreds of thousands of people. Humanitarian organizations have been denied access to areas of military operation and local politicians have largely fled in fear. Government spokesmen claim unverified success after success, especially in border areas adjoining Niger and Cameroon, where the military is arresting Boko Haram members. Nevertheless, witnesses are now reporting massive civilian casualties as people are caught between Boko Haram and the Nigerian military. On May 31 2013, Al Jazeera reported unverified accounts that far more civilians, including women and children, have been killed than Boko Haram members. The Nigerian government denied this report. Human rights monitors are deeply troubled that scores or possibly hundreds of detainees have gone missing in a country where security forces have a reputation for human rights abuses. The Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria has received thousands of calls from people across northern Nigeria complaining that loved ones have disappeared after being arrested by the military or police in the past three years.
The majority of the population of the region suffers from chronic food insecurity and malnutrition.
In sum all fighting parties are committing act of human rights violations of various forms. Boko Haram, however, in carrying out terrorist attacks against everyone that is against the group’s beliefs, continues to commit the worst violations.
The Humanitarian Crisis of the Sahel
The Sahel region has one of the world’s highest poverty rates and lowest development levels. This is linked to a series of structural factors including, high demographic growth; low levels of education; lack of access to basic services; weak social protection systems; political instability; conflicts; weak economies; and trends towards urbanization and rural exodus. The majority of the population of the region suffers from chronic food insecurity and malnutrition. In the countries of the Sahel acute malnutrition rates are persistently above the internationally recognized alert threshold of 10% Global Acute *Malnutrition (GAM) rate. Every year, roughly 230,000 children die of malnutrition and health- related consequences, even in years when no acute emergency has been declared.
What aggravates the situation is the widespread outbreak of endemic diseases due to poor access to health services, low coverage of immunization, limited access to clean water and sanitation. Population growth is among the highest in the world (on average, the population of the Sahel doubles every 25 years). This increases pressure on natural resources and food supply. Approximately 10.3 million people remain food insecure and over 1.4 million children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition in 2013. While it is imperative that development actors themselves refine and scale up their programs to support resilience, currently, humanitarian assistance has a crucial and complementary role to play in supporting households rebuild resilience, and in ensuring early warning and risk reduction against future disasters. Furthermore, the refugee crisis that has emanated in the region as a result of the situation, first in Mali, then in Nigeria has already impacted access to basic services and, in addition to the existing food insecurity crisis, putting more pressure on resources for recipient host communities. It is also likely to exacerbate intercommunity tension.
it is essential that an immediate and effective response is provided to the people and an equally effective and foolproof long term strategy is made in order to alleviate poverty, adjust food insecurity and enhance the resilience of the people of the Sahel.
UN OCHA estimates that at the beginning of 2014, there were almost 20 million people in the Sahel not knowing when or where they will have their next meal. 5 million children are expected to become malnourished in 2014. The crisis and ongoing fighting in the regions as led many people to seek refuge in neighbouring countries. This further strain already limited resources of these countries, adding to the severity of the humanitarian crisis. Therefore, it is essential that an immediate and effective response is provided to the people and an equally effective and foolproof long term strategy is made in order to alleviate poverty, adjust food insecurity and enhance the resilience of the people of the Sahel.
Past UN Action
To address the challenges in the Sahel region, the UN has been trying to adopt resolutions to resolve the blazing issues. Following the influx of returnees to the region from Libya and the resumption of armed conflict in northern Mali, the Security Council convened a series of meetings and adopted resolutions 2056 (2012), 2071 (2012) and 2085 (2012), in addition to a presidential statement on 10 December 2012 (S/PRST/2012/26), to effectively address the interrelated challenges facing the Sahel. UN-Security Council Resolution 2056, unanimously adopted on July 5th 2012 by the 15- nation body, called for sanctions against rebel fighters in northern Mali. The resolution also warned that the desecration of Muslim shrines in the northern city of Timbuktu, blamed on fighters from the group Ansar Dine, could lead to charges of war crimes in the International Criminal Court (ICC). It also included a road map for restoration of constitutional order in Mali.
In Resolution 2071, adopted on October 12th 2012, the Security Council declared its readiness to respond to Mali’s request for an international military force. It also took note of the country’s requests to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for military assistance, and requested the Secretary-General immediately to provide military and security planners to assist joint ECOWAS and African Union planning efforts in order to tackle the continuing deterioration of the security and humanitarian situations and the increasing entrenchment of terrorist elements with the aim of allowing the Malians to regain their sovereignty and the integrity of their territory and to fight against international terrorism. In December 2012, the Security Council approved Resolution 2085 (2012), authorizing the use of force to reclaim Mali’s Northern territory and approving the deployment of an international support mission in Mali (African-led International Support Mission in Mali – AFISMA) as well as the training on human rights of Malian security forces. Malian authorities have also adopted a roadmap for the transition, scheduling in particular the holding of general elections on 31 July 2013.
Following the influx of returnees to the region from Libya and the resumption of armed conflict in northern Mali, the Security Council convened a series of meetings…
In April 2013, the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2100 (2013), establishing the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) by 1 July 2013, and thereby transferring the functions of the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) — set up by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) — to the new entity. The Council authorized MINUSMA to use all necessary means, in support of the transitional authorities of Mali, to stabilize key population centres, especially in the north, deter threats and take active steps to prevent the return of armed elements to those areas. It would support Mali’s transitional authorities to extend and re-establish State administration throughout the country, and support both national and international efforts towards rebuilding the Malian security sector.
In the recent Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in the Sahel region from June 2013, the UN special envoy Romano Prodi, called on the Security Council to back a framework that would guide the United Nations collective efforts in capacity building to address resilience, cross border threats and inclusive governance. He proposed a strategy for the Sahel region, aiming to bolster governance, security, humanitarian requirements and development, while enhancing coordination in four spheres between the Governments of the region, the international community, the people of the Sahel, and within the UN system. The United Nations integrated strategy for the Sahel is built around three broad areas of support formulated as strategic goals and organized according to key themes:
- Inclusive and effective governance throughout the region is enhanced
- National and regional security mechanisms are capable of addressing cross-border threats
- Humanitarian and development plans and interventions are integrated to build long- term resilience.