Tag Archives: Boko Haram

Nigeria’s Ticking Time Bomb

Maiduguri – In the dusty arid town of Dikwa, tens of thousands of Nigerians queue for hours in sweltering 40-degree heat for water. Fatuma is one of 100,000 people displaced in the Borno State town, the epicentre of Nigeria’s conflict. She sifts through remnants of food aid seeds, drying them out to prepare them to eat. Food is a scarcity here. Fatuma used to live on three meals a day. Today she is happy if aid agencies can provide her with a single meal.

Dikwa’s food crisis is mirrored throughout the conflict-stricken northeast, where the armed group Boko Haram has been brutally fighting to enforce strict Islamic Sharia law since 2009.

The Nigerian government launched a military operation in 2015 to flush the jihadist group out. An estimated 20,000people have been killed due to the violence. Close to 2 million people have fled their homes, including 200,000 who sought safety in neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

The violence was the first thing Nigerians feared for their lives. Now they fear famine.

Northeast Nigeria is inching closer than ever to mass starvation. The food crisis is about to get alarmingly worse, with food security experts predicting its deterioration between now and the end of August.

Experts forecast a rise in the number of people facing crisis, emergency and famine conditions from 4.7 million to 5.2 million in northeast Nigeria. This includes 50,000 people likely to be affected by ‘famine-like’ conditions, according to the latest United Nations Global Early Warning report.

Declaring famine has serious implications for countries to step up and take action. It rings international alarm bells. But lack of access to some communities caught up in Nigeria’s conflict means the exact number of people dying of hunger is impossible to confirm. Regardless, the threat of famine draws nearer.

Armed conflict and violence are driving this food crisis. Insecurity is preventing people from farming in many areas, and restricting access to local markets. This is depleting grain stocks and pushing food prices beyond people’s reach. It’s having devastating consequences for affected families, including 450,000 acutely malnourished children.

The May to August lean season is well underway in Nigeria. This is a period when food production is traditionally low and families rely on what they have stockpiled from more plentiful times. With many farmers unable to cultivate their land for up to three years already, families have little reserves to draw from.

Inflation caused by currency depreciation is compounding the situation further. Conflict areas are experiencing prices about 150 per cent higher than in 2015, according to the United Nations.

My organization, the Norwegian Refugee Council, was forced to reduce the food basket we provide to families this month, to make up for the increased price of rice beans and millet. It’s a heart-breaking decision to make, but the alternative is to feed fewer people.

Despite the worsening food crisis, donor countries have only contributed 28 per cent of the money needed to provide the most basic humanitarian assistance this year. More visible crises like the war in Syria and Iraq garner so much international attention, there is less space for countries like Nigeria to get the same attention. As a result, donor dollars go elsewhere.

But while providing people with food saves lives, it’s only a short term solution. The crisis will only end when the conflict has been resolved, and communities can safely return to their land to rebuild their lives.

This is a man-made conflict that needs a man-made solution.

By Cheick Ba

Cheick Ba is the Norwegian Refugee Council Country Director in Nigeria, who has worked in the humanitarian sector for more than 20 years, including in Angola, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This article was published on Ips Africa.

Credit picture: UNHCR

Educating Children One Radio Wave at a Time

Nigeria’s conflict has displaced more than a million children, leaving them without access to education. However, an innovative radio program aims to transform this bleak scenario. Concerned by the ongoing insecurity and its impacts, the UN’s children agency (UNICEF) created a radio program to help educate displaced children in the Lake Chad region.

“Boko Haram has disrupted the lives of 1.3 million children with a radical insurgency that has burned villages, displaced people, and created a culture of fear,” said UNICEF’s Crisis Communications Specialist Patrick Rose.

Now entering its eight year, Boko Haram’s violent insurgency has intensified and spilled over in the Lake Chad region, displacing over 2 million people across four countries.

The group has particularly targeted education, destroying more than 900 schools and forcing at least 1,500 more to close.

According to Human Rights Watch, at least 611 teachers have been killed and another 19,000 forced to flee. Boko Haram has also attacked students to keep them out of school and forcibly recruited students into its ranks.

Such targeted attacks and destruction have created an education gap in crisis-affected areas, especially where displaced communities have fled to.

“Short of going through and building new schools in all of those communities when we don’t know how long this conflict is going to last, we tried to develop ways that we could reach these children and deliver some sort of educational routine that will keep them at least learning,” Rose told IPS.

Created with support from the European Union (EU) and in partnership with the governments of Cameroon and Niger, UNICEF’s radio education programs serve as an alternative platform for the 200,000 children in the two countries unable to access schools.

It includes 44 episodes of educational programming on literacy and numeracy for various ages and will be broadcast through state channels in both French and the local languages of Kanouri, Fulfulde, and Hausa.

The curriculum also includes a child protection component such as psychosocial support, guiding teachers to create a space for children to share their experiences and learn how to manage their fears.

“When you have children who have been deeply disturbed by displacement, many of whom have witnessed the murders of their own families, and you create a situation in which they are expected to spend eight hours a day in a classroom that isn’t engaging at all with the reality that they are encountering outside, you get a fundamental dissonance and ultimately low engagement,” Rose said.

As part of its Education in Emergencies initiatives, UNICEF works closely with communities to identify the risks they face as individuals and schools as a whole.

In one such workshop about fears, one girl wrote “kidnappy,” reflecting the deep distress and risk of kidnapping that young girls face.

Not only does the radio program have the potential to decrease the likelihood of kidnapping as children listen from home, but it also creates a “positive” space that addresses children’s realities.

Discussions are underway with the governments of Cameroon and Niger to make radio courses certified, allowing children to receive a certification and pass the school year.

Rose called the approach to the complex crisis “unique,” as it moves from a focus on individual countries to a multi-country response.

Continue reading on Ips Africa

By  Tharanga Yakupitiyage

The region in Niger quietly piloting a Boko Haram amnesty

In mid-December 2016, in rural Diffa region on Niger’s southern border with Nigeria, fourteen men gave themselves up to authorities. The group said that they were former fighters of Boko Haram and that they had abandoned their weapons in the bush.

News of this impromptu surrender from the Islamist militant group responsible for tens of thousands of deaths and millions of displacements came as a surprise to most in the area. But not to regional authorities.

Since late last year, they had been quietly testing a tactic of asking families whose children have joined Boko Haram to spread word of an amnesty. If they surrendered, fighters were told, they would be pardoned and assisted in rejoining their communities.

Before then, the main regional response to the brutal Islamist militant group had been military. This has had some successes in weakening the combatants, and the last major Boko Haram attack in Niger in which civilians were killed was in September 2016. But in Nigeria, where the group originated, and beyond, gruesome assaults, abductions, and bombings of schools and markets continued.

To those in Diffa, these attacks have been shocking. But more distressing to many has been the rate of voluntary conscription amongst Niger’s youth. Imams and village chiefs return to one question: “What about this savagery is attractive to our young?” Families and leaders tussle with this issue, but many simply refuse to countenance that those who join Boko Haram from Niger are truly radicalised.

It was with this belief in mind – as well as an awareness of the limits of a ground war – that the experimental amnesty plan was hatched last year. The exact details of the “secret messaging” campaign are unclear, but local leaders express pride in their initiative, which they say is ongoing, and follow it closely.

As the prefect of Maïné-Soroa told me, “Governor [of Diffa Region] Dan Dano calls every night to ask how many Boko have surrendered.”

As of late-March, the number stood at nearly 150 across Diffa.

Planning ahead

In terms of numbers, the amnesty scheme has so far proven to be effective. The logic behind it is also clear. Uganda’s use of a similar strategy to entice defections from the Lord’s Resistance Army in the early-2000s is widely believed to have weakened rebel ranks. And Diffa’s experiment comes at a time when Boko Haram is already facing factional splintering and other difficulties.

[Making sense of Boko Haram’s different factions: Who, how and why?]

As a locally-designed and -executed initiative, it is also impressive and promising. Often when disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) schemes are implemented, they are imported internationally with little local ownership. But this is not the case with Diffa, and other regions facing the same problem are watching the bold experiment closely.

However, while local leaders are buoyed by progress so far, not everyone is convinced.

Some believe that the policy is a distraction from tackling the longer-term push factors – such as poverty and a weak state – that lead youth to join Boko Haram in the first place. Meanwhile others worry that funds from other more widely beneficial development projects will be re-directed to rehabilitating former combatants.

As Niger’s Minister of Justice Marou Amadou says of ex-Boko Haram fighters, “it costs us money to house them, to feed them”.

Continue reading on African Arguments

By Edward Rackley

Picture credit: Issouf Sanogo/Getty Images.

Former Boko Haram Abductees Speak Out

Though still fearful for her life and the safety of her family, one of the girls who escaped abduction by Boko Haram in Nigeria has appealed to global leaders to intervene and help bring back 195 schoolgirls still being held by the terrorist network. Next month it will be three years since the Nigerian militants abducted more than 270 girls from the town of Chibok in northeastern Nigeria.

Last October, the Boko Haram fighters freed 21 of the girls, including one with a baby that triggered global outrage and spurred the social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls.

Telling our story

“We have to share our story and tell the world about it for the world to know,’ the student, using a pseudonym to protect her identity, Sa’a* (20) said at press conference on the sidelines of the two-day Global Education and Skills Forum.

Earlier SAA and another girl, identified as Rachel*, who lost her father and siblings to Boko Haram, told the Forum that the kidnapping of the schoolgirls was a painful episode that the world should not forget.

“The only thing we need to do is to ask the world leaders to bring back the girls. We cannot do anything other than speak out,” said SAA, who escaped from the clutches of Boko Haram. She jumped off a moving truck when the group attacked and burnt her school and books in Borno State in April 2014.

Sa’a, who was moved from Nigeria and is currently studying in the United States, said the traumatic ordeal should not be allowed to happen to any student. Her resolve to continue her schooling was the reason she has come out publicly about her experience.

“Every child needs to be educated and to go to school,” Sa’a said. “We must never forget this until all the girls are safely back. Next month it will not be three days but three years and they are not back. It is painful.”

Sa’a told the conference that after they were abducted and forced at gunpoint into trucks, she decided to jump off a moving truck together with a friend who sustained injuries. They were helped by a shepherd and made their way to safety.

Emmanuel Ogebe is a human rights lawyer and director of the Education Must Continue Initiative, which has assisted child victims and IDPs from conflicts, primary Boko Haram. Most of the victims are in Nigeria and a handful in the United States.

“Most venerable targets of Boko Haram have been educational institutions and religious institutions. Pastors have been killed in thousands and over 600 teachers have been killed by Boko Haram and we see vulnerability in both areas,” Ogebe told IPS.

“It is a painful situation of what happened to the girls because we understand that there were early warnings that the terrorists were going to strike and supported by the fact that teachers escaped and left the girls. The sense of failure to protect is very story in addition to the fact that the government did not protect the girls at school even when they were warned.”

Since January this year, Sa’a has started college under a project by the Education Must Continue Initiative, a charity which has helped about 3000 other internally-displaced children go to school. She now has an ambition to study science and medicine.

Continue reading on Ips Africa

By Busani Bafana

Credit picture: Nigerian student Sa’a, one of the more than 250 schoolgirls abducted by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram in the northern Nigerian city Chibok in 2014, waits to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on May 11, 2016, before the House Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organisations on the US Role in Helping Nigeria Confront Boko Haram and Other Threats in Northern Nigeria. Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images.

How do we talk about rebel groups?

Talking about rebel groups is especially the conundrum for journalists and researchers who follow the fates of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) – which has been operational for almost 30 years across northern Uganda, southern Sudan, Central African Republic (CAR) and Eastern Congo – and Boko Haram, which has been active in northeastern Nigeria and countries that surround Lake Chad since the early 2000s.

Both Boko Haram and the LRA have stirred religious fanaticism; tapped into a feeling among citizens of government neglect; carried out attacks and abductions on civilian populations causing large scale internal displacement; and have successfully avoided military defeat despite a substantial technological and logistical disadvantage.

Media reports and analyses of these rebel groups, and the government responses to them, are too often simplified “good vs evil” narratives, with little room for complexity and nuance. Invisible Children’s “Kony 2012” video campaigned for a redoubling of international efforts to capture LRA leader Joseph Kony, but omitted any mention of abuses committed by members of Uganda People’s Defence Force. In response to the capture of 276 girls from Chibok in Nigeria, an open letter to the international community by prominent British political actors, accused Boko Haram of “waging an evil war.” But the proposed support for military action seemed oblivious to the propensity for violence and terror within Nigeria’s armed forces. These two examples highlight a general trend; a tendency to overlook the blurred lines of conflict.

These narratives hamper attempts to better understand why these groups continue to exist, how they operate and what messages they seek to convey. When the LRA is described, as it has been by a number of media outlets, as “a rag-tag force”, or when Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau is said to have more of the air of a psychopath than a militant” or is cast as being notorious for his wild YouTube rants,” an image is reinforced that is not wholly accurate.

The researcher and writer, Ledio Cakaj’s newly published book, When the Walking Defeats You: One Man’s Journey as Joseph Kony’s Bodyguard, which chronicles life in the LRA from the perspective of a foot soldier, George Omona (a pseudonym), breaks with this consensus.

Omona joined the LRA voluntarily in 2007, two decades after it began operating in northern Uganda. Under Kony’s leadership the group engaged in guerrilla warfare across northern Uganda, against Yoweri Museveni’s government. The conflict subsequently spread across borders into neighboring countries. Upwards of 1.5 million Ugandans were internally displaced. George grew up in this context, but does not give the impression that he was radicalized by it. He was well educated, but his uncle, who appears to have connections to the group, pushed him towards the LRA. George boarded a United Nations flight, under the pretext of being a herbalist who had been sent for by Kony, and made his way to the LRA camps in the bush. It became his home for the next three years.

Continue reading on Africa is a country

By Jamie Hitchen

The Harrowing of Nigeria and the Rise of Boko Haram

In ‘Eat the Heart of the Infidel’: The Harrowing of Nigeria and the Rise of Boko Haram, journalist Andrew Walker examines the emergence of Boko Haram, teasing out the societal and state structures that contributed to its rise and sustained its position. With the book drawing on a comprehensive range of resources, Fisayo Ajala recommends this well-researched and dutifully analysed work.

The north east of Nigeria is a region where the state, specifically the security the state is supposed to provide in its most basic form, was already weak and ineffective. Boko Haram put those already weak institutions into an almost complete reverse. The limited writ of the state, the failure of democratic governance and the thin influence of the rule of the law in the north east had been laid bare for all to see. The heart of the state had already been eaten hollow (161).

The above paragraph from Andrew Walker’s ‘Eat the Heart of the Infidel’: The Harrowing of Nigeria and the Rise of Boko Haram explains the near-capitulation of the Nigerian state at the peak of the Boko Haram insurgency. The technical defeat of Boko Haram in December 2015 could therefore be regarded as a narrow escape.

Walker’s book is a major addition to existing literature on Boko Haram that has described and examined its emergence, the factors that have sustained it and the dynamics of Nigeria’s war against this insurgent group. The book is a reader’s delight. The journalistic background of the author gives life to the book and enthrals in many ways. It provides a dispassionate analysis of Nigeria’s history, particularly of the north, and the prevailing structural and societal imbalances that gave rise to Boko Haram.

Writing on the country since 2006 and having worked for the Daily Trust and the BBC, it is safe to conclude that Walker is well informed about Nigeria, its grand opportunities and fatal vulnerabilities as well as how it works. For instance, Walker decries its certificate culture and describes its education problem as a ‘rot’ that has eaten away the heart of society (73). According to Walker, Nigerian politics is a quilted blanket of clashing and complementary patterns (110), spread across the politics of patronage, stomach infrastructure, federal character, ethnic irredentism and so on.

Walker’s book provides comprehensive detail on (northern) Nigeria’s socio-political and religious history, carefully noting the failed desire of Uthman dan Fodio, founder of the Sokoto Caliphate, to reorganise pre-colonial northern Nigeria or, more precisely, Hausa city states, along salafi principles and create a dynasty of ‘spiritual leaders and a purified faith’ (27), the varying interpretations of Islam among the different sects and the resistance to education that was accommodated because of colonial expediency (60). Decades later, Boko Haram under its founder, Mohammed Yusuf, would denounce western education in strong terms, describing the education system put in place during and after colonial rule as the ‘wellspring of corruption’ (145).

Walker outlines the nature, doctrine and methods of Boko Haram: how before the 2009 uprising Yusuf grew his community through da’wah – or proselytisation – so that his group operated like ‘a state within a state’, drawing followers from the urban and rural poor, trades people and the ‘informal sector’: street hawkers, cobblers, blacksmiths, knife sharpeners and tailors (146, 152). Because Yusuf, the now-slain leader of Boko Haram, was able to move through the many levels of the northern city Maiduguri’s social worlds, the group formed a ‘counter-elite alienated by resentment over what they saw as years of compromise to the state (147, 151).

Walker equally explains the recruitment process, noting the different kinds of people in Boko Haram (167), which fall into Tore Bjorgo’s three categories of captive participants, mercenaries and real ideologues. Recruitment exercises include cult-like, mysterious activities tied to dates tainted with cursed blood. Al Jazeera journalist Chika Oduah testifies to this as she notes that oath of allegiances – mubaya’a – and poisoned dabino (dates), tea and coconuts were asked of, and given to, would-be members as methods of indoctrination and recruitment. Yet, as Walker notes, the real ideologues are so indoctrinated that their world may be beyond reach: ‘they believe that the world is sort of a motor park. They are the passengers; they are the ones who are going somewhere, to paradise. The rest of us are just hawking peanuts’ (168).

Continue reading on LSE Review of Books

By Fisayo Ayala

Picture credit: Tim Green CC BY 2.0

Refugees from Boko Haram Languish in Cameroon

Minawao Camp (Cameroon) – Tears spring to Aichatou Njoya’s eyes as she recalls the day Islamic militants from Boko Haram arrived on her doorstep in Nigeria. “It was on May 24, 2013. My husband was sleeping in his room while I was on the other side of the house with our six children. The youngest was only one month old,” she mutters, pausing to collect herself.

Njoya told IPS when the armed insurgents broke into the house, they grabbed her husband and dragged him into her room. “They brought him in front of us and put a machete to his neck and asked him if he was going to convert from Christianity to Islam. They asked thrice, and thrice he refused. Then they slew him right in front of me and our children,” she said, still holding back tears.

The widowed refugee said an argument ensued among the assailants as to whether to spare her life or not. They finally agreed to let her live. The next day she escaped with her children to the hills and trekked for several days until they reached the border with Cameroon, where the UNHCR had vehicles to transport refugees to the camp. The camp had just been set up, she says.

Njoya, now 36, has been living in the Minawao refugee camp in Cameroon’s Far North region for more than three and a half years now, with scant hope of returning anytime soon.

IPS spoke with Njoya and others during the Dec. 15 visit of Filippo Grandi, High Commissioner for the United Nations Refugee agency UNHCR, to the camp. Grandi called for the financial empowerment of Nigerian refugees to help them cope with insufficient humanitarian aid.

The camp hosts about 60,000 Nigerians who have fled their homes since 2011 because of attacks carried out by the Islamist terror group, Boko Haram.

Grandi spoke with refugees, representatives of national and international NGOs, and officials of the Cameroonian government who gathered to welcome him. Cameroon is the third country he is visiting as part of his tour of countries of the Lake Chad Basin affected by the Boko Haram insurgency.

Grandi said his visit was intended to encourage donors to provide more aid to affected countries and governments to work together to reinstate peace in the region and facilitate the return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) their homes.

“We have made efforts to improve aid, but aid is still insufficient. I have listened to complaints of these refugee women who say they do not have any income generation activities and I think the UNHCR and its partners should begin working in that direction. Help them help themselves,” he said.

He had just listened to representatives of the refugees and refugee women discussing the difficulties they face on a daily basis, including food and water shortages, scarcity of wood, insufficient medicines, and insufficient classroom and medical staff in health units in the camp.

Continue reading on IPS Africa

By Mbom Sixtus

Picture credit: Joshua Massarenti

Boko Haram: Recruited by Friends and Family

London – A recent study supported by the government of Finland has found widespread misconceptions regarding what drives people to join Islamist militant groups like Boko Haram.

Boko Haram is Nigeria’s militant Islamist group, wreaking havoc across the nation through a series of abductions, bombings, and assassinations. The group opposes anything associated with Western society, including any social or political activity. Its military campaign’s sole focus is to wipe out any “non-believers” from the Nigerian state.

Boko Haram’s official name is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, which in Arabic means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”.

The group’s unlawful actions became a topic of international concern in April 2014 when 276 schoolgirls were abducted by the extremists in Chibok, Nigeria. News of the girls’ abduction went viral and the “bring back our girls” social media campaign spread rapidly across the world. Today, 219 of the girls are still missing.

Whilst the majority of mainstream media outlets continue to associate the growth of radicalised groups like Boko Haram with the “perils” of Islam and religious extremism, the study set out to understand what drives people to extremism on a deeper level.

According to Mahdi Abdile, Director of Research at Finn Church Aid (FCA) and at the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, before the 9/11 terror attacks, religious motives could be drawn back to engagement in extremist practices, as widespread recruitment for militant groups like Boko Haram frequently took place in mosques and madrasas. Today, that has changed.

“There’s a widespread tendency to oversimplify what drives Nigerians to join a group that advocates such extreme violence like Boko Haram,” said Anneli Botha, an  independent consultant on radicalisation, deradicalisation, reintegration and terrorism in Africa and co-author of the study.

“It’s easy to place the blame on religion without delving any deeper into the subject. Our empirical research has shown that there is, in fact, a web of complexities behind the recruitment process that we as a global community need to acknowledge and accept.”

For many, it may come as a shock that the primary factor for joining Boko Haram has little to do with following true “Islamic practices”. The study shows that 60 percent of Boko Haram fighters are recruited by their own family or friends.

Continue reading on Ips Africa

By Rose Delanay

Interview with Federica Mogherini: No conditionality, but partnership on Migration with Africa

Brussels – The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, has granted an exclusive interview to Afronline.org and partner African media outlets. After her recent visit to the Sahel, she explains how, in her view, terrorism, security, migration, investment and sustainable development are interconnected in the region. She talks about the latest initiatives to help the sub-region combat all forms of religious hatred and address migration and development challenges, under the Sahel G5-EU cooperation partnership, and offers an in-depth analysis of the situation in Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger and neighbouring countries.

The European Commission, under your vice-presidency, has recently proposed a new Partnership Framework with third countries (including several in Africa). This framework places migration at the heart of EU foreign policy. In its statement about the proposal, the Commission said: “a mix of positive and negative incentives will be integrated into the EU’s development and trade policies to reward those countries willing to cooperate effectively with the EU on migration management and ensure there are consequences for those who refuse”. You clearly want to work more closely with your African partners, so why impose even more conditions on them, especially when they have to deal with substantially more migrants than the EU? Would it not be fairer to make development assistance conditional on democracy and good governance alone?

The key word of this new proposal is partnership, not conditionality. We want to develop win-win relationships with our partners.

I have always argued that immigration is a good thing, even a necessity, but that it needs to be properly regulated. Migration is a complex phenomenon that we have to deal with both here in Europe and especially in Africa. Some 300,000 refugees and migrants have entered Niger, and there are 700,000 refugees in Ethiopia. These are both much poorer countries than ours, so it’s right that we should share the burden of managing this situation. It’s in the interests of the migrants themselves, and our stability. We need to help strengthen migration management capacities, provide economic opportunities, reintegrate returning migrants and open legal immigration channels.

You cannot separate investment, development and security. Instead, you have to adopt a holistic approach that includes governments, civil society and human rights defenders. This is the principle that underpins Migration Partnerships. In our migration work with third countries, we need to leverage all the instruments available to us – not just development assistance, but also trade policy, security support and private investment.  This partnership tackles a complex phenomenon that affects us all.

The EU’s strategic starting point is to secure peace, stability, security and development throughout the world, and in our region in particular. This may, in turn, lead to a more effective approach to migration management. It’s in everyone’s interest that we get it right.

It’s in Africa’s interest that we help countries regain control of their territories, so they can stop illegal arms, drugs and human trafficking and combat terrorist groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Shabaab in Somalia and ISIS in Libya. Africa also needs help to mitigate the impact of climate change on its populations, and it will benefit from further investment in infrastructure, energy and transport to support its development. Less conflict means more stability and security, more jobs, more education and less radicalisation.

The same principle applies to migration. Everyone will benefit from proper, legal migration channels. Those who say we shouldn’t combat illegal human trafficking are misguided. If you want proof, talk to the young Nigerian women who have left their country for work, only to find themselves shackled, raped, locked away and sexually exploited. It is our inalienable duty to combat human trafficking, both here in Europe and in Africa.

Development is a central component of the Sahel G5 strategy, but the relationship between the private sector, government and civil society is one of the key challenges to sustainable development. How do you intend to build more effective, transparent relationships at the local, national and regional levels?

Civil society has an important role to play, both here in Europe and in Africa. Every time I go to Africa, I make a point of meeting with civil society representatives – the people we support and work with across a wide range of projects.

Recently, I talked to a group of young people about the work we were doing to support their peers across the Sahel region. It’s essential that we work with these countries to give young people hope for the future.

We also need to work with local authorities and recognise the role that the private sector plays in job creation, and engage this sector accordingly. Africa needs to create 18 million new jobs a year to ensure that its young people have the opportunities they deserve. This can only be achieved with private sector support. We intend to present a new investment plan for Africa this autumn, and we are currently ironing out the details with the European Investment Bank and other private sector stakeholders.

One of the key principles underpinning the Sustainable Development Goals adopted in September last year is that the targets will only be met if everyone from the public, private and civil society sectors works together.

A fresh outbreak of Boko Haram activity in the Lake Chad Basin region shows that the terrorist group still poses a serious threat despite heavy losses over the last two years. According to the Presidents of Niger and Chad, the Sahel G5’s Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) is short of resources and is not yet in a position to combat the group. Where is the €50 million that the EU promised to set aside to support the MNJTF?

Every time terrorists try to destabilise our countries and societies, be it in Europe or in Africa and elsewhere, we have to respond with more unity and determination.

We fully support countries in the Sahel in their joint efforts to combat terrorism, which is a priority for the whole region.

A year ago, we launched high-level cooperation between the European Union and the Sahel G5 (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad). We held our first meeting in Brussels in June 2015, and I then had the honour of attending a Sahel G5 Heads of State summit. I have also been to Niger, Nigeria and Chad this year. At our most recent meeting on 17 June, we consolidated our strategic partnership and held talks with the Sahel G5 and Libyan foreign affairs ministers about new cooperation around Libya’s southern border – a trafficking hotspot that is critical to stability in the region.

Our work to support the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) against Boko Haram is part of our broader efforts to foster closer cooperation in the region. The MNJTF comprises troops from five countries – Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, as part of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC).

I signalled our intent to set aside €50 million for the MNJTF at the Lake Chad Basin Regional Security Summit, and I have signed on 1 August an agreement to strengthen regional cooperation in our response, along with Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, and Smaїl Chergui, African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security.

The EU is also working with individual countries on counter-terrorism and security matters. These efforts are reflected, for example, in our Common Foreign and Security Policy work with EUCAP Sahel Niger, and with EUCAP Sahel Mali and EUTM Mali.

As part of its efforts to support counter-terrorism operations in the Sahel, the EU is training Malian troops but is not helping with equipment…

We have two missions in Mali – the EU Training Mission in Mali (EUTM) and EUCAP Sahel. The purpose of these missions is to provide guidance and training and to help restructure and strengthen domestic security forces. Our partners asked us to extend these missions for a further two years, and EU Member States agreed. We are now looking to expand their work across the Sahel G5 region.

In terms of assistance for potential equipment for the defence sector, we have already carried out a public consultation and I submitted a proposed legislation on 5 July to enable the EU to extend its assistance to the defence sector, including the military in very specific cases.

We want our partners to take control of their own security, governance and stability. Without this form of empowerment, these countries will be unable to achieve growth, deliver investment and create jobs.

Our assistance could cover missions that are not related to combat, such as civilian operations and crisis prevention and management activities.

 We also support infrastructure improvements such as for roads and bridges and mine-clearing operations, as well as providing basic equipment for security forces. However, we do not supply arms or lethal weapons of any sort.

Sahel G5-EU cooperation is a laudable initiative from a counter-terrorism perspective, but there is a risk that this partnership will strengthen authoritarian regimes within the group. Will the EU continue to tolerate these regimes that undermine democracy in these countries?

Human rights are central to our relationships with our partners.

As well as tackling migration and counter-terrorism issues in these countries, we have also initiated other programmes that address the rule of law, civil society and, in some cases, democratic transition. Judicial system and police reform are core components of our activities in the Sahel, and we are already taking practical steps to give local citizens more equitable access to justice.  For example, we were recently involved in setting up the National Legal and Judicial Assistance Agency in Niger. In Burkina Faso, meanwhile, we were the first donor to throw our weight behind the transitional government.

We work with our partners on an equal footing, addressing important subjects such as security, governance, human rights and the economic fallout of security crises in an open, honest way.

By Joshua Massarenti (Afronline.org)

This interview was published in the framework of an editorial project co-financed by Directorate General for Globalization and Global Issues (DGMO) of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MAECI), gathering 25 African independent media.

© Le Calame (Mauritania), Sud Quotidien (Senegal), Les Echos (Mali), Le Nouveau Républicain (Niger), Le Pays (Burkina Faso), L’Autre Quotidien (Benin), Mutations (Cameroon), Le Confident (Central African Republic) and Afronline.org/Vita International/Vita (Italy)