Small Wars Journal

Stabilizing Northeast Nigeria After Boko Haram

Stabilizing Northeast Nigeria After Boko Haram by Saskia Brechenmacher - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

In 2019, the conflict in northeastern Nigeria entered its eleventh year. Since 2009, the Boko Haram insurgency and the government’s military response have killed tens of thousands of civilians and displaced millions across the Lake Chad region, which straddles Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria. Although major military campaigns in 2015–2016 succeeded in degrading the group’s territorial control, Boko Haram has proven remarkably adaptable in its tactics: the end of 2018 once again saw an uptick in attacks in Nigeria’s Borno State.1 As Muhammadu Buhari assumes his second term as president, the conflict in the northeast appears far from resolved.

Since the early years of the crisis, Nigeria’s international partners have cautioned that Boko Haram is unlikely to be defeated on the battlefield alone. They have stressed the need for a multidimensional response that tackles the drivers of insecurity in the region, including chronic weaknesses in service delivery, corrupt governance, and environmental degradation. However, the perception of limited leverage over Nigerian counterparts, restricted access to the country’s northeast, and a response to the crisis shaped by the U.S.-led Global War on Terror limited donors’ focus on these governance dimensions on the ground. In practice, international assistance came late and donors struggled to identify viable national counterparts for stabilization programs. As a result, their efforts centered on supporting regional military efforts and responding to the large-scale humanitarian crisis.

Since early 2017, military gains and improved security in parts of northeastern Nigeria have spurred a greater focus on conflict stabilization measures. At the international level, key donors set up the Oslo Consultative Group on the Prevention and Stabilization in the Lake Chad Region to coordinate their response activities. The Lake Chad Basin Commission and the African Union Commission have adopted a regional stabilization strategy, which highlights short-, medium-, and long-term stabilization, resilience, and recovery needs.2 In parallel, donors have also begun expanding bottom-up stabilization programs aimed at addressing the drivers of insecurity at the local level. These efforts have generally fallen into three main categories: programs aimed at strengthening local conflict prevention and mitigation systems, programs aimed at restoring local governance and basic services, and programs aimed at fostering social cohesion and ensuring the reintegration of former combatants…

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