While governments’ efforts in Africa’s Lake Chad Basin have diminished Boko Haram’s combat capacity in the region, the terrorist group has changed tactics, increasing the use of suicide attacks, the top United Nations political official told the Security Council this week.
UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said co-ordinated efforts among the region’s governments, including through the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) had “without question” yielded encouraging progress in the fight against Boko Haram.
“Unfortunately, the fight is far from over,” he said, noting the group had shifted its tactics in the wake of these efforts and some 130 attacks attributed to Boko Haram in the four affected countries – Nigeria, followed by Cameroon, Niger and Chad ¬– in June and July resulted in 284 civilian fatalities, a significant increase compared to 146 attacks and 107 civilian fatalities in April and May.
At political level, he said the UN Special Representatives for Central and West Africa and the Sahel proposed a regional strategy to address the root causes of the Lake Chad Basin crisis. This would be based on ownership by the countries and sub-regional organisations the Economic Community for Central African States (ECOWAS) and the Lake Chad Basin Commission.
On development Feltman noted the current crisis “wreaked havoc” on basic infrastructure, as well as government resources and services. Insecurity sparked large-scale unemployment and left a million school-age children without education. The substantial economic impact of the crisis has reached nearly $9 billion across north-east Nigeria alone.
“Poverty, weak state authority, insecurity and climate change explain this situation, with women and girls the first victims,” he said, also noting conflicts along with displacement has eroded, even broken, inter-community and intra-community ties. Without robust efforts in peacebuilding, the re-integration of ex-combatants, including Boko Haram and vigilante groups, could create additional tensions.
Humanitarian needs remain “staggering,” with 10.7 million people in the region requiring assistance, Feltman said, adding the bulk of the burden is in Nigeria’s north-east. Funding continues to be insufficient, as the appeal for the region, $1.5 billion in 2017, is only funded at 40%.
He went on to raise concerns about the human rights situation, noting continued violations by Boko Haram, including killings, forced use of children as suicide bombers and sexual and gender-based violence against women and children. Perpetrators must be brought to justice.
“The UN has received numerous allegations of serious human rights violations committed in the context of counter-terrorism operations,” he said, stressing the world body continues to advocate strongly with the MNJTF to put forward a clear strategy to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse. This includes recruiting a dedicated gender adviser in its civilian component.
While the efforts of the Joint Multinational Force remain essential in resolving the crises, he said the financial investment of the Joint Multinational Force was a major burden on national budgets for development. That is why support from the UN and its Member States is needed more than ever.
“The complex and increasingly protracted nature of the Lake Chad Basin crisis calls for innovative and integrated solutions that bridge traditional divides between humanitarian and development strategies,” he said.