“Post”-Boko Haram chal­lenges in Niger and Nige­ria

Brook­ings' Vanda Fel­bab-Brown out­lines ob­sta­cles to the dis­ar­ma­ment, de­mo­bi­liza­tion and rein­te­gra­tion of Boko Haram mili­tias.

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents - By Vanda Fel­bab-Brown

In late May, the world re­joiced as 83 Nige­rian school­girls – kid­napped, along with 194 oth­ers, by the vi­cious ji­hadist in­sur­gency Boko Haram in Chi­bok in April 2014 to be sex and labour slaves – re­joined their fam­i­lies. Dur­ing the May 2017 re­union, Western press showed im­ages of happy, col­or­fully-clad fam­ily mem­bers rush­ing to em­brace them. Nige­ria’s ail­ing pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari popped in for a photo op be­fore de­part­ing again for treat­ment in Lon­don for his undis­closed ill­ness.

But in Nige­ria, the me­dia and public soon be­came pre­oc­cu­pied with an­other im­age and story: of one of the Chi­bok girls who re­mains in cap­tiv­ity, clad in black, tout­ing a gun, and pub­licly em­brac­ing ji­had, even if per­haps un­der se­vere duress. That con­tra­dic­tion in cov­er­age re­veals the pro­found chal­lenges fac­ing Nige­ria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad–the coun­tries af­flicted since 2009 with the now much weak­ened and splin­tered Boko Haram in­sur­gency – in in­te­grat­ing vic­tims, as well as for­mer fight­ers and af­fil­i­ates, back into so­ci­ety.

For years, the United Na­tions, in­di­vid­ual coun­tries, and ex­perts have tried to per­fect the dis­ar­ma­ment, de­mo­bi­liza­tion, and rein­te­gra­tion (DDR) of for­mer fight­ers. Yet such pro­cesses are in­creas­ingly tak­ing place while ac­tive in­sur­gency, coun­terin­sur­gency, and coun­tert­er­ror­ism op­er­a­tions re­main in full swing – and in the con­text of re­li­gious rad­i­cal­iza­tion, which chal­lenges many es­tab­lished DDR prac­tices. From Nige­ria to So­ma­lia, DDR now has to deal with de­fec­tors or those cap­tured or lib­er­ated on the bat­tle­field in the con­text of rad­i­cal­iza­tion and in the ab­sence of a peace agree­ment frame­work. More­over, the “R” of­ten be­comes sim­ple “rein­ser­tion,” a far nar­rower con­cept than rein­te­gra­tion and a step that takes place be­fore any for­mal dis­ar­ma­ment and de­mo­bi­liza­tion.

Be­low, I de­tail the Boko Haram-re­lated DDR chal­lenges I wit­nessed on a trip to Niger in May 2017, from who should be el­i­gi­ble for DDR and who should be pun­ished or pro­tected, to jobs and re­li­gious de­rad­i­cal­iza­tion. These same chal­lenges are also acutely present in Nige­ria, fur­ther mag­ni­fied and com­pli­cated by eth­nic ten­sions, other forms of con­flict and crim­i­nal­ity, the pres­ence of anti-Boko Haram mili­tias, and scale. Yet lessons from other coun­tries, such as So­ma­lia, are avail­able, and I briefly sketch them and key el­e­ments of how a DDR ef­fort in Niger and Nige­ria should evolve.

El­i­gi­bil­ity Cri­te­ria and Pro­tec­tion Stan­dards

An in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence on DDR and de­rad­i­cal­iza­tion that I at­tended last month (May 2017) – which brought to­gether lo­cal gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, tribal chiefs, stu­dents, in­ter­na­tional ex­perts, and NGO rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Diffa, Niger – re­vealed many of the “post-con­flict” chal­lenges that Niger, Nige­ria, Chad, and Cameroon are all ex­pe­ri­enc­ing.

Diffa houses one of the DDR camps where sev­eral tens or per­haps hun­dreds of peo­ple who de­fected or es­caped from Boko Haram are be­ing held. The num­ber is fuzzy, as there is lit­tle trans­parency re­gard­ing the ad­mis­sion and re­lease process – a key de­fi­ciency of the DDR ef­fort. Nor is there trans­parency or es­tab­lished cri­te­ria de­ter­min­ing whether de­fec­tors, de­tainees, and es­capees are sent to prison or to the DDR pro­gramme. Many of Boko Haram’s captives were never rad­i­cal­ized, but merely en­slaved; some may have com­mit­ted heinous crimes un­der duress. It is cru­cial to estab­lish a process that sep­a­rates them (through a ju­di­cial process and per­haps im­pris­on­ment) from oth­ers who can be re­leased af­ter DDR or other as­sis­tance.

With­out le­gal mech­a­nisms or sort­ing cri­te­ria, the abuse of cap­tured vic­tims may be per­pet­u­ated or dan­ger­ous peo­ple may be re­leased. These short­com­ings dis­qual­ify Niger from much of U.N., U.S., and in­ter­na­tional as­sis­tance, since with­out clear, le­gal pro­cesses, Boko Haram mem­bers are still seen as ter­ror­ists (and legally, the United States can pro­vide no ma­te­rial sup­port).

U.N. DDR stan­dards man­date that women and chil­dren be kept in sep­a­rate fa­cil­i­ties and pro­vided spe­cial care. Yet in Diffa, women, of­ten with young chil­dren, are kept at the same DDR fa­cil­ity as men. In Niger’s cap­i­tal Ni­amey, a young boy who es­caped from Boko Haram (af­ter his vil­lage was raided and he was forced to carry sup­plies for Boko Haram for one day and then let go) has been lan­guish­ing in prison for two years. Un­der U.N. rules, the Nige­rien gov­ern­ment should hand him over to UNICEF for sup­port, education, and rein­te­gra­tion help. Yet in­stead of be­ing seen as chil­dren, the young in war are of­ten seen as vi­cious crim­i­nals.

More broadly, con­di­tions at the Diffa DDR camp are re­port­edly dif­fi­cult. I was not able to visit it my­self (due to in­tense in­se­cu­rity and gov­ern­ment rules), but a promi­nent ex­pert on Boko Haram told me of mea­gre fa­cil­i­ties con­sist­ing of three bare­bones build­ings. Those kept at the camp com­plained of poor food, as well as in­suf­fi­cient wa­ter and shel­ter from the 115de­gree heat. Many said that if they knew what was await­ing them, they would not have left the bush. In bet­ter cir­cum­stances – such as the U.N.-sup­ported DDR fa­cil­ity in Baidoa, So­ma­lia, which pro­vides as­sis­tance to al-Shabab de­fec­tors and es­capees, as well as those ac­cused of sup­port­ing al-Shabab – the fa­cil­i­ties can in­clude com­put­ers, vo­ca­tional train­ing, and some re­cre­ational op­por­tu­ni­ties, in ad­di­tion to bet­ter food, wa­ter, and shel­ter.

Me­chan­ics and Imams: Jobs and Re­li­gious Re-education

Of­fi­cials in Diffa point to com­pet­ing pri­or­i­ties, in an area with chronic food in­se­cu­rity and ex­treme poverty. And in fair­ness, the Nige­rien gov­ern­ment is pay­ing far more at­ten­tion to the is­sue of DDR than its coun­ter­part in Nige­ria, such as by or­ga­niz­ing the Diffa con­fer­ence. But the so­lu­tions and pro­cesses that Niger has pro­posed are of­ten top-town de­ci­sions de­vised in the cap­i­tal, im­posed on lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties with­out ad­e­quate con­sul­ta­tion and buy-in.

Take, for ex­am­ple, the al­ways com­plex is­sue of how to pro­vide jobs for those who com­plete the DDR process, and for for­mer com­bat­ants more broadly. With­out le­gal eco­nomic liveli­hoods, the risks are high that they re­sort to preda­tory crim­i­nal­ity, il­licit economies, or re­join a mil­i­tant group. In Niger, the gov­ern­ment plans to train them as me­chan­ics. But lo­cal com­mu­nity mem­bers are not keen on the idea, point­ing out that mo­tor­cy­cles are pro­hib­ited in many of the vil­lages to which the ex-Boko Haram “mem­bers” would be re­turn­ing, and thus they would have no ve­hi­cles to repair. Yet as com­pe­ti­tion over land ac­cess is fierce, and Lake Chad is dry­ing out rapidly, the gov­ern­ment sees the me­chanic route as eas­ier than

di­rect­ing them back to farm­ing or fish­ing.

Pro­vid­ing train­ing and jobs to ex­in­sur­gents comes with other risks. Some­times lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties be­come re­sent­ful – af­ter all, they hid from or fought against the in­sur­gency, they did not join vi­o­lent ji­had, and they too are suf­fer­ing un­em­ploy­ment and poverty, so they too should get sup­port. And in­deed, wide ex­pe­ri­ence with DDR shows that if lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties also re­ceive com­pa­ra­ble as­sis­tance, they are more will­ing to ac­cept ex­fight­ers back.

Fi­nally, given the strug­gles with pro­vid­ing le­gal liveli­hoods and so­cial op­por­tu­ni­ties, gov­ern­ments through­out Africa, in­clud­ing in Niger, are grav­i­tat­ing to­ward “re­li­gious reed­u­ca­tion” as core to the DDR ef­fort. Apart from the rel­a­tive ease of hir­ing imams to de­rad­i­cal­ize the ex-in­sur­gents – com­pared to cre­at­ing thou­sands of jobs – de­rad­i­cal­iza­tion also has ready fund­ing streams. Western gov­ern­ments these days love to fund ef­forts to counter vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism, of­ten shrunk to re­li­gious re-education in the field. And the fo­cus on re­li­gious re-education also al­lows gov­ern­ments to put imams – how­ever cred­i­ble or not with the ex-in­sur­gents – on their pay­roll and thus ex­pand their pa­tron­age net­work and re­in­force their po­lit­i­cal power.

The Ele­phant in the Room: DDR and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion in Nige­ria

In ad­di­tion to all the chal­lenges that Niger is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing with DDR, Nige­ria’s DDR and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion pro­cesses, un­der­de­vel­oped as they are, are far more com­pli­cated by the pres­ence of anti-Boko Haram mili­tias and by eth­nic rifts.

For years, the Nige­rian mil­i­tary left com­mu­ni­ties in the north ex­posed to Boko Haram’s bru­tal at­tacks, open­ing the space for these mili­tias. At times, mili­tias such as the Civil­ian Joint Task Force were the only pro­tec­tion lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties had, and they of­ten proved to be fierce, if un­paid, fight­ers. But the mili­tias have also en­gaged in se­vere hu­man rights abuses, just like the Nige­rian mil­i­tary. Now the mili­tias do not want those la­belled as Boko Haram back in their com­mu­ni­ties – re­gard­less of what role they played – un­less the gov­ern­ment arms the mili­ti­a­men with heavy weapons. It is ur­gent that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment of Nige­ria and gov­ern­ment af­fected by the Boko Haram in­sur­gency start rapidly and sys­tem­at­i­cally de­vel­op­ing cred­i­ble DDR pro­cesses. They will have to fo­cus not just on Boko Haram mem­bers, but also the an­tiBoko-Haram mili­tias. Joint DDR camps should be care­fully con­sid­ered. With care­ful de­sign, mon­i­tor­ing, and com­mu­nity sup­port, such camps in Merca were among So­ma­lia’s more ef­fec­tive DDR ap­proaches.

Per­sist­ing Boko Haram sui­cide bomb­ings and at­tacks in ar­eas sup­pos­edly cleared of Boko Haram do not make com­mu­ni­ties any more dis­posed to ac­cept­ing them back. Al­though Boko Haram fight­ers are now mostly hid­ing in the Sam­bisa for­est and in the bush in Cameroon, they still ter­ror­ize vast ar­eas of Nige­ria enough to make Nige­ria’s 2.2 mil­lion dis­placed fear­ful of re­turn­ing to their for­mer home­towns and vil­lages. Mean­while, those ar­eas, as well as Nige­ria’s Mid­dle Belt, are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a new wave of land theft, by crim­i­nals and by ri­val eth­nic and re­li­gious groups and pas­toral­ists and farm­ers who have been com­pet­ing for decades. Thus, it is cru­cial that sys­tem­atic DDR cru­cially fo­cuses on the com­mu­ni­ties in the north and not just on the fight­ers and grap­ples with the fur­ther twist of gen­er­al­ized land theft and crim­i­nal­ity in its de­sign.

In Nige­ria, the Boko Haram in­sur­gency has height­ened eth­nic ten­sions, never too far be­neath the sur­face in that coun­try. True, most Boko Haram mem­bers have been Ka­nuri. A heavy-handed ap­proach that paints all Ka­nuris, par­tic­u­larly Ka­nuri youth, as Boko Haram, only risks gen­er­at­ing new alien­ation. A DDR ef­fort there must be cog­nizant of the height­ened eth­nic ten­sions and ex­plic­itly in­clude broader eth­nic rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

And then there is scale. Thou­sands more joined Boko Haram in Nige­ria than in Niger, and the area dev­as­tated by in­sur­gency’s ram­page and plun­der is far greater. The DDR ef­fort, if it even­tu­ally gets un­der way, as it should, will need to cover many more fight­ers, vic­tims, and mem­bers of lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. That will re­quire a com­pre­hen­sive, eq­ui­table, and clearly-spec­i­fied sys­tem of el­i­gi­bil­ity, as well as large re­sources.

These are just some el­e­ments of what a com­pre­hen­sive DDR ef­fort in Nige­ria and Niger needs to work through and what so­lu­tions it may con­tem­plate. The com­plex DDR chal­lenges are not easy to over­come in ei­ther Nige­ria or Niger. But if Nige­ria gets over its pride­ful in­sis­tence that Africa’s sec­ond largest econ­omy does not need U.N. ad­vice on DDR and if both it and Niger are will­ing to ap­ply rule of law pro­cesses and stan­dards to their nascent DDR and re­turnee ef­forts, they can make their prob­lems more man­age­able. Then the “post”-Boko Haram moment will have a chance to evolve into an even­tual peace, not merely an­other mu­ta­tion of con­flict.

Vanda Fel­bab-Brown is Se­nior Fel­low – For­eign Pol­icy, Cen­ter for 21st Cen­tury Se­cu­rity and In­tel­li­gence, at The Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion.

The orig­i­nal ti­tle of the ar­ti­cles was “Un­der the hot Sa­hel sun: ‘Post’-Boko Haram chal­lenges in Niger and Nige­ria.” Source: Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion.

Vanda Fel­bab-Brown

A mem­ber of the Civil­ian Joint Task Force stands guard at a food dis­tri­bu­tion cen­tre at the Banki IDP camp in Borno, Nige­ria April 26, 2017.

For­mer Boko Haram mem­bers gather in front of Cha­dian sol­diers on April 22, 2015 in Ngouboua, Chad

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