Lake Chad Basin: Security crisis worsens with illicit weapons trade

By Jaysim Hanspal

Posted on Wednesday, 1 February 2023 12:02, updated on Thursday, 2 February 2023 09:19
People, who were internally displaced and waiting to receive their new home, stand to attend the community re-opening ceremony, which was destroyed by Boko Haram armed militants in 2015, in Ngarannam, Borno State, Nigeria, October 22, 2022. REUTERS/Christophe Van Der Perre

The area surrounding the Lake Chad Basin area has struggled with insecurity for years. Terrorist activities by Boko Haram, cattle rustling, illicit oil trade and other illegal activities make the region a hotbed of trouble with far-reaching consequences.

Countries in the Lake Chad Basin (LCB), namely Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, grapple with these multiple challenges, and are forced to contend with recurrent intra- and inter-communal clashes, abductions, and contested state control, particularly along the borders. Last year, 917 incidents were reported.

Smuggling has led to increased displacement across the region, which makes up 8% of the continent and is home to 42 million people. A recent report showed these combinations of factors have led to the displacement of approximately three million people, with more than 11 million people in need of protection and humanitarian assistance, as societal cohesion continues to break down.

Call to action

In November, after an attack at a Chad-Nigerian outpost by Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari raised a call to action, saying arms destined for the war in Ukraine were being diverted to the region as a consequence of increased Russian influence. For some time arms destined for the conflict in Libya have made their way into the region.

Buhari also added that he thought the influx of weapons and fighters from the Russia-Ukraine war is now fuelling the terrorism of Boko Haram and the ISWAP, whose joint attacks now present an even bigger threat to the region.

But it appears that this may be misdirection. According to fact-checking website, Buhari’s claim is “unsubstantiated”. They wrote, “There have been no public reports of arms from the Eastern European conflict coming into the Lake Chad Basin region, nor did Buhari provide any evidence to back up the assertion.”

In a report by the Institute for Security Studies, they noted that “The uneven and often contested state presence has marginalised communities and enabled Boko Haram to establish itself and generate revenues by appropriating and controlling many LCB economic activities.”

Buhari has called for increased collaborative action by border control agencies and other security services to stop the circulation of illegal weapons in the region. The UK has responded by setting up a new military cooperation network for Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, which it is calling the Lake Chad Support Framework.

Arms smuggling

One report by the International Peace Information Service (IPIS) says arms smuggling is coming from within the region, the result of several successful militant attacks.

Cameroon’s administration has been vocal in blaming Nigeria and Chad for the arms smuggling. It says it has recovered only a small fraction of the illegal weapons, of which there are thought to be more than 100,000.

The chairman of the Abuja-based Partnership Against Violent Extremism, Jaye Gaskia, commented: “The longer this war goes on, the more it opens up for all manner of groups to be entangled in it, [and] the more insurgent groups in the Sahel begin to find the theatre of war in Ukraine as a veritable source.”

What’s more, the climate crisis has taken its toll on the area, with droughts, flooding, and an ever-shrinking Lake Chad further adding to the displacement and danger of innocent people. A report published last week on Climate-fuelled Violence and Displacement in the Lake Chad Basin, described growing competition for land, water, and food which has led to an inevitable uptick in “intercommunal fighting” and displacement.

The report adds that “Chadian and Cameroonian authorities have failed to effectively resolve these types of clashes”, as many of the displaced Cameroonian refugees in Chad interviewed said they do not return to the region until the government addresses the competition over “scarce resources that is at the root of the violence”.

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