What do you know about Niger? The capital maybe? Niamey would be the answer if you are drawing a blank right now. Curiously enough it carries the name of the river Niger, which runs for more than 4000 km in West Africa, but starting in the highlands of Guinea, then has its longest stretch in Mali, before entering Niger, and finishing in Nigeria in the Niger delta. Still don’t know where it is located exactly? In West-Africa actually it borders to the North on Algeria and Libya, to the East Mali and Burkina Faso, to the West there’s Chad and to the South you will find Benin and Nigeria. All of these countries (except for Benin) currently have bigger or smaller pockets of insurgencies – one of the most known Boko Haram, but there are numerous conflicts and Niger is no exception.
It is possible that you did not know this about Niger. The news is dominated by Mr. T. (unfortunately not the one from the A-team), Syria and many other related issues, and Boko Haram is mentioned mostly in relation to Nigeria. However Niger is part of a larger regional crisis, where insurgencies are driving a large humanitarian crisis of refugees and displacement of people, across and along the border of these countries. In the far South East, the region of Diffa, there is the Chad Basin Crisis as it surrounds one of the largest lakes in West Africa, Lake Chad. This crisis is mostly driven by Boko Haram. In 2015 the Niger government declared a State of Emergency to address Boko Haram, which has resulted in a complete standstill of economic activities. Markets were closed to prevent large gatherings of people, motor cycles were forbidden to prevent terrorist attacks, and even the fishing and production of peppers was stopped as the main economic activities of communities may facilitate Boko Haram – whether it was voluntary or under duress, the main consequence: half a million of people are left without any source of income. The idea may have been to push out or stop Boko Haram, it has mostly led to an immense humanitarian crisis, where communities lost all their opportunities for existence, both on subsistence and trade level. In short, it has aggravated their situation overall, with increasing violations of human rights, as the government under the State of Emergency arrests anyone who they suspect to collaborate with Boko Haram or tries to criticise their strategy for this and next to this the terrorist groups keep causing death and havoc in all possible ways.
There will be an international conference in Oslo soon to address the humanitarian crisis as a consequence of this situation. To understand the lack of attention to this crisis, in the North West of Greece, the humanitarian response run by Oxfam has 7 million euros for approximately 2000 refugees in 5 different locations. On the border of Nigeria we had 10 million euros to help a crisis where 300.000 displaced people needed help. Although funding is increasing and like in Greece other organisations are assisting as well, the math shows a large gap in attention and funds.
However the crisis in the North West, in the region of Tilaberi, are of a different nature, there it mostly focuses around a struggle over natural resources by different groups, mostly pastoralists, who roam across the borders in search of food and water for their cattle and get into conflict with each other by stealing each other’s cattle and fleeing across borders into safety, and with the agricultural sedentary communities over those same resources, which often operate along ethnic lines as well, Touareg, Peul etc. A lot of these groups have become mixed in with armed conflict of the Islamists that are also active in neighbouring Mali, who recruit among the unsettled and mostly young men and women who see no economic opportunity or lose complete access to resources to build their lives under a situation of constant insecurity.
These two regions are almost 1500 km apart, but influence the security situation of the whole country (and are part of the regional insecurity) as they have the risk of spreading further within the country, when the economic situations keeps on deteriorating and people find an answer in radicalisation as a means of resistance.
This week I will work with the staff of the Niger office on a project that targets both affected areas and tries to figure out what will actually make a difference in each of these areas, besides humanitarian efforts. While Oxfam also directly works on the humanitarian crisis, it is necessary to look beyond the conflict, to really see whether it’s possible to address root causes or at least to mitigate risks for aggravation and offer communities a different perspective to deal with the existing conflicts, which – unfortunately – have a long way of peace ahead of them.