18 May 2014

Nigeria Needs International Pressure

Photo: Présidence de la République
West African presidents meet at the invitation of President Francois Hollande of France.

opinion

Five African leaders agreed in Paris to cooperate in the fight against the militant Islamist group Boko Haram. Now it's up to the international community to make sure they keep their promise, writes DW's Thomas Mösch.

The signals sent by the Paris conference is, first of all, a positive one. At long last, Nigeria and its neighbors are finally ready to cooperate in the fight against Boko Haram.

In recent weeks, it has become obvious that Nigeria cannot handle the problem on its own. The decision reached in Paris has been a long time coming. Boko Haram has operated for some time in Nigeria as well as its neighbors Niger and Cameroon and probably in Chad, as well. There are also still doubts that all the governments involved in the Paris conference will take serious action.

The security situation in Niger is serious, and the government in Niamey is looking with concern to its large, southern neighbor. Niger is entwined with Nigeria in many ways. The two countries share a nearly 1,500-kilometer border, their citizens speak the same languages and have deep trade ties.

Fearing Boko Haram, thousands of Nigerians have fled to the Nigerian province Diffa. The province is some 1,400 kilometers from the capital, Niamey, but just across the border from the embattled Nigerian city of Borno. It's also where Boko Haram finds new recruits - young men willing to put their lives in danger for meager pay. Niger's security forces have repeatedly reported that they have arrested Boko Haram fighters and foiled attacks.

No new front for France

The fight against Boko Haram is also serious for France. After successfully limiting terrorism in Mali, which had a roll-on effect of protecting neighboring Niger, Paris does not want a new front to open.

France's allies in Mali, Chad's dictator Idriss Deby, could also prove a valuable supporter in fighting Boko Haram. There is nothing Deby fears as much as having an uncontrollable rebel group enter his territory.

Chad's capital, N'Djamena, is separated from northeast Nigeria only by a small section of Cameroon. The numerous attacks and kidnappings in this section of Cameroon, the most recent of which occurred on the night before the Paris conference, clearly show that the country's government can no longer guarantee the security of its own territory.

This means that Cameroon's government also has a significant interest in cooperating with Nigeria. But such a willingness to work together has been hard to see lately. Cameroon's president, Paul Biya, has maintained that confronting Boko Haram is mainly Nigeria's responsibility as the militant Islamist group is operating out of northeastern Nigeria.

Pressure on Nigeria

What about the government in Abuja? Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has, in recent months, implied that he could live with the militant Islamists being pushed back by Nigerian security forces into the country's most northeastern reaches. Though the terrorist group is violent and extremely brutal, they are far away from the Nigerian capital and do not rank highly on the national government's agenda - at least as long as they stay far away in the poor and sparsely settled northeast.

Even the attacks near Abuja several weeks ago hardly rattled Nigeria's political elite. With elections scheduled for February, politicians are more interested in controlling income from sales of oil, which come from the country's south, than the concerns of the northeast, which tends to vote for the opposition.

It took the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls - and the international attention that came with it - for Jonathan's government to realize it could not go about business as usual. To ensure this remains the case, it's up to the international community to keep up the pressure.

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West African presidents meet at the invitation of President Francois Hollande of France.

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