The EU, the US, and some African countries have developed an action plan against Boko Haram. Africa expert Robert Kappel says this is just a first step.
What resulted from the talks in Paris about the fight against Boko Haram?
First of all, it's important that they met at all. This is the crucial point. They gave advice on how to combat terrorism. That was urgently needed ever since Boko Haram carried out numerous attacks in 2009. At that time the organization's leader, Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf, was killed. but afterwards the movement grew further.
There were also representatives from Cameroon, Niger, Chad, and Benin at the talks. How likely is it that the conflict will spread to neighboring countries?
Boko Haram's attacks place heavy burden on neighborsThe danger is definitely there, which is why it was sensible to bring these countries in as well. That said, I think it was a big mistake that the African Union was not there.
The conflict cannot be anywhere near solved by the African countries alone. Additionally, France, and actually also Europe, are the partners in question. But the African Union, as the representation of Africa's states, should have gotten on board here to a much greater extent in order to find an internal African solution. That won't only happen with the US and France.
Nevertheless, the representatives of those states drew up an action plan in France. What is it meant to accomplish?
We want to coordinate the action against Boko Haram and better network the secret services; that's necessary, but just a very short-term agenda. You have to keep thinking if you truly want to undermine Boko Haram and other organizations. I think the decisions made in Paris fell short on this point.
Is the agreed exchange of observers just one step?
Yes. The exchange is absolutely necessary. You wonder why that hadn't already happened. It's important to know where Boko Haram operates. In fact, they're already active in Cameroon, in Chad, they have connections in other Sahel states, to Pakistan and North Africa. To know what Boko Haram does with whom is a necessary first step.
What has to happen next?
The second step has to be the question of how you can better combat Boko Haram. The third step would be to look at how to undermine other terror organizations.
Do you have an idea as to how?
Here you have to look at the social developments in the Sahel region. It's the poorest region in all of Africa. You have income levels equivalent to those in the 1960s, and young people there have no prospects at all. It is a very good breeding ground for such organizations.
And how do you fight such organizations? Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan spoke in Paris of sending 20,000 soldiers. Can there be a military solution to the conflict?
No. I believe that you can't accomplish anything here through military deployment, because it wouldn't suit the character of the organization. Boko Haram is a very strongly decentralized organization, with structures that nobody knows about, exactly. Going forward militarily here will lead nowhere.
What would be an alternative?
You have to, in my opinion, try to conduct negotiations with the the leaders of the organization. They have also made demands - the release of prisoners. There's an opportunity for talks there. I think you have to take that seriously and try to build those bridges.
France has made it clear that it will not be sending its military to Nigeria. What can Western countries do?
They can push for social improvements in northern Nigeria and the entire Sahel. Here, a large-scale plan should be put forward for how the Sahel zone can be developed. It's a fringe region that's been very neglected ever since colonialism. Nothing's been done there to give the people a sense of perspective.
I believe Europe also has to put opportunities forward. And I also believe you have to try to reverse the mistakes of the last 20, 30 years to open up prospects to northern Nigeria and the whole Sahel area. Especially given the immensely high unemployment, which includes something like 70 to 80 percent of youths.
Which interests would Western states be pursuing if they support Nigeria in its fight against terrorism?
There are certainly different interests. First, of course, the economic. Nigeria is by far the most important country economically in West Africa. The other point is: We know that the entire Sahel region would turn into a powder keg if terrorist groups continue to gain a foothold. This danger cannot be dismissed, which is why we have to act now. Actually, the train has nearly left the station already.
Now we have to try to contain the widening of such terrorist organizations and give the people some prospects. We have terrorist organizations not only in North Africa, but in many other Sahel states. They've started cooperating with each other over time.
Professor Robert Kappel is president emeritus and a senior research fellow at the GIGA Institute of African Affairs in Hamburg.
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