Has Boko Haram met its match? Chad and the African intervention force in Nigeria

Chadian armored car By Idriss Fall [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chadian_Eland_Mk7.jpg

Chadian armored car. Idriss Deby’s Chad is expected to contribute nearly 4,000 troops to an emerging African Union force to combat Boko Haram in Nigeria.
By Idriss Fall [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chadian_Eland_Mk7.jpg

The month of February saw two significant developments in Nigeria, both related to the pernicious Islamist insurgency most commonly known as Boko Haram. First, of course, was the unexpected postponement of much-anticipated national elections originally slated for February 14 on account of “security” reasons—effectively giving the country six weeks to contain Boko Haram before the belated poll is held on March 28.

In a piece published February 20 in the National Interest, I offer thoughts on the second development: the emergence of a five-nation regional coalition comprising Nigeria and its four neighbors, formed in the aftermath of Boko Haram’s 2014 Chibok kidnappings of #BringBackOurGirls lore. In early February, Chadian incursions across the border into Nigeria marked the first shots fired in what is likely to become a 8,750-strong African Union force aimed at defeating Boko Haram’s five-year insurgency.

As I note in the article, it is hard not to be cautiously optimistic about “the prospects of the coordinated regional force as a refreshing alternative to five years of bungled counterinsurgency.” It is perhaps no surprise that neighboring Chad, which boasts arguably the most experienced and best-equipped army in the region, will play a central role in the new mission.

A regional force with Chad at the helm, however, faces both challenges and risks. In addition to tempering expectations about an extraordinarily difficult task—containing and defeating a ruthless and fluid adversary—I offer a dose of caution on Chad’s recent conduct and intentions:

Chad’s tenuous human rights record raises a number of question marks. Last April, President Déby pulled the plug on military involvement in the Central African Republic (CAR), where Chadian peacekeepers were widely accused of gunning down civilians and siding with a Muslim rebel coalition. At home, Déby has been Chad’s one and only president since 1990, and international monitors accuse him of brutally repressing political opposition.

Moreover:

Chad’s stated foreign policy objectives—including regional stability and civilian protection—do not tell the whole story. Military contributions in Mali, CAR, and Nigeria are by no means altruistic. Should Chadian efforts turn the tide in Nigeria, expect them to come at a price. This could entail additional oil rights around Lake Chad—which straddles the border between Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad—or a more general admission to cement Déby’s role as regional kingmaker, a part he has actively pursued.

The nascent military coalition has achieved early successes, repelling Boko Haram attacks on Niger and Cameroon and retaking a number of small towns on Nigeria’s northeastern periphery. But can it last? And at what price?

Check out the full piece for The National Interest here: http://nationalinterest.org/feature/the-only-thing-nigeria-fears-more-boko-haram-12285

If you have any comments or suggestions, please send them along!

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