Lake Chad : 3 lessons from the Security Council visit
Security Council visit to Lake Chad Basin region
Presentation to the press of lessons learned from the visit
François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
The Security Council decided to visit the Lake Chad region because there was a flagrant gap between the many challenges that had accumulated in that region and the international community’s response, which was both piecemeal and insufficient.
I believe this important mission offers three main lessons corresponding to the three major objectives that we had set for ourselves.
First lesson: this visit was crucial in itself, not only to shine a spotlight on the situation in the Lake Chad region, but also to make it a real, long-term priority for the international community. Indeed, the Lake Chad region, which has always been a priority for France, has not received the attention it deserves from the international community. This visit will help rectify that mistake, which was an injustice.
For that reason, the visit was called “historic” by several of our interlocutors – that was the term used, for example, by President Issoufou of Niger. A particularly powerful illustration of this was a young refugee in Maroua, babe in arms, who burst into tears when she told us: “By coming here, you showed me that I’m important to you, that I matter to you. For me, that’s vital.”
Second lesson: this visit demonstrated that in the face of the multi-layered crisis – security-related, humanitarian, economic – that has struck this region, the only possible response is a comprehensive approach, one that articulates in an integrated way our three priorities: strengthening coordination against Boko Haram, responding to the humanitarian emergency, and creating a “virtuous circle” of development. This is what all of our interlocutors told us, and the field data is unambiguous: to succeed, we must tackle these three challenges head-on and in a comprehensive fashion. How can we defeat terrorism without eradicating the terrible poverty and malnutrition? How can we do that without improving education and jobs for young people? Conversely, how can we begin development projects without dealing with Boko Haram? Clearly, everything is interconnected, and any attempt to compartmentalize is doomed to fail. The only way to succeed is to tackle these three challenges head-on.
The first priority, then, is to improve coordination on counterterrorism, and against Boko Haram in particular. In that spirit, France committed itself early on, hosting a meeting in Paris in May 2014 under the auspices of President François Hollande. It was the first ever conference held on this matter, and it was essential to defining the contours of our joint action. On the military level, France is also playing a key role, notably through Operation Barkhane, comprising 4,000 troops deployed over a vast area – an area larger than the whole of Europe from Lisbon to Moscow. Barkhane is the backbone of counterterrorism in the region, both as a direct fighting force throughout the Sahel, in conjunction with the G5 countries, and in support of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) against Boko Haram, particularly with respect to logistics and intelligence. We visited the leaders of these two forces, because we wanted to “look under the hood” and see, concretely, how we could support the MNJTF and Barkhane. The EU provides significant funding to the Multinational Joint Task Force; it has earmarked €50 million for them, of which €31 million have been disbursed so far. During our meeting with the MNJTF, I suggested they ask the EU – via the African Union – to provide support for certain specific projects.
The second priority is to respond to the humanitarian emergency. The unanimous message from the interlocutors we met is that the international community should do more in this area to support the countries that are on the front line in the fight against terrorism and which are hosting a significant number of refugees. The Oslo conference on February 23 and 24 has already made it possible to mobilize considerable funding. $672 million has been raised for the four countries of the Lake Chad region. The EU and France are extremely focused on this. France for example has provided more than €13.5 million for the four countries of the Lake Chad region in 2016. This is in addition to the AFD (Agence française de développement)’s Lake Chad Basin initiative which provides €35 million of funding. In Niger for example we are focusing this aid in the Diffa region, which literally needs assistance immediately. With respect to Chad, a donors’ meeting under the auspices of the World Bank will be held in the near future. Incidentally, our interlocutors indicated that in Chad the most pressing humanitarian needs related less to the Lake Chad region itself than to the rest of the country. We should therefore, despite the acknowledged priority given to the Lake Chad region, take a pragmatic approach and promote distribution channels for humanitarian assistance that will reach the entire country, wherever the needs are greatest.
The third priority, which goes hand in hand with the first two priorities, is to establish a virtuous circle of development – with corresponding actions in the areas of education, health, infrastructure, governance and the role of women. All our interlocutors have stressed the extent to which women are, to a very high degree, key to development in the region.
Third lesson: Our action in the Lake Chad region should set an example for UN reform. Indeed, this mission confirms that the silo mentality, which has for a long time been the bane of UN bureaucracy, creates deadlock and that the only way to succeed is by adopting an integrated approach that combines, in an intelligent manner, the whole range of mechanisms available to us. As a result, this Security Council mission consolidates Antonio Guterres’s vision for UN reform, which France fully supports.
The Lake Chad region should therefore set an example in this regard: It’s clear that we have to shift away from the compartmentalized approach of the technocrats – peace and security on the one hand, development on the other, and human rights elsewhere – in order to embrace the integrated approach favored by those working on the ground. It’s clear that the continuum proposed by Antonio Guterres, from conflict prevention to development, through peacekeeping and peacebuilding, is the only effective option for action: In order to make progress, we have to take action on two fronts: sustainable peace and sustainable development.
The key of course will be to implement these lessons. If we can translate them into reality in the Lake Chad region, as well as in our broader action within the UN, then this visit deserves to be described, as many of our interlocutors have done so, as historic.