Sahel Sahara States to bridge development gaps

Cyril Okonkwo, Abuja

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Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has urged member states of Community of Sahel-Sahara States (CEN-SAD) to promote agreements and partnership that bridge development gaps and to meet the rapidly growing needs of present and future generations of people of the region.

Professor Osinbajo was speaking on Thursday at the 7th Meeting of the Ministers of Defence of member states of the CEN-SAD in Abuja.

He said that it was in the collective interest of CEN-SAD states “to act proactively by enabling and catalysing jobs and prosperity” to tackle terrorism and violent extremism.

The Vice President said the theme of the meeting, “Consolidating the Achievement of the Fight against Terrorism through Development Actions, was apt as it focused attention on the role of non-9military components of the fight against terrorism and extremism.

“If there is one thing we have learned from our experience fighting boko haram in Nigeria, it is that the battle is as much social and economic, as it is a military one,” he said.

According to Osinbajo, the military aspect of the fight against terrorism was the short-term one; while “enduring victory will only come from swiftly and diligently building on military  victory by implementing, over the long term, policies that comprehensively tackle the poverty, illiteracy and frustration that predispose individuals and communities to imbibing extremist beliefs and ideologies.”

He said violent extremism and terrorism do not walk alone, but interlinked with human trafficking, drug trafficking, illicit trade in drugs and arms, and other various forms of transnational organized crimes.

He stated that the security challenge assumed new dimensions since the Arab Spring, with the collapse of the Gaddafi regime in Libya, proving to be a watershed moment and making countries like Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Nigeria experienced an escalation of the twin global threats of violent extremism and terrorism, among others.

“This escalation of threats and vulnerabilities in the region has become an immediate and urgent security threat to the community.”

Significant Progress
Professor Osinbajo said significant progress has been made to contain the terrorist challenges through the individual and collective actions of respective States and through respective regional economic communities.

“The successes of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) of the Lake Chad Basin Commission, in combating the Boko Haram menace in the sub-region, has significantly resulted in the degrading of the Boko Haram group in particular, in terms of membership, and of recruitment and combat capabilities. Similarly, the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), with the support of the United Nations and other strategic partners, has made impressive progress in the fight against Al-Shabab terrorists in Somalia and the Horn of Africa generally.

 “In this ongoing fight against terrorism and violent extremism, the importance of intelligence sharing by member states of the Community has come strongly to the fore, considering the achievements recorded by the Regional Intelligence Fusion Unit (RIFU) of the MNJTF, in the joint fight against boko haram, as well as the gains made through the Sahel Fusion Liaison Units, which have arisen from the Nouakchott Process and the Djibouti Process,” the Vice President explained.

He said there have been various military strategies by regional groups to tackle terrorism and violent extremism.

Among these were the East African Fusion Laison Unit (EA-FLU) recently launched by countries of the Horn of Africa and East Africa; the Sharm-El-Sheik declaration of 2016 by the Community of Defence Ministers of CEN-SAD and the Cocody Declaration.

 Not a battle for Military Alone
Professor Osinbajo, however, insisted that it was not a battle for militaries and intelligence agencies alone.

“This is a fight that cannot and will not be won, without a collective and determined focus on all those elements that entrench poverty, want and conflict amongst the people of the Community, and that sow the seeds of criminal exploitation and violence,” he said. 

He listed those elements to include the ecological threats of desertification and drought, as well as the phenomenon of forced human migration.

He said climate change and other factors collectively exacerbate these natural geographical conditions, to make more than 319 million hectares of Africa vulnerable to desertification.

“In the CEN-SAD Community, the Sahara Desert is advancing southwards at an alarming rate of approximately 600 meters annually.  

“A typical example is the shrinking of the Lake Chad due to climate change and human overuse. From about 25,000 square kilometers in 1963, Lake Chad, one of the world’s largest freshwater lakes, has shrunk by 95 percent to a current size of about 1,300 square kilometers. There are alarming predictions that the Lake may indeed, dry up completely in 20 years. 

“The Lake Chad Basin which straddles four nations in the Community previously supported more than 30 million inhabitants in its vicinity,” professor Osinbajo explained.

The vice president said the shrinking Lake Chad provides a graphic example of the notorious nexus between the environment and human conflict.

“There are strong indications that much of the violent conflicts in the Community can be linked to the passive and active resource conflicts associated with the shrinking Lake. People whose ancestors made a comfortable living off the land and water, as farmers and fishermen, are now confronted with displacement and vastly diminished opportunities.”

Recharging Lake Chad
Osinbajo said it was in acknowlefgement of nexus between climate change and human conflict that the Nigerian Government is spearheading a collective plan to recharge Lake Chad with water from the Congo Basin by constructing a 2,500 kilometers navigable channel from River Ubangi.

He said the planned recharging of the Lake Chad was just one of the many serious interventions, to mitigate the worst effects of climate change in the region and on the continent.

“The great Green Wall, put forward as a pan-African initiative to combat desertification in the Community, is another such initiative, and it is wholly deserving of our support and praise. Under this initiative, trees are being planted in a land strip, stretching 7,775 kilometers across the entire region of Africa from Senegal to Djibouti, to stop the desertification.”

Forced migration
He pointed out that forced migration was another serious contemporary security threat for CEN-SAD member states.

“With over 13 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in 19 countries, Africa remains the continent most affected by internal displacement. Forced migration of people, particularly young people from member states of the Community to Europe through illegal, unregulated and highly risky routes, has lately become a serious, protracted and expanding global problem. That it is also big business for the powerful transnational criminal syndicates that organize it further, simply makes it more complicated.”

He said member countries were confronted by the serious challenge of keeping young people at home, and providing them enough social and economic opportunities, to deter them from falling for the false hopes of greener pastures as illegal migrants in distant countries.

Confidence Okwuchi