Defined by multiple dynamics of instability, the Lake Chad Basin represents a complex regional system. Over the last ten years, violent extremism has spread across the region as a result of Salafi-jihadi armed groups – Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad (JAS), commonly known as Boko Haram, and Islamic State in West African Province (ISWAP) – which gave impulse to regional security cooperation processes. Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria are the five member states of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), a joint military force mandated by the African Union Peace and Security Council (PSC), with the support of external partners. According to its mandate, the aim of the force is to “create a safe and secure environment in the areas affected by the activities of Boko Haram and other terrorist groups, in order to significantly reduce violence against civilians and other abuses […]; facilitate the implementation of overall stabilization programmes […] including the full restoration of state authority and the return of IDPs (internally displaced persons) and refugees; facilitate, within the limit of its capabilities, humanitarian operations and the delivery of assistance to the affected populations”.
The joint force’s activities are explicitly focused on the fight against jihadi armed groups in the region. However, its creation dates back to the ‘90s, well before Boko Haram’s penetration of north-eastern Nigeria’s social fabric and the subsequent widening of its sphere of action in the Lake Chad Basin. Indeed, the MNJTF was originally set up in 1994 by a political initiative of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) with the aim of tackling cross-border criminal activities, but the scope of the force turned out to be limited mostly because of a general lack of political will.
The unprecedent threat posed by Boko Haram to regional stability forced the LCBC’s institutions to foster security cooperation, reactivating the MNJTF and broadening its mandate to include counterterrorism tasks. In October 2014, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, together with Benin – the only non-LCBC member state – gathered in Niamey to discuss the redeployment of the force and the coordination of military operations. The MNJTF was authorized by the PSC on January 2015: the African Union indeed gave political legitimacy and support to the regional governments. A few months later, the concepts of operations (CONOPS) were adopted: in June 2015 the MNJTF was provided with detailed definitions of and guidelines for strategy, operations and logistics, as well as command, control and coordination structures and composition, troop strength (currently composed of 10,000 soldiers), zones and sectors of operations (Mora in Cameroon; Baga Sola in Chad; Diffa in Niger; Baga in Nigeria). The MNJTF headquarters were located in N’Djamena, Chad, while command of the force was given to Nigeria.
Based on the model of a “coalition of the willing”, the MNJTF counts on the support of several international partners to conduct military operations against Boko Haram and the other jihadi armed groups acting in the area. Between July 2016 and December 2019, the European Union delivered through the African Peace Facility (APF) 50 million euros to support the Multinational Joint Task Force, covering in particular the force’s personnel, operational and logistical costs. France, the UK and the US, gathered together in a coordination body headquartered in N’Djamena – the Center for Coordination and Liaison (CCL) –, provide the MNJTF with technical, financial and strategic support.
In particular, the French contribution is structured through information sharing, military training, logistic assistance and supplies. The contingents of Operation Barkhane – 5,100 troops deployed in the whole Sahelian belt, from Mauritania to Chad – assist the MNJTF in conducting counterterrorist trans-border operations, strengthening the coordination of international military capabilities in the region. Besides technical support, France played an important role also from a political point of view, facilitating the relations between Nigeria and the francophone states involved in the common struggle against armed jihadist groups. One year ago, the French Minister of the armed forces, Florence Parly, visited the headquarters of the MNJTF in order to show that France was actively backing the Lake Chad Basin states involved in the fight against Boko Haram. Falling within the framework of the Trans-Saharan Counter Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP), US support for the multinational force has been both operational – through the deployment of drones from the Niger and Cameroon air bases – and economic: the US was an important financial contributor to the MNJTF’s counterterrorist effort, between 2015 and 2017 providing a total amount of 363 million dollars.
The several large-scale trans-national operations that have been carried out by the MNJTF to limit the jihadi armed groups’ military capabilities from late 2015 on have obtained diverse degrees of success. However, chronic budget constraints contribute to scaling back the effectiveness of its actions, while the competition between national interests and regional cooperation rationales are a major factor of weakness.
An additional challenge the MNJTF has to face concerns human security. While ISWAP tactics aimed to hit mostly military forces and local institutions, in recent times civilian populations are more and more targeted by violent attacks. This is probably the result of the group’s leadership change and the subsequent strategic shift, which took place also as a response to the Nigerian armed forces’ establishment of “super-camps”, whose purpose was reducing the risk of direct attacks aimed at removing weapons and military assets from the control of the army. In this respect, the regional force should enforce effective forms of protection for local communities.
Root causes of the jihadist insurrection in the Lake Chad Basin remain unaddressed. The almost entirely military and security approach underlying regional cooperation paves the way for an increasing militarisation of development assistance, with a detrimental impact on the effectiveness of multidimensional interventions aiming to tackle deficits in state governance, socio-economic marginalisation dynamics, endemic corruption and regional inequalities.
 Boko Haram is an Islamic sect established in 2002 in Maiduguri, north-eastern Nigeria, and radicalized since 2009, following the extra-judicial execution of its founder, Mohamed Yusuf, by the Nigerian army.
 The Lake Chad Basin Commission was established by the government of Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria in 1964 as a framework for the management of Lake Chad’s natural resources. It currently includes Algeria, Libya, Central African Republic and Sudan alongside the founding member states.
 The same model of security and military cooperation was adopted later by the G5 Sahel, an international organisation established on the initiative of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, which in 2017 gave birth to a joint military force to address the al-Qa’ida- and the Islamic State-linked armed groups’ activities in the Western Sahel. The G5 Sahel Joint Force suffers from budgetary and operational constraints that have hindered its effective deployment.
 Personal communication, Hélène Le Gal, special advisor of the French President François Hollande, Paris, 2015.