On December 27, 2020 the Republic of Niger will elect a new President and a new National Assembly. The election comes at a critical time for Niger’s 7th Republic. After two terms in office, President Mahamadou Issoufou leaves behind a controversial political legacy. Some, in particular Western state leaders and diplomats, see the President as a guarantor of political stability and a reliable geostrategic partner in an otherwise unstable region.
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.
The Diffa region, in the southeastern part of Niger, has become a place for armed violence since February 2015, when it experienced the first attack by Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'Awati Wal-Jihad (JAS/Group of the People of Sunnah for Preaching and Jihad, commonly known as Boko Haram). Over the last two years, the patterns, nature and levels of violence in the region have transformed as a result of the humanitarian and security response and of the internal dynamics of the insurgency.
The Lake Chad region is caught in a conflict trap. Climate change and conflict dynamics create a feedback loop where climate impacts feed additional pressures while conflict undermines communities’ coping capacity. Whilst the region around the lake, bordering Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, is a priority for stabilisation efforts for many international and regional military actors, to date these efforts have failed to de-escalate the violence. Indeed, in some cases, military responses are making the situation worse.
The Lake Chad Basin shows a complex regional system defined by multiple instabilities. Non-state Salafi-jihadi actors – namely Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) – confront state institutions and compete for power over local communities, fuelling regional political and economic insecurity. Furthermore, an increasingly harsh climate is having a serious impact on livelihood activities, feeding into social tensions – such as farmers-herders conflicts over access to natural resources – and prompting a severe humanitarian crisis.
On December 10, 2019, the southwestern region of Tillabéri, in Niger, was shocked by an act of armed violence against Nigerien military forces. Around 500 heavily-armed men stormed a military camp in In-Atès, about 180 km from the capital Niamey and 20 km from the border with Mali. More than 70 soldiers were killed, dozens injured and many weapons and pieces of equipment stolen.
In the past five years there has been an increase in border controls and foreign military presence in Niger; paradoxically this has only diversified and professionalised the criminal networks operating there. In fact, this development was to be expected. Sustained law enforcement against smugglers removes the weaker players while allowing those with greater means and connexions to adapt, evolve and in some cases even monopolise criminal markets.