Sahel insecurity is the product of vulnerabilities inherent to the geography of the region, while other security challenges arise from political and demographic factors. Militant Islamist groups have increasingly exploited these vulnerabilities, necessitating joint regional cooperation from regional powers if they hope to effectively combat the militant threat.
The Sahel region, a geographic belt separating desert from savannah, stretching from the west coast of Africa to the east coast, faces numerous security and stability threats. Non-state actor groups consisting of militants, rebels and terrorists are a particular source of instability and violence. These groups include: al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its various affiliates and offshoots who are concentrated in north-western Africa; Boko Haram in north-eastern Nigeria and the Lake Chad area; and al-Shabaab in Somalia and Kenya. To a limited but increasing extent, groups or factions within pre-existing militant movements, aligned with the Islamic State (ISIS), are also making their presence felt across the region.
Limited operational structure and shaky inter-participant relations bode ill for the MNJTF
By Conway Waddington
In Brief: The Multinational Joint Task Force (MNTJF) appears to be in trouble. The force appears woefully undersized and hamstrung by operational dictates and it now seems that the alliance of participants is beginning to fall apart. Boko Haram, meanwhile, is exerting significant pressure on the MNJTF’s participants, with relentless attacks against civilians and military across the region.
The MNJTF, comprising troops from the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) membership, increasingly appears unlikely to be able to bring much change to the Boko Haram insurgency that has swept through north-eastern Nigeria and to its neighbours to the east. The finalised force size, structure and scope of operations gives little reason to expect the force to be able to, by itself, significantly degrade or contain the Islamist militant insurgency.
In October and November 2015, Boko Haram ramped up its attacks on not only Nigeria, but also Cameroon, Chad and Niger. These attacks have led to declarations of states of emergency by Chad and Niger, and have resulted in those countries refocusing their security efforts on their own territories. Tensions within the MNJTF, which have simmered over operational and organisation restrictions imposed by Nigeria, have further increased, with Chad in particular appearing a more and more reluctant participant.
Drawing comparisons between Boko Haram and al-Shabaab can be beneficial for analysis of these groups and their activities, but caution should be given to over-simplifying their respective origins, objectives and relationships with each other and with other international terror groups.
Boko Haram and al-Shabaab are militant Islamist sects that are predominantly operational in Nigeria and Somalia, and are both engaged in protracted insurgencies and terror campaigns. Their origins, strategic goals, methodologies and recent track records are comparable to varying degrees. These groups are also compared to other militant Islamist groups with which they associate, particularly al-Qaeda and its affiliates, and more recently the group known as the Islamist State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).