Journalism from the heart of crises

Welcome to the beta version of our site. We'll be working as hard as we can over the next few days to smooth out any glitches. If something looks odd, please let us know by getting in touch here.

  • IRIN Roundtable: Countering militancy in the Sahel

    The YouTube images are ubiquitous: angry young men brandishing guns, promising violence in the name of religion. What is so often unseen, obscured in the rush to condemn, is an understanding of what drives these (mainly) men to join militant movements – and of what may convince them to disengage from conflicts that have claimed tens of thousands of lives and left close to 11 million people in need of humanitarian aid.

    Over the past year, IRIN explored those issues as part of our reporting on the humanitarian impact of the interrelated jihadist conflicts in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Mali – and the possible paths to peace.

    Earlier this month we brought together three people who have had front-row seats on the rise of violent extremism in the region to discuss our recent reporting and next steps in slowing the rise of militancy and restoring stability to the region.

    Read more: Countering militancy in the Sahel


    To counter violent extremism, understanding its causes is key. “Structural factors” – poverty and government neglect – are often cited as laying the ground for jihadism to flourish.

    Read more: Why some Malians join armed groups

    What is often omitted, though, is the power an ideology has when a cause is framed as “sacred”. In northeastern Nigeria, the Salafist-jihad movement Boko Haram, draws on culture and history to portray its resistance to a “corrupt” government as a religious duty for all Muslims, in a region that has been a centre of Islamic learning for centuries.

    Boko Haram’s propaganda promotes an Islamic piety that is readily understood in the rural villages. As a result, they “are winning hearts and minds”, noted Idayat Hassan, director of the Abuja-based Centre for Democracy and Development. The challenge for the government is to prove the benefits of democracy and constitutional rule.

    Read more:  Taking the fight against Boko Haram to the airwaves

    The panelists identified an overly militaristic response as likely to further fuel violent extremism. “The whole issue with a lot of these kinds of terrorism strategies is that they are treating the symptoms as opposed to the causes of radicalisation and extremism,” Ryan Cummings, a South Africa-based risk analyst who is co-authoring a book on so-called Islamic State, pointed out.

    A security-driven approach tends to overlook the complexities of the conflict, removes other options from the table, and serves to internationalise the fight, the panelists said.

    In Mali, for example, there are troops from France, Germany, Italy, and the United States, as well as a 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping force, a five-nation regional intervention known as G-5, and an EU military training mission.

    Read more: A dozen shades of khaki: counter-insurgency operations in the Sahel

    And yet Mali is as deadly now as in 2012, when the spillover from the Libyan crisis bolstered a Tuareg rebellion, which in turn facilitated the growth of jihadist movements.

    Read more:  New violence eclipses Mali’s plans for peace

    How to move forward? There are growing calls to bring the insurgent groups to the negotiating table as part of a political process. But such initiatives are fraught with complications over finding the right channels to reach the jihadist leadership, and developing trust and the domestic conditions to enable talks.

    Read more:  Negotiations with jihadists? A radical idea gains currency in Mali


    Mali, Niger, and Nigeria have all launched amnesty programmes to peel away militants looking to surrender. But it is unclear whether these initiatives are not just another form of counter-insurgency rather than part of a genuine attempt at political settlement, the panelists suggested. Moreover, such programmes provide impunity for fighters who have carried out acts of violence, while their victims are ignored – receiving neither justice nor financial support to rebuild their lives.

    Read more:  Peace in northeastern Nigeria requires justice for military crimes not just Boko Haram atrocities

    And the panelists emphasised that local communities must be included in any peace and reintegration processes. More on that – and those cupcakes – below.

    Highlights of the conversation, edited for clarity and length, follow.

    The panelists

    • Idayat Hassan, director of the Abuja-based Centre for Democracy and Development, a policy and advocacy think tank covering West Africa.
    • Ryan Cummings, a director at the South African risk mitigation firm Signal Risk, and co-author of a book on the so-called Islamic State.
    • Chika Oduah, a multimedia journalist who has spent the last several years covering the conflict in northeastern Nigeria.  

    Moderator: Obi Anyadike, IRIN editor-at-large and a research fellow on violent extremism with Open Society Foundations.


    On the root causes


    Ryan Cummings: “The important aspect of it is – whether the violence is driven by ideology or a sense of marginalisation – there is a disconnect in the social contract between the communities affected [by radicalisation] and the state, and even within the communities themselves.”

    Idayat Hassan: “I think the al-Barnawi faction of Boko Haram is the future of the insurgency. In this sect you have very young people who are well trained and have a [firm] set of beliefs … They do not target people [preferring to focus on the military] and when they enter communities they are well received. Their emphasis is on winning hearts and minds, on making themselves a bulwark against the ‘wicked’ Nigerian government.”

    Read more:  The danger of a better-behaved Boko Haram

    On the mistake of militarisation

    Cummings: “You have communities that are being victimised by extremist groups but are also perceived as being sympathetic towards them, and so are also victimised by these counter-terrorism initiatives – carried out by foreign forces for the most part. [Military strategies need to be balanced] by a softer approach, with a focus on greater democratisation, building state capacity and focusing on development.”


    Hassan: “I think the biggest challenge we have is the militaristic approach, and this simplistic belief that most of these groups are not ideologically oriented; that they are mere criminal groups, or that most of the challenges are as a result of the underdevelopment in the Sahel [and are not political].”

    On the humanitarian toll

    Chika Oduah: “I think in Nigeria, this is probably the hugest humanitarian crisis seen since the 1967 civil war. What we're seeing is really of epic proportions, and it's way too much for the local government to handle; it's too much for the federal government to handle. And I think also perhaps the international community's becoming overwhelmed, because there are other crises competing for resources.”

    Read more:  In Nigeria, healing the scars of war might curtail its spread

    On paths to peace

    Cummings: “It’s a very difficult process, because ultimately there are certain conditions that need to be met for these groups to enter into dialogue. And within these groups themselves, you might find factions that are conducive to dialogue whereas others are completely resistant to it. [But] the minute that you do open a dialogue channel you are ultimately listening, as opposed to increasing the potential for radicalisation.”

    “To achieve a binding peace and that degree of social cohesion which is conducive to a binding peace… you do need to have a process that focuses on addressing the ideology behind the radicalised mindset, to create a position for those voices to be heard. But you must also moderate them to the extent where leveraging violence is no longer considered an option.”


    Hassan: “When you are focusing on a military approach, you are not dealing with the vital issue of accountability. You are not making governance work for the poor by delivering public goods and services. You are not building trust. It then becomes impossible to defeat the insurgency.  


    Read more:  How jobs can help Niger win the war against Boko Haram

    On reintegrating ex-jihadists

    Hassan: “There are no explicit frameworks in terms of carrying out these deradicalisation, rehabilitation, and reintegration programmes. And this raises challenges both in terms of international law [the terms under which the fighters are detained prior to release] and in moving forward to their reintegration.”

    “In the community, people do not have food, people do not have clothing, people do not have shelter. Yet the government is attempting to bring back ex-militants who have committed war crimes but have been treated better than the communities to which they are returning – they’ve even had vocational training.”


    “People in the community want to understand how a 16-week programme will actually deradicalise insurgents – some of them known to the community because they've actually bombed their house, killed their families, or maimed them.”


    Read more:  Boko Haram: Nigeria winning the battle but losing the war?

    On “conflict-preneurs”

    Oduah: “Unfortunately, there are many people in northeastern Nigeria who have profited from the Boko Haram insurgency – from the people at the top all the way down to the woman on the street who's selling groundnuts. They're benefiting from ‘foreigners’, like myself, who are coming to do reporting, they're benefiting from the aid workers who are there. There are accusations that soldiers are also benefiting. There are stories of them controlling some of the trade routes, especially the [lucrative] fish market in the Lake Chad region.”

    Hassan: “The humanitarians are also accused of benefiting. The locals say, 'Look, you guys should go, because, one way or the other, you are the ones that are profiting from this conflict – so you can have opportunities, so that you can do your research, so that you can bring food.’  So just for instance… you're talking in terms of vocational training for people, but in one IDP programme they are training them on how to bake cupcakes – cupcakes! For what? Here, people do not [have money to] eat. They definitely do not have money to buy cupcakes.”

    Read more:  Fighting violent extremism – humanitarians beware

    On gender

    Hassan: “I think it's very important to point out that women are not powerless, particularly in their involvement with Boko Haram. There's been so much focus on showcasing women as victims rather than actors in this whole insurgency. But there is another side. I have personally met women who were involved in the insurgency [who are now IDPs], and they want to go back to the bush and believe fervently in the doctrine.

    “So they are not helpless. They are not necessarily victims. Some are happy participants, and some of these women are even the ones who are building the next generation of Boko Haram.”

    Read more:  Coerced or committed? Boko Haram’s female suicide bombers

    On vigilante groups

    Oduah: “Vigilantes are filling the gap left by the security forces [but they have committed excesses]. I know of some vigilantes who have engaged in criminal activity alongside Boko Haram, and they're not being stopped. Many of the vigilante [leaders] are making a lot of money, and they're building huge houses across northeastern Nigeria, and they're looking for political positions as well.

    “It's something that we see often in Nigeria, where people who are supposed to protect the community become the terrorists. Right now there are no talks to find a way to engage these young people who have risked their lives. Many of them are literally sitting on the sidewalk smoking, getting high. So as long as they're out of school and unengaged, they're [a danger].”

    Read more:  Nigeria wakes up to its growing vigilante problem


    One size doesn’t fit all. What works? What doesn’t?
    IRIN Roundtable: Countering militancy in the Sahel
  • Abuses and disappearances mar Nigerian counter-insurgency campaign

    Hajja Gana last saw her son six years ago when soldiers took him away in an early morning raid in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, accusing him of being a Boko Haram terrorist. She has no idea whether he is alive or dead.


    Gana denies that her son, Mustapha Say’ina, then aged 25, was ever a member of the jihadist group. She insists this was a case of mistaken identity, and says the soldiers addressed Say’ina by another name when they questioned him in her home and that his phone number was not on the list they had.

    The soldiers nevertheless beat his six-month-pregnant wife as she protested his innocence and then took him away, she said.


    “They said they just wanted to ask him some questions and would bring him back,” recalls Gana.


     “I never saw him again.”


    Obi Anyadike/IRIN

    The way men like Say’ina disappear violates international law, but also harms the government’s chances in the decade-long war against Boko Haram. According to the UN Development Programme, over 70 percent of African jihadists interviewed for a 2017 report said they had picked up a gun in response to “government action” – including the killing or arrest of family members and friends.


    Abas Yerima* is walking evidence. He was arrested at a funeral of a neighbour shot by the army for allegedly being a Boko Haram member. Yerima was among 120 young men picked up that day in 2012, seemingly on the grounds of guilt by association, and taken to the notorious Giwa Barracks detention facility in Maiduguri.


    Conditions in the overcrowded, unventilated cells are appalling, say former detainees and international rights groups. According to Amnesty International, at least 149 detainees died from hunger or mistreatment from January to April 2016 alone – an allegation the Nigerian government has denied.




    Yerima remembers there was never enough food or water, hundreds of inmates shared a single overflowing bucket as a toilet, there were beatings and people died daily. Only 25 of the 120 men arrested with him survived, he said.


    The facility was then under the control of military intelligence (it’s now run by the military police), yet Yerima said he was never interrogated in the two years he was there. He added that the army appeared to assume the men’s guilt, then ignored whatever information the supposed Boko Haram detainees could provide.


    “They just expected us to die,” Yerima said of the cell guards. Some enjoyed taunting the prisoners: “They used to say, ‘You haven’t died yet?’”


    Despite repeated interview requests from IRIN, neither the army command in Maiduguri or Abuja agreed to discuss these allegations.


    Yerima escaped in 2014, when Boko Haram fighters attacked Giwa, triggering a mass breakout. Yerima made it into the surrounding bush, where Boko Haram members gathered the survivors, piled them into vehicles, and took them to their base in Sambisa Forest.


    A few days later, Boko Haram made an offer: those that didn’t want to join would be given the equivalent of $50 each and could leave unharmed.

    Very few took the money, some possibly distrusting that the Boko Haram fighters would keep their word, said Yerima. But he was clear why he chose to stay: “I thought about how I had suffered, how I had been maltreated [by the army],” he explained.


    Yerima quickly grew disillusioned, unable to square the indiscriminate killing of civilians by Boko Haram with his understanding of Islam. He escaped seven months later. But he knows men from his prison cell, not originally Boko Haram, who chose to stay and fight on with the Islamist insurgency.


    Hearts and minds


    A key challenge for government soldiers in a counter-insurgency conflict is how to identify the enemy. It’s at the core of winning hearts and minds, but the Nigerian army is regularly accused by human rights groups of failing the test, killing and detaining civilians it then claims are terrorists.


    Boko Haram exerts strict control over the villages in the remote rural areas of Borno State in which it operates. The villagers – known as “awam” – are there to serve the “rijal” – the fighting men – by providing free labour, and in the case of women who are forbidden to leave the house to farm, “wives”. Boko Haram does not arm the awam and continually suspects them of trying to escape, for which the punishment for men is automatic execution, according to internally displaced persons (IDPs) interviewed by IRIN.


    In late 2015 and early 2016, an army advance in the Boboshe area of the northeast created an opportunity for villagers to flee to government-controlled towns, where they were “screened”. What that meant in practice was the men of fighting age were separated from the women, detained, and then sent to the Giwa Barracks, IDPs from the area told IRIN.


    The women meanwhile were kept in dire conditions at the Bama Hospital Camp, with little food or water, several people who were detained there told IRIN. They said they also faced sexual abuse by the army and local vigilante.


    “We were treated like animals,” one woman, who said she was visibly pregnant yet raped twice and punched in the stomach, told IRIN. “The radio told us to come out [from Boko Haram control]. We thought we were coming to safety.”

    The last time she saw her husband was outside Bama prison, he was so badly beaten he couldn’t tie the drawstring of his trousers. She doesn’t know if he has survived Giwa or if he’s in another detention facility. She insists he was a farmer who didn’t deserve to be arrested. Her children still ask why the army took him.


     “What can I say – do you think they will ever trust this government again?”


    Giwa serves as a holding facility with detainees kept under “administrative custody”. From there, a determination is eventually made as to whether they are sent to Maiduguri maximum security prison, or the army’s “Safe Corridor” deradicalisation programme. While ostensibly designed for Boko Haram defectors, many of the graduates of this programme IRIN met insisted they were civilians with no association with the insurgency.


    Other detainees – seen as having no case to answer – are freed and then spend time in a government-run transit centre. But it is an ad hoc process.



    After detention


    Mohamed Yunus,* 15, was released from Giwa in January after being locked up for 18 months. He had arrived in Maiduguri with a group of people fleeing Boko Haram-controlled Boboshe and was held for preliminary screening for two weeks at the entrance to the city.


    After IDPs from Boboshe vouched for him, he was released and assigned a tent in the nearby Muna camp, and then went to the local market to look around. That’s where he and some friends were picked up by an army patrol and taken to Giwa. “Nobody tells you why you are there or what you are supposed to have done,” Yunus said.

    “I’m very angry with the government, they made my life horrible. If it wasn’t for the Red Cross feeding us we would be dead.”

    He was assigned to Cell 7, the children’s cell, which is less crowded and unsanitary than those holding the men. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been granted access to Giwa, and food is now distributed more regularly, drinking water is accessible, and each cell has a “long drop” latrine rather than an overflowing bucket. Deaths are still common, though, former detainees told IRIN.


    Of the 270 boys in Yunus’s cell, he said none ever admitted they were Boko Haram members – just that they were village youth like him. He had left Boboshe to escape Boko Haram, fearing the group would eventually force him to join “or kill us or our parents if we refused”.


    Yet instead of finding safety, he wound up in Giwa. “I’m very angry with the government, they made my life horrible,” Yunus told IRIN. “If it wasn’t for the Red Cross feeding us we would be dead.” Yet his anger over the “injustice” he’s faced does not translate into support for Boko Haram, whose violence he condemns.


    Yunus, like other former Giwa detainees, spent a few months in the Bulumkutu transit centre in Maiduguri. According to UNICEF, which works with the government to provide medical and psychosocial care for children and women ex-detainees, a total of 2,166 people have been released from Giwa since June 2016. Of those, 1,521 were children. (At any one time, the facility holds an estimated 1,400 people, but official figures are unavailable.)


    All are in bad shape when they first arrive, a social worker at the centre who requested anonymity told IRIN. “Some are malnourished with swollen limbs,” the worker said. “Some can’t even talk [they are so traumatized] – especially the elderly.”


    For Hajja Gana, she’ll be happy to get her son back, whatever condition he is in. A civil servant two years from retirement, she has sunk what little spare money she has in searching for Say’ina, visiting jails across northern Nigeria based on tip-offs from security officials (for which she has had to pay) or ex-detainees who say they were incarcerated with him.


    “I’m suffering now,” she said. If she finds him, she added, allowing herself a faint bit of hope, “my old age will disappear.”  

    (TOP PHOTO: Internally displaced people line upwatched over by a civilian joint task force member at a food distribution point in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria. CREDIT: Ashley Gilbertson VII Photo/UNICEF)



    *  Aside from Hajja Gana and her son, all names have been changed.

    *“Boko Haram” refers both to Abubaker Shekau’s Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad (JAS) faction and rival Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) led by Abu-Musab al-Barnawi

    The army’s indiscriminate arrests risk bolstering the Boko Haram insurgency
    Abuses and disappearances mar Nigerian counter-insurgency campaign
  • Zamfara: Nigeria’s wild northwest

    It was a set-up and Buharin Daji walked right into it. The notorious cattle-rustling kingpin had arrived for a meeting in the northern Nigerian bush, ostensibly to settle differences with one of his senior lieutenants, but instead was shot dead.

    Daji’s murder in March has had consequences in an already deeply troubled Zamfara State, where years of building unrest have claimed thousands of lives and driven whole communities into destitution.

    This underdeveloped yet agriculturally rich region has been unstable for many years. What began as unresolved clashes between Hausa farmers and Fulani pastoralists over access to land has transformed into a lucrative illicit economy of banditry and cattle-rustling dominated by men like Daji.

    Zamfara is different from highly politicised farmer-herder clashes in other parts of Nigeria where largely Muslim pastoralists push south in search of pasture and meet increasingly populated Christian farming areas. Instead, Zamfara is overwhelmingly Muslim and, human rights groups argue, the violence here is fundamentally about the government’s abdication of its responsibility to protect its citizens.

    According to Amnesty International, more than 370 people have been killed by the outlaws so far this year. Others have been kidnapped and held for ransom – payments are encouraged with phone calls to loved ones as those being held undergo torture.

    Daji was viewed as a solution to the crisis. In a case of poacher-turned-gamekeeper, he was put on the state government’s payroll at the end of 2016 to help stop the violence he himself had stoked.

    The idea was that Daji would use his influence to rein in other brigands and help with a gun amnesty drive, all in exchange for a salary and impunity. But this didn’t address the underlying causes of Zamfara’s lawlessness, and the state government’s dysfunction prevented it even from making the regular payments to Daji, Adamu Abubakar, director of the Centre for Community Excellence, a local NGO, told IRIN.

    The death of Daji was the final blow to already frayed attempts to forge peace. With him gone, Zamfara risks unravelling further and faster.

    Roots of lawlessness

    Northwestern Nigeria has a long history of banditry. The first recorded case occurred somewhere between “western Hausaland” and the Niger border in 1901, when a 12,000-strong camel train “laden with assorted grains” was attacked and 210 merchants killed.

    The tragedy for modern-day Zamfara is that more than a century on, there are still ungoverned spaces where the state is incapable of stamping its authority.

    Control is so weak in some regions that bandits can come into rural towns, typically three-up on a motorbike, unchecked. In some areas they lay down the law and become the local authority: “It’s fast justice, and there is no appeal,” explained Abubakar.

    Hausa and pastoralist Fulani communities coexist in Zamfara, with competition over land and water sources historically managed through mediation. Banditry has introduced a new level of friction between the two, with the Fulani, marginalised from local political power, more closely associated with brigandage – men like Daji being an example.

    Nigeria is a big country that is thinly policed. In Zamfara’s rural districts there are likely just two poorly equipped and under-motivated policemen to serve many inaccessible communities, according to Zamfara State government spokesman Ibrahim Dosara.

    Historically, state governments have turned to vigilantes to deliver the manpower and local knowledge the federal police lack. In Zamfara these groups are provided with some motorbikes, uniforms, and locally made single-shot hunting rifles, but little other support to meet the rising tide of banditry.

    Payment of allowances is often late, they are outgunned, and some vigilantes turned on the people they were supposed to protect – stealing and extorting – while also murderously targeting Fulani. “Along the way, part of the vigilante became part of the bandits,” said Abubakar.

    Killing fields

    Aisha is just one face of the emerging crisis. Until a few weeks ago her home was the village of Kagara in central Zurmi district. Now it’s a disused petrol station in Zurmi town, where she and her extended family rely on the hospitality of the station owner and the generosity of the town’s people, who help with food when they can.

    Aisha is here because Kagara was attacked by bandits who killed her husband and then beat her with rifle butts when she tried to protect her younger brother by covering him with her hijab. They shot him and four male cousins dead as they burned and looted, combing the village for homeguard vigilante who had formed to protect the village with locally made muskets.

    The bandits had turned up on motorbikes, armed with AK-47s, speaking both Hausa and the Fulani language, Fufulde, with some taking care to cover their faces. Aisha recognised none of them. She suspects some might have come from neighbouring Niger or further afield, in a transnational criminal free-for-all.

    Asked why she thought they’d attacked Kagara, Aisha gave a now-familiar response: “Only God knows.” But “they have our phones and call us to say they will kill us if we go back,” she added.


    Obi Anyadike/IRIN

    The bandits, seemingly able to move at will, took over three districts in Zurmi in June, a total of some 18 villages and towns. But now the state government is insisting the thousands of people displaced by the rolling violence should go home.

    When IRIN visited Zurmi the authorities had just closed a camp for those displaced by the violence in the local secondary school. Aisha has no intention of going back anytime soon, but her 19-member extended family was unsure what to do.

    Bala Aruna, the petrol station owner, stepped in after he spotted them by the roadside. “I said, ‘I have a place you can shelter out of the rain’,” he recalled.

    “Only God knows when this problem will end,” he said. “Yesterday, [the bandits] attacked people that had returned home, just three or four kilometres from here.”

    Government failure

    Despite the chaos, which helps keep Zamfara the poorest state in the federation, Governor Abdulaziz Yari is frequently absent. He is loudly criticised for spending much of his time in the federal capital, Abuja, where he chairs the powerful Nigeria Governors’ Forum.

    “Banditry is a failure of the state to fulfill its primary purpose of providing security,” Chidi Odinkalu, of the Open Society Justice Initiative, told IRIN. “Yari should go back to Zamfara and do his job and govern his people.”

    The state government spokesman, Dosara, insisted that Yari is “fully engaged” with the affairs of the state.

    At the paramilitary Civil Defence Corps headquarters in Zurmi, a bare, solid low-rise building, the commanding officer spoke candidly about the IDP camp closure being premature. His alarming analysis was that the bandits in this region were trying to clear a corridor along the border with Sokoto State and north to Niger – which includes Aisha’s village.

    “Banditry is a failure of the state to fulfill its primary purpose of providing security.”

    “That’s their base. Anyone they kidnap, that’s where they keep them,” he said. “[If there’s trouble] they run into Niger or Sokoto.”

    The federal government last year responded to the crisis by sending in an army battalion. When that didn’t work it deployed an Air Force special forces Quick Reaction Group in June, complete with helicopter gunships.

    Although that deployment is having some success, “the military can only suppress the problem, they can’t resolve it,” said Abubakar, the NGO director, describing a balloon effect that means wherever they squeeze the outlaws just pop up elsewhere.

    Crime pays

    Banditry exists because it is profitable. From around 2011 there was a surge, which some commentators linked to increasing regional livestock prices. Rustling is now an entrenched and thriving underground business, with stolen cattle kept in the forests that dot Zamfara’s border regions (including the equally troubled Binan Gwari area of Kaduna State) before being discreetly sold to meet the ever-growing demand for beef in southern cities.

    “Before, it was the Fulanis that were rustling cattle, then the Hausas joined in. Now, every criminal in Nigeria has come to Zamfara,” said Suleiman Abakar – a wealthy farmer, until his 60 head of cattle were stolen. “There is no other way to make money as quickly as rustling.”

    In the bad Spaghetti Western that is now Zamfara, cattle rustling is not the only profitable enterprise. Abakar, the former farmer, is now an artisanal gold miner. It’s a job that carries significant risk as gold deposits here are usually found next to highly toxic lead.

    The more immediate danger is not lead poisoning but being shaken down by bandits. “They take whatever they want,” said Abakar.

    “There is no other way to make money as quickly as rustling.”

    The insecurity induces an understandable paranoia. Everybody IRIN spoke to knew at least one victim of the violence, and in every conversation mention is made of shadowy “informers” who spy and sell out their neighbours for a share of the loot.

    The guessing game of who the masterminds are protecting the bandits runs the gamut from senior state officials to traditional rulers – an assumption of high-level impunity and corruption exposing the deep distrust people have for those in power.

    To tackle the broader problem of farmer-herder clashes in Nigeria, recent studies call for effective systems to track livestock movement and trade, new strategies to curb illicit firearms, coherent political approaches to address rural insecurity, and policies that promote rural development and diversification.

    There’s little evidence of any of this happening in Zamfara.



    Hundreds have lost their lives this year as a fertile region descends into worsening conflict
    Zamfara: Nigeria’s wild northwest
  • African cities – time for urgent reform

    Africa is urbanising at an incredible rate, but its cities are not delivering the opportunities and better lives such dynamism deserves. Instead, slums are expanding, trapping their inhabitants in poverty and neglect.

    It doesn’t have to be this way. African cities can reform if the right policies and institutions are in place and supported.

    Over the next 20 years the total number of city dwellers across Africa will increase from around 400 million to more than 1.26 billion, according to UN Habitat. Lagos, for example, has surged from five million inhabitants in 1980 to around 20 million today – making it already one of the world’s 10 mega-cities.

    People move to urban centres because that’s where the income-earning opportunities are. That concentrated energy and potential should be what African cities need to catapult up the developmental ladder.

    Instead, the reality is urbanisation without economic growth, which translates into infrastructural decay and deprivation: more slums, and less security, happiness, and wellbeing.

    Take Mukuru, across a busy highway in Nairobi’s industrial area. More than 100,000 families are packed onto the privately owned land: a concentration of 10x10-foot rented shacks without water or toilet facilities, and a constant fear of eviction.

    Sanitation is a horrendous problem. The unpaved rutted roads become cloying, waterlogged traps when it rains, and the heavily polluted river is prone to flooding.

    Mukuru is right next to the city’s factories, automechanics, and spare parts dealerships, but there’s little employment here.

    Community activist and filmmaker Julius Wainana estimates that out of every 10 friends, just two or three – those lucky enough to have made the right connections – have jobs.


    Mukuru slum
    Obi Anyadike/IRIN

    “The others live with their mums, or wait for something to come up that lasts them a day or two [each month],” he told IRIN. Crime, alcohol, and drug abuse are inevitable problems, reinforcing the negative perceptions of the area.

    Three problems

    According to World Bank urban specialist Somik Lall, African cities share three features that frustrate their development.

    They are crowded “but not economically dense”. That means low investment in infrastructure, business, and affordable housing. It’s an urbanisation of people, not capital.

    Asian cities have ploughed double the rate of investment into roads, sewerage, policing, and healthcare than African countries have achieved over the past four decades.

    African cities are also disconnected. They are collections of small, fragmented neighbourhoods poorly served by unreliable transportation.

    New development expands the margins of the cities, but poor roads makes commuting a test of resolve, reducing workers’ access to job opportunities.

    African cities are also costly, both for residents and businesses. Lall argues this is a consequence of being inward-looking rather than export-orientated.

    Low growth means urban-dwellers pay a third more for food than other low- and middle-income regions of the world, and through the nose for most other goods and services as well.

    The degree to which private business has to be self-sufficient “in terms of providing the power, transport, and security services that local and national authorities should, is often not fully understood,” a Zimbabwean research team points out. This drives up their costs and reduces profitability.

    The size of the informal economy far outstrips the formal sector, allowing people to scrape a living. Places like Mukuru are bustling with trade and artisanal services. But although the informal economy employs on average 60 percent of the urban workforce, it accounts for less than one quarter of economic growth, according to the Zimbabwean researchers.

    The informal economy is a survival strategy. It disguises unemployment, essentially acting as a safety net. It typically doesn’t generate the public revenue required to address the needs of cities, and as a result the authorities tend to either ignore it, or periodically crackdown on its activities.

    Disaster risks

    African cities are difficult to administer. They are dependent on government subsidies and often seemingly unwilling to change, typically ringfenced by archaic laws and vested interests.

    They are also among the most vulnerable in the world to disasters and the risks compounded by climate change.

    Informal settlements are usually in the most hazardous parts of the city such as steep hillslopes or floodplains, and these residents “are less likely to be served by risk-reducing infrastructure”, notes a briefing by Urban Africa: Risk Knowledge.

    Rural-urban migration is not just to capital cities. Almost half of Africa’s urban population – and a fifth of the total population – live in “small” urban centres or secondary cities.

    Here the provision of public services like water and sanitation is usually worse, and the municipal authorities even weaker, magnifying disaster risks.

    But despite the discouraging scale of the problems faced, there are many examples of cities trying to come to grips with their challenges.

    Big dreams in Lagos

    For decades Lagos was a byword for dysfunction and crime. But in 1999 it began a process of reform that dramatically widened the tax base and triggered a surge of Dubai-style development described as some of the most promising and forward-looking urban planning in Africa.

    But the Lagos experience is not easily replicable. Firstly, the city has entrenched wealth. Secondly, it was an opposition stronghold with a history of progressive politics.

    The response of the state’s political leadership to ruling party threats was to solidify its grip by making good on promises to its well-educated and informed voters.

    Tax revenues were needed to implement those reforms, with a willingness by Lagosians to pay predicated on evidence of service delivery – creating a virtuous circle.

    According to analyst Nic Cheeseman, there were specific conditions needed for the state leadership to pursue its “mega-city ambitions”.  These included political stability that allowed them to plan for the long term, and the appreciation that the reforms were a “feasible way to protect their interests”.

    The result, however, is a city of even starker contrasts. Lagos is home to some 10,000 dollar-millionaires, while around two thirds of its citizens live in slums. The beachfront developments for the super-rich have been at the expense of the ultra-poor, their communities bulldozed, their rights ignored.

    Nairobi’s approach

    Nairobi city council is trying a different approach in Mukuru. In August it declared the 647 acres of land divided among 230 different owners a Special Planning Area, providing a legal basis for the council to act.


    Mukuru slum
    Obi Anyadike/IRIN

    A Mukuru Integrated Development Plan is being prepared over the next two years. Based on the input of the community, the hope is that it will be “comprehensive and ambitious”, suggests the UK-based International Institute for Environment and Development.

    Nicera Kimani heads the Young Women’s Initiative, a movement to empower women in informal settlements across the city. Kimani is working with the community in Mukuru to make sure their views are canvassed and heard. She’s concerned there could be pushback from the landowners and distrusts the politicians who traditionally use the poor as vote banks but told IRIN: “There is light at the end of the tunnel”.

    It’s a view shared by Wainana, the filmmaker activist, who nodded. “The community has to be involved, and it will take a few years, but I can see a better future.”


    The urban poor have been too long ignored
    African cities – time for urgent reform
    Part of an in-depth series exploring the consequences for the urban poor as the rapid growth of African cities outpaces policy reform
  • Fact file: Unfair cop – why African police forces make violent extremism worse

    Undermanned, underfunded, underwhelming: African police forces struggle to contain regular crime, and they are even further out of their depth when it comes to tackling violent extremism.

    The best way to identify threats to public safety is a policing model that promotes trust and collaboration with the community, say the policy manuals on preventing violent extremism, better known as PVE. A positive relationship is believed to help build resilience to radicalisation.

    But the reality in much of the world is that the police are viewed as corrupt, violent, and people best avoided.

    “In African culture the police are there to intimidate, to coerce,” acknowledged Kenyan senior sergeant Francis Mwangi.

    He is trying his best to change that perception. Sharp and articulate, Mwangi is the face of a new policing initiative in the Nairobi slum of Kamakunji, which aims to build a partnership with the community to help blunt radicalisation of the youth.

    Traditional policing – far too often based on brutality and arbitrary arrest rather than proper detective work – can create more fear of the security services than the insurgents and is clearly counter-productive.

    A new UNDP study based on interviews with more than 500 jihadists –  drawn mainly from Kenya, Nigeria, and Somalia­ – found that in over 70 percent of cases “government action”, including the killing or arrest of a family member or friend, was the tipping point that prompted them to join.

    Why is the culture of human rights abuse and resistance to reform so deeply ingrained?

    Citizen or subject

    Part of the problem is history. African police forces were set up by the colonial powers to maintain control over the local population. Independence didn’t really change that function. Their role largely remains regime protection and representation rather than serving the public.

    As a result, most police forces are seriously undermanned. The UN recommends a ratio of 300 officers per 100,000 citizens. It’s a rough guide – force levels are influenced by a range of factors. But Kenya manages a ratio of only 203, Nigeria 187, and Mali – another country facing an Islamist insurgency – just 38.

    Police forces are also underequipped. From vehicles and the fuel to run them, to paper, pens, and printing ink. The barest of necessities are in short supply, before you get to functioning forensic labs and national fingerprint databases.

    Unsurprisingly, conviction rates are low. In South Africa, one of the more advanced police forces on the continent, only an estimated 10 percent of murder cases end in conviction. In crimes of sexual violence, it falls to between four and eight percent.

    The temptation, then, is to turn to forced confessions. In Nigeria, torture has become such an integral part of policing that many stations have an informal torture officer, according to a 2014 Amnesty International report.

    The prevalence of shoot-to-kill policies are also a reflection of the failure of the criminal justice system, with sections of the community seeing themselves as targets of persecution.

    Police hit squads take that logic one step further. In the Kenyan port city of Mombasa, they are known to operate against so-called radical elements, whose deaths only serve to stoke the anger of Muslim youth, who view themselves as already marginalised.

    Nigeria provides a stark example of the impact of the failure of due process. In 2009 the police killed Boko Haram founder Mohamed Yusuf while he was in custody. It did not stop his movement, and his successor, Abubakar Shakau, has proved a far more brutal and implacable enemy.

    The impunity of the police commanders involved in the murder undermines the moral authority of the Nigerian state.

    Governance failure is key in the tolerance of abuse. A corrupt political system breeds corrupt cops. If states are unwilling to provide opportunities, services, and rights to entire sections of its citizens, “there is then little reason to expect national police actors to do so”, argues a report by the Global Centre on Cooperative Security.

    Sympathy for the police

    The subservience of the police to the ruling elite doesn’t win them any political favours. Conditions of service are generally appalling and pay poor. Families of officers killed in action can struggle to receive their benefits – with kickbacks expected.

    A former Nigerian Inspector General of Police acknowledged that some barracks were “to say the least, nauseating”. In the absence of accommodation, one Nigerian officer told IRIN how he spent the first few months of his posting to the northeastern city of Maiduguri sleeping on two plastic hard-backed chairs.

    The police top-brass regularly make whistle-stop visits to the city as part of political entourages, but hardly ever drop in on the officers who are on the frontline of the insurgency, and very much targets for Boko Haram.

    Predatory police take out their frustrations on the public – typically the most vulnerable and powerless members of society. According to an Afrobarometer survey across 34 countries, the police are universally regarded as the most corrupt of institutions – well ahead of even government officials.

    “In most cases the police in Africa are demoralised because the remuneration they are getting is just peanuts,” said sergeant Mwangi in half-hearted mitigation. “They have a family to feed so can be prone to being compromised.”

    In the Afrobarometer survey, more than half of respondents who had been victims of a crime did not report it to the police. Regionally, levels of distrust were highest in East Africa – just 43 percent said they would seek the assistance of police first if they became victims.

    That’s because the police don’t have a monopoly on criminal justice. People often have multiple choices, with varying degrees of legitimacy and links to the state – from family and friends out to exact revenge, to local militia, customary courts, and formal commercial security guards.

    Western models of PVE stress community policing – the ideal of the “bobby on the beat”. But in an African context, community policing means something quite different.

    These informal security systems – some of which are just plain vigilantes – have less to do with notions of state legitimacy, “and more to do with what’s available, trusted, and affordable,” the Global Centre on Cooperative Security report points out.

    Resistant to reform

    Security sector reform is a growth industry in aid world, despite little concrete evidence of success. The reports compiled by external police experts, paid for with donor money, gather dust on the shelves of police commands, the officer in Maiduguri told IRIN.

    According to researcher Alice Hills, police reform cannot be divorced from “fundamental socio-political change”. Without buy-in from the powers that be, the effects are only transitory.

    The lessons being learnt by sergeant Mwangi in Kamakunji, for instance, are yet to feature in the curriculum of the Kenyan police college.

    Reform is admittedly difficult to tackle in the middle of an insurgency. The priority of governments and their international partners is for harder-hitting security services, not the soft power of PVE.

    What that can mean in practice is squads of men who are simply more proficient at harming their fellow citizens and extracting rents.

    What is needed are “programmes that recognise that the core problems of governance lies in incentives and desire, not capacity,” write researchers Rachel Kleinfeld and Harry Bader.


    TOP PHOTO: Kenyan Administrative Police on patrol after an al-Shabab attack


    Unfair cop – why African police forces make violent extremism worse
    Part of a special project exploring violent extremism in Nigeria and the Sahel
  • How jobs can help Niger win the war against Boko Haram

    Demobilising ex-combatants as part of a peace deal is hard to do at the best of times. But increasingly – from Kenya to Somalia – it’s being tried in the middle of ongoing anti-insurgency conflicts, which adds a whole new level of complication.

    Disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration – DDR as it’s known – is about reducing the risk of violence reigniting by incentivising peace. A stake in the system is seen as the glue to hold post-conflict deals together.

    But reality is often messier. Reintegration is hard, especially when economies are dominated by informal business. The vocational training typically offered churns out thousands of carpenters, when cash and therapy seems a better bet.

    Former communities have often been displaced, fragmented, and traumatised by conflict, making reinsertion all the harder.

    But increasingly DDR is being employed when there’s no peace to keep. It’s seen as a useful component in countering violent extremism (CVE) programming, which prioritises conventional development goals rather than the drones and special forces more often associated with the “war on terror”.

    As such, DDR is now more political than it’s ever been. Amnesty schemes and the promise of grants and support to surrendering fighters are used as a way to thin opponents’ ranks just as much as regular military operations.

    There are other concerns. What is the legal framework to distinguish DDR from plain detention? What are the qualification criteria and human rights safeguards? More broadly still are basic questions over “whether or not the necessary doctrine, resources, finances, and partnerships are in place to deliver effective programming,” researchers James Cockayne and Siobhan O’Neil note.

    A home-grown initiative

    Regardless of the challenges, the Sahelian country of Niger is giving it a go. Since 2015 it has suffered attacks from the jihadist group Boko Haram, effortlessly crossing the border with its giant southern neighbour Nigeria to raid and recruit.

    In December last year, the government of Niger launched a deradicalisation and reintegration programme for Boko Haram fighters who quit the battlefield. “We will guarantee them security. We will avoid imprisonment,” Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoun said when he announced the initiative in the southern town of Diffa. “We will install them and teach them a number of activities.”

    This home-grown initiative has been enthusiastically taken up by Diffa Governor Mahamadou Lawaly Dan Dano, who has enlisted the University of Diffa to provide advice and help build community buy-in for “the repentis”, or “the repentant”, as they are known.

    Currently, more than 150 people are in the programme, including fighters’ “wives” and 28 young boys. They were originally kept in Diffa town, but conditions were so poor there was an escape attempt and the group has since been moved west to Goudoumaria, a two-hour drive away, to a camp originally built for refugees.

    Their circumstances are now a good deal better. There is water. They are fed regularly, and they even have a small infirmary. But there is not yet any psychosocial support, vocational training, nor are there any classes for the children.

    “The main problem for the young people may be boredom, lack of learning and recreation opportunities,” said the head of the UN children’s fund (UNICEF), Viviane Van Steirteghem, who recently visited the camp.

    Much yet to do

    “The programme is not definitively built,” explained Boukari Kassoum, head of the Peace and Development Unit at the University of Diffa. “But it’s good that it has begun.”

    Steirteghem said 12 fully equipped EU-funded vocational training centres will be built in each of Diffa’s municipalities, an investment in a deprived region where the first schools didn’t arrive until the late 1990s.

    A related DDR programme involves the gradual release of some 80 minors captured on both sides of the border and held in detention in the capital, Niamey. They’re being returned to so-called “transit and orientation centres” in Diffa, from where they’re being returned to their families, with periodic checks made by the authorities.

    Steirteghem was guarded over providing further details. “For Niger, this is all relatively new, and extremely sensitive,” she told IRIN.

    Part of the problem revolves around community acceptance.

    Rado Moustapha is the mayor of Goudoumaria, a man you would expect to have a degree of engagement with the deradicalisation programme. But when IRIN visited, he stressed that he was yet to pay a call on the repentis camp, just six kilometres out of town. He clearly regarded the initiative as driven by the ministry of internal affairs and foisted upon Goudoumaria from above.

    “I don’t know what advantage we will get from it,” he told IRIN. For Moustapha, Boko Haram are simply killers. “We don’t know what they want – they just slaughter. It’s the wrong interpretation of Islam. It’s like a revolution by people not brought up correctly who didn’t listen to their parents.”


    EU/ECHO/Jean de Lestrange/Flickr

    Niger versus Nigeria

    Southeastern Niger is a Kanuri region, the same ethnic group that in Nigeria form the bulk of Boko Haram. Before the insurgency began in 2009, Mohamed Yusuf, the founder of the group, and his successor, Abubaker Shekau, were familiar figures in Diffa.

    But nobody IRIN spoke to believed that affinity for Boko Haram’s ideological message – the rejection of Westernisation – amounted to any real reason for recruitment.

    Niger is a conservative Islamic country. According to a 2013 Afrobarometer survey, 67 percent of Nigeriens would like to see Sharia adopted in the constitution. But that is a reflection of a yearning for a more just society, an Overseas Development Institute study found.

    Multiparty democracy is not rejected: at issue is the system’s failings, its seeming privileging of the rich and disempowerment of the poor in Niger.

    Akasser al-Fazaz of the NGO SOS-Civisme-Niger is adamant that the factors that have encouraged violent extremism in Nigeria are absent in Niger.

    “Political authority in Nigeria is ineffective,” he said. “Nigeria is a federation, but Niger is a unitary state and can respond quickly [to threats]. We have laws that forbid hate speech, and the media is regulated.”

    The motivation, therefore, behind Nigerien youth joining Boko Haram is seen almost exclusively as economic. Diffa is a marginalised region, made poorer still by drought in 2010 and 2011, followed by flooding in 2012 and 2013 that hit the main cash crop: bell peppers. Insecurity has reduced production still further.


    “The perception is that people went looking for money,” said Kassoum of the University of Diffa. The youth that joined Boko Haram came back with booty, encouraging others to join. Boko Haram then shut the door “and didn’t allow anybody back”, except as gunmen ready to fight.

    The government’s counter-insurgency strategy has been a heavy burden. It has cleared communities from the islands in Lake Chad and along the Komadugu Gana River, the border with Nigeria, adding to the toll of 121,000 displaced people.

    Aboubaker Issa, a youth leader in Diffa, believes priorities are back to front when it comes to the repentis.

    “First, the government should meet those communities that lost everything, living under trees: Meet those people, comfort them, and bring them back to their houses, give them means to resettle,” he told IRIN. “After that, the government can turn to the ex-combatants and help them come back to their communities.”

    Beyond vocational training, it’s real jobs people want.

    The needs are so dire, “that if the government persists to say that it will integrate Boko Haram members, there isn’t a youth that will stay here,” said Issa. “They will all join [to benefit from the reintegration package].”

    The model that Diffa youth have in mind is the peace deal struck between the government and Tuareg rebels in the north that ended a 2007-2008 insurgency. In response to Tuareg demands for greater inclusion, jobs were provided to ex-fighters.

    For Steirteghem, the circumstances of a peace deal and orthodox DDR are very different from the current situation – where an entire region needs support.

    “The government and its partners are attempting to ensure that there is some kind of equity in opportunity provided to the youth – for those coming back from Boko Haram and the youth that stayed and didn’t go.”

    With additional reporting from Aboubacar Sidi


    Top photo: Nigerien men. CREDIT: Gerard Bontoux


    How jobs can help Niger win the war against Boko Haram
    Part of a special project exploring violent extremism in Nigeria and the Sahel
  • Boko Haram ups its pressure on Niger

    There has been a worrying upsurge in Boko Haram violence in Niger’s southeastern Diffa region, adding to the caseload of an already underfunded humanitarian crisis.

    In the latest attack on 2 July, the jihadists raided the village of Ngalewa, near Kablewa, killing nine and abducting 37 – all of them young girls and adolescent boys. The gunmen, arriving at night, looted food supplies and rustled cattle, before escaping.

    On 29 June, two female suicide bombers attacked an internally displaced persons camp in Kablewa run by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, close to the main town of Diffa. Four people were killed, including the two bombers, and 11 others were injured in the twin blasts.

    Diffa Governor Dan Dano Mahamadou Lawaly has ordered the transfer of the 16,500 IDPs in Kablewa to a new camp a few kilometres north of Route National 1, the road running to the Chadian border in the east.

    South of the highway is seen as vulnerable to attack by Boko Haram, an insurgency originating in Nigeria but believed to be operating in Niger from largely abandoned islands in Lake Chad.

    Boko Haram’s strategy appears to be to grab what supplies it can ahead of the rainy season, when rising water levels will make crossing the Komadugu River – which flows along the southern border with Nigeria – all the harder.

    Bamouni Dieudonné, the Niger head of the UN’s emergency aid coordination agency, OCHA, explained how the rising threat would mean storing less food and medicines in frontline warehouses and having to restock more often.

    “We will have to rethink our approach of provisioning warehouses in the region with three month’s worth of supplies. They are now vulnerable,” he told IRIN. “It will increase costs as we’ll have to warehouse less.”

    A disturbing precedent

    While the increased tempo of attacks may have been predictable, the bombing of the Kablewa IDP camp was a surprise, said Dieudonné.

    Boko Haram attacks on IDP camps have been fairly common in northeastern Nigeria but not so in Niger, where the extremist group’s attention has tended to focus on military targets.

    The Kablewa attack has generated tensions with the host community, underlined by clashes this week when IDPs leaving the camp strayed onto farmland, threatening crops growing in the field.

    The clashes may prove to be an isolated incident, but there are fears they also represent the beginning of a new intolerance of IDPs, seen now as a potential security threat.

    “That would be a new and disturbing trend in a region that has shown a remarkable degree of hospitality towards IDPs and refugees,” said Dieudonné.

    The 16,500 displaced in Kablewa were among 33,000 people from 100 villages spread over 74 islands in Lake Chad who were given a 48-hour deadline to leave their homes in May 2015 ahead of a government offensive in the area.

    They were originally moved to the mainland towns of N’Guigmi and Diffa, before being settled in Kablewa. This is now the third time they are being forced to relocate.

    That is not so unusual in this conflict. According to a survey in April by the International Organization for Migration, more than 70 percent of people in the displacement site of N’guel Madou Maï had been uprooted at least once, 42 percent “three or more times”.

    The Nigerien government’s counter-insurgency strategy has been blunt. After Boko Haram’s first attack in 2015, it cleared communities from the lake area and along the Komadugu River, destroying a local economy based on fishing and red pepper cultivation. It also ended the motorbike taxi business in Diffa, one of the few employment options for young men.

    “The Diffa region has always struggled economically, and the strict security measures stopping economic activity haven’t helped,” said Peter Kioy, IOM's project manager there.

    “Everybody is in the same basket [IDPs and host communities]. Most people are now solely dependent on international aid. You might have an IDP family living under your roof, but that’s the only difference between you.”


    Food distribution at Kime Gana, N'guigmi, Diffa, Niger
    Jean de Lestrange/EU/ECHO

    Underfunded and undernourished

    Out of the estimated 700,000 people living in Diffa, two thirds are IDPs, returnees, and refugees. A total of 340,000 are in need of aid. Niger alone is hosting 50 percent of all Nigerian refugees in the Lake Chad Basin region, and yet the $139 million humanitarian operation is only 17 percent funded.

    There is not enough aid to go around. IRIN spoke to IDPs in Maina Kadari, one of 140 spontaneous sites across the region. Their complaint was a basic one – the lack of food.

    Whiling away the hot afternoon under a tent before the breaking of the Ramadan fast at sundown, the men estimated that as many as 70 percent of them didn’t get a ration and had to rely on sharing among themselves.

    “We don’t have enough resources to do a 100 percent distribution for all the IDPs,” acknowledged Kioy. “Needs far outweigh the response.”

    The Maina Kadari men said they were also frustrated by a sense of abandonment by the government. In 2015 they had been ordered out of their villages north of the heavily contested Nigerian town of Damasak. They had to foot their own transport bill, but went anyway because they said they trusted the authorities.

    They complained bitterly that they have received no help at all from the government.

    That sense of injustice and prevailing lack of opportunity can make Boko Haram a potentially attractive proposition for angry young men, said Aboubaker Issa, a youth leader in Diffa.

    “[The IDPs] are settling in new places without any assistance, not all are resilient,” he told IRIN. “So, the [government’s] measures have pushed many youths into joining Boko Haram.”

    Staying put

    One of the points raised in a Médecins Sans Frontières report critical of the humanitarian response in Diffa was the readiness of aid agencies to accept military restrictions on access.

    “History has shown that the counter-insurgency tactics of militaries can be devastating to local populations,” said MSF. “There have been few if any attempts to verify claims of the [Niger] authorities as to the condition of populations living inside restricted access areas.”

    It added: “One government respondent even noted that no one knows the condition of those still living on the islands in Lake Chad, despite it being known that thousands returned there against military orders.”

    The Maina Kadari IDPs said they were staying put until the government signalled it was safe to return. It was not just an issue of security: They would need help to rehabilitate their homes, rebuild flood defences, and restart their lives.

    According to IOM, less than 12 percent of the people surveyed in N’guel Madou Maï were ready to return to their villages. Given the new burst of insecurity, that figure could now be a good deal less.

    But Diffa feels safe. It is a base for the Multinational Joint Task Force, an anti-Boko Haram coalition comprising Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria. Heavily armed Nigerien soldiers speed through the town in “technicals”, kicking up swirls of dust, and the airport is home to at least one Ukranian-maintained SU-25 ground-attack jet.

    And the battle with Boko Haram has been far from one way. The army killed 57 insurgents in one devastating clash in April, and are in pursuit of the abducted children from Ngalewa – determined for a better outcome than Nigeria’s Chibok girls’ saga.

    But the security forces are stretched thin. Last month Niger extended a state of emergency in parts of the western regions of Tillaberi and Tahoua following repeated attacks by Mali-based jihadists.

    “The government is doing what it can to provide security, but it needs international support,” said Dieudonné. “All these threats it is facing are coming from outside its borders.”

    With additional reporting from Aboubacar Sidi



    Boko Haram ups its pressure on Niger
    Part of a special project exploring violent extremism in Nigeria and the Sahel
  • The deadly conflict tearing Nigeria apart (and it’s not Boko Haram)

    Goska is just five minutes up the road from Dangoma in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region. But between the two villages are divisions so deep – and so devoid of compassion and understanding – they threaten the unity of Africa’s most populous nation.

    Bullet holes and abandoned, burned-out buildings in Goska are evidence something sudden and terrible happened there. Moses Berde, the village head, explains that more than 40 people were killed and over 100 homes destroyed in back-to-back attacks on 24 and 25 December last year.

    In this farming village of solid, mud-brick buildings, there’s no doubt who the culprits are. They accuse their Fulani neighbours in Dangoma of hiring armed Fulani pastoralists from outside the area to do their dirty work. The interlopers now graze their cattle on Goska’s rich farmland, driving off anyone bold enough to venture near.

    Berde says he himself was shot at recently when he confronted two Fulani youngsters as they were cutting trees for fodder in his field. A week later two women were attacked. “If it wasn’t for the security [forces] urging patience, my boys are eager to go into the bush and sort them out,” Berde tells IRIN.

    Dangoma sits on top of a gentle rise. It’s a more prosperous version of Goska, reflecting the value of cattle over crops. Its elders assemble in a carpeted room as district head Mahmood Suleiman recounts his community’s quite different version of events.

    “What happened was between Goska people and herdsmen from outside,” Suleiman explains. “But people are pointing accusing fingers at us.” He then flips the script, without blinking, accusing Goska of attacking Dangoma on 25 December. Seven people died, he says – although there is no visible evidence of the raid.


    Obi Anyadike/IRIN


    There are places in the world where divisions are so entrenched, positions so implacable, “truth” becomes meaningless – grievance distorts everything.

    The area around Goska and Dangoma, the south of Nigeria’s northwestern Kaduna State, has been a hotspot of communal violence stretching back to the 1980s. The latest bout began in September last year. IRIN finds some of its victims crowded into the grounds of a primary school in the railway town of Kafanchan, waiting for a daily food ration provided by the Catholic Church and well-wishers.


    Pastor Gordon Matum
    Obi Anyadike/IRIN

    Pastor Gordon Matum (photo right) has registered more than 2,590 displaced men, women, and children for the feeding programme. There are people here from Goska, along with those from other villages – Godo Godo, Misisi, Mile One, Pasakori, Tundun Wada. All have fled attacks by Fulani herdsmen.

    Matum, busy, and harassed by a crowd of people, pauses in the doorway of a classroom to talk. “We’ve never terrorised, but instead we’re the ones that are terrorised,” he tells IRIN. “We have been peaceful, but we will defend ourselves, even though we don’t have arms.”

    He is particularly angry over what he sees as a partisan state government that refuses to acknowledge the scale of the displacement. He says that by not declaring the school an IDP camp, it is forcing people to find paying accommodation in the neighbourhood, imposing a double burden on them.

    “Where is the government? They are totally silent about the IDPs. [Governor Nasir] el-Rufai said southern Kaduna people are exaggerating the scale of the attacks, but he hasn’t come here.”


    ration queue
    Obi Anyadike/IRIN

    A broad divide

    Nigeria’s Middle Belt straddles the divide between the largely Muslim north and a majority Christian south. It is an ethnically and religiously diverse zone, plagued by conflict over farmland, grazing areas, and stock routes. In southern Kaduna these clashes have pitted the traditionally pastoralist Fulani against farmers who see themselves as “indigenous” to the area.

    According to a report by SBM Intelligence, a Lagos-based consultancy firm, pastoral/farmer clashes in the Middle Belt accounted for more deaths than Boko Haram last year.

    The Fulani have ranged across West Africa’s savannah with their cattle for centuries, but in Nigeria they have had more than a passing impact on its history. Their 19th century jihad transformed the north. Its legacy is a political aristocracy whose southern border stretches to the emir’s palace in Kafanchan.

    Fulani communities have been in the Middle Belt for over 300 years. Some have settled, giving up the nomadic life, or graze their cattle locally. But there are others who still embrace a transnational existence, annually migrating along at least three international grazing routes – from Cameroon, Chad, and Niger – that pass through southern Kaduna.

    Climate change and the drying of northern Nigeria is forcing these herders to move southwards, into lusher but more densely populated tropical forest lands. Traditional mediation systems are failing to effectively adjudicate cross-cultural disputes over land and grazing.

    Ethno-religious identity drives politics in Nigeria. The city of Kaduna, for example, is divided by its river. North, the majority of its residents are Hausa-Fulani, who have traditionally held political power in the state.

    On the opposing bank are settlers from the rest of the country, mostly Christians, and “indigens” (a troubling concept that recognises “original” inhabitants to the disadvantage of other Nigerians). Newly created chiefdoms in southern Kaduna are both a political and cultural affirmation of independence from the historical control of the Fulani caliphate.

    The cost of conflict

    A Mercy Corps study in 2013 found that livelihoods of more than a third of pastoralists and farmers in Kaduna and Nasarawa states have been affected by violence over long stretches of time. The study calculated the micro-economic cost across four Middle Belt states as worth $9.2 billion annually.

    Without violence, affected households would have seen at least a 64 percent increase in incomes, and potentially as much as 210 percent. Peace could deliver $13.7 billion annually in “total macroeconomic progress” for the Nigerian exchequer, mainly through increased agricultural and meat/dairy production.

    In Kaduna State alone, between 10,000 and 20,000 people are estimated to have died in communal conflict since 1980. Among the most vicious episodes was the political violence triggered by the presidential election result in 2011, which continues to feed the current hostilities.

    Hausa-Fulani Nigeria was united in its support for presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari. When he lost to incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, from the south of the country, Christians and other ethnic groups were attacked in northern Kaduna; their churches, shops, and homes destroyed on the presumption they had supported Jonathan.

    In southern Kaduna, mobs of Christians retaliated by killing Muslims and burning their mosques and property. Among those trapped by the violence and slain, their cattle stolen, were Fulani herders from outside the country.

    Haruna Osman is the Kaduna State chair of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBA), a Fulani lobby group. From his office inside the frenetic Mando motor park, he reels off recent incidents in southern Kaduna in which Fulani are still being killed.

    But in seeming to concede that in the current round of violence most of the victims are farming communities, he is blunt. “Ask them why our people were attacked. What happened in 2011 is the genesis of what is happening now.’’ 

    He adds: “No Fulani man will give up seeking revenge. [Fulani] from outside [Nigeria] were killed. They will not seek permission from me [to retaliate]. But no Fulani man will attack first. We’re the minority [in southern Kaduna].”

    Guilt by association

    Taking a swipe at the vexed issue of citizenship in Nigeria, where full rights are accorded only in your “home state’’, he says Fulani have been in the region for centuries; it is their stock routes the colonial road builders followed. “We are also Nigerians! Give us our share of the land!” he demands.

    Sectarian violence is all about guilt by association. In identity-driven conflict, any member of a rival group can be attacked in retaliation for a perceived original wrong committed by that community. If a cow tramples a farmer's field, all Fulani tend to get blamed. The cycle of revenge broadens the conflict and inevitably the suffering.

    It also obscures an element of simple criminality. People aren’t just singled out because of ethnicity or religion, but because looting and cattle rustling are profitable. Banditry, it seems, is an equal opportunities employer.

    Rival communities also share a perception of the security forces and judicial system as partisan, and/or incompetent. Not surprisingly, they tend to take the law into their own hands.

    The politicisation of ethnicity and religion is seen as the core of the problem. For Mohammed Bello Tukur, legal adviser to MACBA, this goes beyond local politics. He sees the “demonisation” of herders as a tactic by the opposition nationally “to hang President Buhari”, a Fulani, finally elected in 2015.

    He blames a “scaremongering”, southern-dominated media for “connecting dots in pockets of incidents” and deliberately conflating the conflict with the jihadist northeastern insurgency of Boko Haram. Social media has upped the ante with scandalous glee.

    But that is not the view from Goska, or among the weary displaced in the Kafanchan primary school, forced to endure the embarrassment of dependency, their lives on hold. The common thread in all their stories is of sudden attack, being outmatched by men armed with AK-47s who boasted of their political connections. They still do not have the security guarantees that will allow them to return home.


    IDP women waiting for registration in Kafanchan
    Obi Anyadike/IRIN

    Which way forward?

    Historically demarcated stock corridors and gazetted grazing reserves were envisaged as ways to avoid farmer/pastoralist competition for land and water points. They, in theory, could also provide the development services to encourage the settling of the nomadic population.  

    But grazing routes have been squeezed by expanding and ever larger commercial holdings. According to one study, less than three percent of the grazing reserves “have been acquired, and these are poorly managed”. Most of the land, especially in the north, has instead been appropriated by corrupt political and private interests.

    A new grazing reserve bill was rejected last year, largely due to opposition from southern senators. Atta Barkindo of the Kukah Centre, an interfaith policy forum set up by the Catholic Church in Kaduna, explains why.

    ‘’It’s seen as a land grab [of the Middle Belt]. The government would also need to find compensation for subsistence farmers, and that will never happen,” he says, flatly. ‘’The government has to choose between the life of a cow and that of its citizens.’’

    Tukur, of MACBA, and Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, the former chair of the National Human Rights Commission, argue for a forward-leaning livestock development programme to address “access to water, grazing, agricultural extension services, and access to markets” for both farmers and pastoralists. It would also need to monitor and regulate the regional cattle corridors.


    Fulani herdboy Kaduna
    Obi Anyadike/IRIN

    There is also a raft of NGO-led mediation efforts underway over the Middle Belt conflict, a reflection of the abdication of responsibility by state and federal governments. But Odinkalu worries that these initiatives are moving too slowly or lack real leverage.

    Urgency is needed because Nigeria is fast-approaching the 2019 election, and the violence will inevitably be politicised and stoked. “If there is no movement this year, forget about it, as the election calendar will overwhelm everything,” Odinkalu says.

    The levels of distrust run subterranean deep on both sides. The disdain, the subtle asides, the othering, is painful to behold.

    Otherwise genial Goska headman Berde is matter of fact in his assessment: “A Fulani man is a Fulani man; he cannot be trusted.” Asked if there could ever be reconciliation with his neighbours, his response is less than inspiring: “By God’s grace.”


    The deadly conflict tearing Nigeria apart (and it’s not Boko Haram)
  • Boko Haram: Nigeria winning the battle but losing the war?

    “Prof” Usman Abakyari is instantly likeable. But the impish, slightly dishevelled water engineer turns serious at any mention of Boko Haram, the jihadist insurgency that for seven years has traumatised northeastern Nigeria.

    He blames Boko Haram, incubated in his home city of Maiduguri, for the death of his wife. He has vowed to take revenge should he ever get the chance.

    As a public employee, Abakyari was a target. The goal of the insurgency is the destruction of a corrupt Nigerian state, replaced by a justly governed caliphate, harking back to a pre-colonial past. But when armed men tried to break into his apartment one night in the “Locos” suburb of Maiduguri, he believes the motive was robbery rather than any grander statement.

    Boko Haram’s membership is broad. Within its ranks are educated ideologues, opportunists looking for power or money, and the men and women who have been kidnapped and coerced. In Locos, as in other parts of the city they once controlled, they killed and extorted under the noses of the security forces, imposing a tax “for breathing” on anyone they chose.

    But when they knocked at Abakyari’s door, his wife stood her ground. As he hid in the shower, she denied he was home and refused them entry. When the gunmen finally left, she collapsed in the doorway and he couldn’t revive her. “She protected me,” he tells IRIN.

    This is a war that has killed more than 20,000 people, driven over 1.8 million from their homes and left two million hungry. But what has been a spectacularly grisly conflict now seems to be entering a new and uncertain phase.

    Boko Haram once controlled most of northeastern Borno, with footholds in neighbouring Yobe and Adamawa states. At one stage it was estimated to be 15,000 strong. Now the momentum appears to be with the military. Boko Haram is still active in Borno, but the last unliberated territory is on the northern desert fringe of the state, bordering Chad and Niger.

    Boko Haram members still raid army posts, and they still bomb. The explosions are rarely high-profile – almost exclusively attacks by “expendable” young women on crowded urban centres, serving only as disconcerting reminders of the insurgency’s deadly intent.

    But there is a diminishing intensity to the conflict. In the last few months of 2016, death toll figures were at their lowest levels since February 2013, according to the monitoring group ACLED (although there is the beginning of an uptick).

    Adding to Boko Haram’s problems is that it has split. The charismatic, ranting, classical Arabic-speaking leader Abubaker Shekau seems to have lost the support of so-called Islamic State. IS now backs Abu Musab al-Barnawi, who has questioned Shekau’s indiscriminate use of violence. Another powerful commander, Mamman Nur, is reportedly aligned with al-Barnawi.

    Time to talk?

    There has been a long and at times farcical history of “back channel” talks with the jihadists. But the release of 21 Chibok schoolgirls in October signalled that more solid contact was being made. The government has confirmed yet more of the estimated 195 remaining pupils, held since 2014, could be freed.

    Zannah Mustapha, one of the mediators involved in the negotiations, sees an even more tantalising prospect. He believes there is scope for an agreement on a no-fire buffer zone, humanitarian access to Boko Haram-controlled areas, and ultimately a cessation of hostilities.

    The talks, conducted over cellphone with at times “erratic” Boko Haram leaders, are coordinated by Nigeria’s Department of State Security and supported by the Swiss government. The International Committee of the Red Cross is acting as a "neutral intermediary".

    Agreeing a peace would require a gargantuan political investment by the government. Nigeria is all too often polarised along regional fault lines, with the insurgency regarded as a northern problem in a country where conspiracy theories run deep. The Nigerian military would also need to be on board to end a conflict that its more entrepreneurially minded officers and men benefit from.

    Mustapha, a lawyer who runs a school in Maiduguri that enrolls the orphan children of both Boko Haram and the security forces, says the choice is stark. He hunches forward in his seat for emphasis: “Do we want to continue this war or do we want to stop it? If you say stop it, then you need to find the political courage to do that.”

    The counter-argument is a simple one: A peace accord is not in the DNA of an absolutist Boko Haram. If money changes hands for the release of the Chibok girls, it will be invested “in more guns to wage more war”, said one security source who asked not to be named.


    Abubaker Shekau
    It’s hard to see how a settlement can be in the interests of Boko Haram’s leadership. No amnesty deal could ever be offered to Shekau (in photo on right), responsible for multiple atrocities, or Nur, allegedly the mastermind of an attack on the UN headquarters in Abuja in 2011 that killed 23 people.

    But a smarter approach to this war is being tried. While Boko Haram’s leaders are ruled out of any peace deal, there are supposedly more than 1,400 footsoldiers who have surrendered under a safe corridor initiative. They are being held in secret locations around the country.

    The goal of the programme “is to rehabilitate repentant Boko Haram militants and reintegrate them back into their respective communities as productive law-abiding citizens”. If the fighters in the bush can be convinced there is a genuine path to reconciliation, it would likely trigger yet more defections.

    The initiative was developed by the Office of the National Security Advisor, part of a civilian-run counter-insurgency strategy. Ferdinand Ikwang, who pioneered it, explains how militants would signal to ONSA their intention to defect, drop their weapons at pre-arranged sites, and then be taken into custody. The army, with its history of rights abuses, was deliberately kept at arm’s length.

    But the programme is now in the hands of the military, which is trying to coordinate multiple government ministries and agencies with only limited resources. Not only would they seem not to want the portfolio, but also a lack of transparency is threatening what was a potentially groundbreaking initiative to counter violent extremism.

    A year down the road, a legal framework is still to be developed to cover the secret detention sites and indefinite incarceration of prisoners. Operationally, the categories of ex-combatants qualifying for the programme have not been spelt out. Neither has the “reintegration” process been properly explained.

    Moreover, the 12-week period set aside for “deradicalisation” is seen by most analysts as way too short, and no biometric records are being kept to track the former fighters.

    View from Maiduguri

    Another glaring omission has been the failure to consult the communities supposed to receive the ex-combatants. A pilot programme involving a handful of detainees – who had gone through “deradicalisation” in a camp in Gombe, south of Borno – ended badly. At least two of the former militants were killed when they were returned home.

    This should not have come as a surprise. A report in April last year by the international NGO Mercy Corps interviewed former members who had quit the group and independently came home. It described how precarious their life now was.

    “We could wake up in five years and these guys are entrenched. They [could be local government] chairman, be mainstream.” - Ferdinand Ikwang, former ONSA official

    Even if they had not been implicated in killings, they were under constant surveillance by the community, and risked being disappeared by the vigilante Civilian Joint Task Force or the army. Some felt it safer to settle elsewhere.

    The report’s researcher, Ballama Mustafa, remembers one case where the CJTF debated killing a returnee, an early member of Boko Haram before the war started in 2009. Instead, he was taken to the police station, where he signed a statement, and then to the Bulema, the community leader, before whom he swore on the Koran that he meant no harm.

    He was let go. Mustafa explains how local people are often aware of the extent of returnees’ involvement. “We know who was Boko Haram and what they did,” he says.

    But the ex-combatants in the safe corridor programme are a different proposition. These are men who have taken up arms, potentially committed crimes, and could still be Boko Haram.

    Ikwang, the former ONSA official, flags the inherent danger in the programme. “We could wake up in five years and these guys are entrenched. They [could be local government] chairman, be mainstream.”


    Obi Anyadike/IRIN

    Not in my backyard

    After the failure of the Gombe pilot, the Centre for Democracy and Development, a local research NGO, held a “stakeholders’ dialogue” with the community in Maiduguri on the safe corridor initiative.

    The community’s demands at the July 2016 meeting were clear: a minimum 10-year cooling off period before ex-fighters could return; the welfare of the displaced and those affected by the violence had to take precedence; and they wanted a say in the design and implementation of the reintegration effort.

    Eight months later, opinions have scarcely changed. “Prof” Abakyari is one of several community representatives at a workshop in Maiduguri at the end of March run by the Mercy Corps stabilisation programme. Also at the table are religious leaders, state officials, security agencies (with the exception of the army), and a senior member of the CJTF.

    “[Islam talks] about reconciliation, but it’s very difficult.” - Abba Munguno, retired civil servant

    The conversation ricochets between the accountability of the government and people’s individual responsibility for the rise of Boko Haram: “what did you do to stop your child from joining?” is one rhetorical question that silences the room.

    What is clear is the fundamental distrust in the government’s ability to protect its citizens. Boko Haram began as an intolerant grassroots religious movement with influential political patrons. The warning signs of the violence to come were ignored.

    With no faith in the judicial system, few people disagree when Abakyari bluntly says he would take the law into his own hands if he ever met the men who had come to his door that night. “[The emotion generated by this conflict] is not like a switch you can off and on,” he explains.

    Islam is the traditional mechanism for conflict resolution in the north. Religious leaders are expected to take the lead in promoting forgiveness and reconciliation. But despite the platitudes of “leaving judgement to God”, everyone at the workshop understands the reality.

    “Even if you’re very religious, the gravity of these things makes it very hard,” says Abba Munguno, a retired civil servant. “[Islam talks] about reconciliation, but it’s very difficult.”

    Women held captive would be welcome back, people around the table nod. There is grudging acceptance too of children fathered by Boko Haram fighters. And boys who had been coerced to fight might also be forgiven. But it is clear there can be no blanket approach to reintegration in the city.

    “This is a step forward,” says Harriet Atim, manager of the Mercy Corps stabalisation programme. “Last year, if you even mentioned reintegration, people would just get up and walk out of the room.”


    IDP woman from Gwoza
    Obi Anyadike/IRIN

    The victims

    Not a single UN agency or international NGO was based in Maiduguri until a few years ago. Now, every meeting room in the hotel where Mercy Corps is holding its workshop is busy with donor-funded seminars that anticipate a post-conflict peace.

    Adama Umoru wears a torn hijab, dirty wrapper, and has a permanently stunned look on her face. She came from Gwoza a year ago. The town – about 135 kilometres southeast of Maiduguri, on the border with Cameroon – was captured by Boko Haram in 2014 and declared the centre of its caliphate.

    Her husband, a CJTF member, was killed in the attack. The insurgents also shot her father. A man called Abdulahi Abubaker, who sold food-seasoning ingredients in the market, pointed him out to the gunmen. Four months pregnant, Umoru was left to dig her father’s grave.

    In Maiduguri, she looks after her two children by frying akara bean-cake snacks. She is doing better than many displaced people, but can’t make eye contact and seems deeply troubled. At the thought of returning to Gwoza, she becomes unequivocal: “I’m not going back, I buried my father.”


    Dr Fatima Akilu
    Neem Foundation

    People make a community, and the need for healing is the unaddressed challenge of reconciliation, says psychologist Fatima Akilu (photo on right). She favours a truth and reconciliation process as one way to help move a fractured society forward. “People keep telling me: ‘Nobody has allowed me to tell my story until now’.”

    She has sunk her savings into opening the first dedicated child trauma centre in Nigeria, in Maiduguri, and provides counselling services in the community. But Akilu, who set up Nigeria’s deradicalisation programme when she was a director at ONSA, worries about the future.

    “The fundamental reasons for joining Boko Haram are not being addressed: the lack of access to justice, marginalisation… [to name a few],” she says. “The ideology has been seeded.”

    The authorities still seem unprepared. There is no comprehensive early warning system for people to report to; no certainty there will be a security response, or that whistle-blowers will be protected. Imams are not registered, and the northeast remains educationally stunted.

    “We are not good at long-term planning,” says Akilu. “But this insurgency calls for long-term planning, and for us to hold our nerve.”


    * This story was amended on 31 May, altering the number of Boko Haram ex-combatants in government custody


    Boko Haram: Nigeria winning the battle but losing the war?
    Part of a special project exploring violent extremism in Nigeria and the Sahel
  • Drought in Africa 2017

    Farmers, traders and consumers across East and Southern Africa are feeling the impact of consecutive seasons of drought that have scorched harvests and ruined livelihoods.

    The El Niño-driven crisis has increased the malnutrition rates of rural children, and driven up food prices for urban residents. Livestock deaths and fire sales have slashed the asset wealth of pastoralists, and cumulative bad harvests will make recovery all the harder for small-scale farmers.

    In the worst cases, where conflict has made farming impossible and reduced humanitarian access, there will be famine. That currently applies only to South Sudan, but could also include Somalia if the emergency response falters.

    What makes food price spikes all the harder to bear is that there is rarely a corresponding increase in people’s wages. And when the drought is over, prices often stay stubbornly high, note researchers Paul Adams and Edward Paice.

    A number of countries wrestling with the impact of El Niño have still recorded decent macro-economic growth rates, but food price inflation means those benefits are rarely felt by ordinary citizens.

    There are a number of strategies governments could adopt to address the situation: from improving the tradability of food, to coordinated climate change adaptation strategies, to meeting the African Union target of allocating 15 percent of budget spending to agriculture.

    “No miraculous discoveries are required,” suggest Adams and Paice. “But the start point is recognition of the unsustainability of a relentless rise in the cost of food throughout Africa; and the fact that while droughts and conflict may create price spikes, the root causes of this phenomenon lie with government.”

    The following is a list of 17 countries struggling to come to terms with the impact of two consecutive years of drought, which has left more than 38 million people at risk this year.



    At risk: 1.2 million

    The southern regions of Cunene, Huila and Namibe have been hard hit. As granaries empty and people sell off livestock, there are concerns over their ability to bounce back this year. Food prices are high and government services are limited.


    At risk: 3 million

    Poor rains last year, a one-month delay in the harvest, above average food prices, and reduced income from agricultural labour is expected to hurt poor households. But food insecurity – affecting a quarter of the population – is also driven by the country’s economic crisis as a result of ongoing political violence.


    At risk: 227,463

    Djibouti is one of the world’s most arid countries. Some 227,463 people are threatened with food insecurity in the hardest-hit areas of Ali Sabieh, Obock and Dikhil.


    At risk: 450,000+

    Eritrea strictly controls humanitarian access, so the extent of the crisis is difficult to gauge. The government denies there is a problem. But UNICEF has noted that malnutrition has increased over the past three years in four out of the country’s six regions, where rates already exceeded emergency levels. UNICEF plans to reach 450,000 children this year with nutritional support. That is likely to underestimate the extent of the problem.


    At risk: 5.7million

    The strongest El Niño phenomenon on record led to an extreme drought in 2016, with 10.2 million in need of food aid. A new drought means 2017 could be just as dire, throwing an additional 5.7 million people into crisis. Farmers and herders found their resilience tested to the limit last year. They have very limited resources left to cope with the current crisis.


    At risk: 2.6 million

    Widespread crop failure and falling terms of trade for pastoralists have affected farming and agro-pastoral communities in the northwest, northeastern and coastal strip of Kenya. The two main rainy seasons failed in 2016. There are growing reports of conflict as a result of displacement and water shortages. Four million people could be in need of aid by July if the long rains fail.


    At risk: 159,959

    Ninety percent of people in need received in-kind and cash aid. Without the ongoing assistance, Lesotho would be in a food security crisis. With good rains this season, an average harvest is forecast.


    At risk: 978,000

    Maize, cassava and rice production dropped by as much as 95 percent in the south of the country last year. Some 845,000 people are in immediate need. Of those, 330,000 are facing emergency conditions. Countrywide, rice prices were up by 25 percent and maize prices had doubled by the end of January.


    At risk: 6.7 million

    Half of Malawi’s rural population – 6.7 million people – are receiving food aid after two consecutive years of drought. In 2016, food prices were up 172 percent above the five-year average. The harvest this month should ease needs, and food prices are already falling as aid reduces pressure on the markets. But cash crop farmers are expected to see a fall in income this season after reducing the area they planted.


    At risk: 2 million+

    The impact of last month’s cyclone Dineo is expected to add an additional 300,000 to those in need. Drought has exhausted household food stocks, and aid is reaching only 45 percent the vulnerable. Dineo, which hit coastal Inhambane Province, affected nearly 551,000 people and destroyed 27,000 hectares of crops. Food aid and seeds are urgently needed.


    At risk: unknown

    Rwanda did not escape last year’s drought. Media reports said that between 50,000 and 100,000 families suffered severe crop losses, especially in eastern and southern districts.


    At risk: 6.2 million

    Half of all Somalis are facing acute food insecurity. Of these, nearly three million need urgent life-saving aid. The worsening drought has led to widespread water and pasture shortages for livestock. Displacement, malnutrition and drought-related diseases are all on the rise, and famine could be declared in parts of the country. Access is complicated by the al-Shabab insurgency.


    At risk: 4.6 million

    Sudan experiences unpredictable rainfall and desertification. The 2015 El Niño event was particularly severe and continued to be felt in the east of the country in 2016. Food insecurity is also driven by conflict, particularly in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile.


    At risk: 638,000

    The 2016 drought scorched Swaziland, leaving an estimated 638,251 people in need of aid. Basic food prices remain high at the peak of the lean season. The rainfall forecast is for average to above-normal rains, but household productivity is expected to be lower than normal.


    At risk: unknown

    There have been media reports of failed harvests and livestock deaths. In response, a senior government official in the northern Manyara region released emergency food stocks onto the market. The government is resisting calls for a declaration of emergency.


    At risk: 390,000+

    Food stocks are critically low in northeastern Karamoja. Between July and November last year, 390,000 people were at crisis/emergency levels. Of those, only 200,000 were receiving aid. Conditions are also bad around Arua in the northwest. Two consecutive seasons of poor rains have hit production across much of the country. Staple food prices are rising.


    At risk: 4.1 million

    Consecutive El Nino-related droughts has left half the rural population in need of food aid until the end of the lean season in March. The crisis is compounded by low purchasing power, reduced remittances from South Africa and high food prices. There have been good rains over the past two months but there is a national shortage of fertilizer. There has also been an outbreak of the hard-to-control Armyworm pest throughout the country.

    For in-depth reporting on how climate change is affecting farmers and food security in several African countries, see this special IRIN project.


    TOP PHOTO: Sadeh Abdihayi tends to her livestock at a temporary settlement outside Al Bahi kebele, Ethiopia. CREDIT:  ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Nahom Tesfaye

Support our work

Donate now