As millions suffer from hunger, disease, illiteracy and grinding poverty in the Lake Chad region of West Africa, a sinister game of resource extraction and exploitation is playing out, with geopolitics at the heart of it all.
by Eric Draitser
In late February 2017, Norway hosted an international humanitarian conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad region in hopes of attracting major donors to fund relief work. As Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Børge Brende explained, “The conference has three aims: to raise awareness about the crisis, to gain more support for humanitarian efforts, and to secure greater political commitment to improve the situation.”
Brende’s concern for the region may be laudable. But no serious examination of the crisis in West Africa can ignore the political and strategic calculus that surrounds the region. As with all conflicts in Africa, questions about resource extraction and neocolonial exploitation abound, with corrupt governments in the region (and their backers in wealthy countries) making the discussion all the more uncomfortable for the most privileged members of global society.
A real discussion of the issue would highlight the questionable connections between regional governments and the development of Boko Haram, the Nigerian terror group that is responsible for much of the havoc being wreaked in the region. It would note the vast energy deposits beneath Lake Chad that evoke an almost Pavlovian response from the leaders of surrounding countries, blinded by the dollar signs in their eyes. It would point out the moves that former colonial powers in Europe are making within the region to enrich themselves and expand their military presence, as well as increase their influence and political power.
In short, the humanitarian crisis around Lake Chad is a symptom of a much larger sickness afflicting the region. We must diagnose the illness in order to treat it, not simply observe its side effects and call for more drugs.
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