Shoring up stability: Germany’s initiatives to promote peace in the Lake Chad region

Shoring up stability: Germany’s initiatives to promote peace in the Lake Chad region

November 26th, 2019
Kristin Leckström, Giulia Russo Wälti, Ismini Venetatou Berlin Global, News from Berlin

An interview with Susanne Wolfmaier, one of the organizers of the conference at the International Club, discussing Adelphi’s projects and using cultural diplomacy as a tool for development.


On the 30th October, Berlin-based think tank Adelphi presented a new study entitled ‘‘Shoring up stability: addressing climate and fragility risks in the Lake Chad region’’. Berlin Global joined the launch event at the International Club of the German Federal Foreign Office, and had the opportunity to have a discussion with Susanne Wolfmaier, project manager at Adelphi. 


The report is the result of a two-year research project conducted by Adelphi and funded by the German Federal Foreign Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. The Lake Chad region, with a population of more than 17.4 million people, covers parts of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad. It has been historically a place for commercial exchange and prosperity, despite being affected by the arid climate of the Sahel. Since 2009, the violent conflict between state security forces and transnational armed opposition groups has affected the well-being of the civil population. Climate change has also impacted the population. Around 2.5 million local people are currently displaced due to the ongoing conflict. For this reason, adelphi’s study Shoring up Stability offers an evidence-based approach to understanding the effects of both conflict and climate factors in this humanitarian disaster, proposing pragmatic solutions to the peacemaking efforts after identifying the risks. 


What are Adelphi's initiatives regarding the situation in the Lake Chad region?

The Lake Chad Fragility Assessment is our main project in the Lake Chad region and has now been running for two years since the end of 2017. The report presented today is the outcome of the whole project. Our local research team conducted field visits to Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Chad over the last two years. It was important to us to really focus on communities and people in in the Lake Chad region who are living in the areas affected by the conflict. It is one of the largest humanitarian crisis globally and initiatives are often a lot about military solutions and approaches, but we want to emphasize how the people are affected by the links of climate and conflict, and how military responses can address these links in a climate- and conflict sensitive way. Therefore, we would like the results to inform policymaking and programming in the region, and also of course donor governments, such as Germany.


How could Adelphi’s field projects promote a more peaceful environment throughout the region?

We received a lot of very positive responses for the study and I think it also fits into a need for locally informed information and research. We hope that the assessment on Lake Chad and the methodology can also be fed into more peace-building and climate change adaptation programmes, because the study on Lake Chad was the first climate fragility assessment of a specific region, and we really would like to to advise policies, development programs and humanitarian action to assess climate and fragility risks as a basis for their interventions.


How has the relationship between Germany and the countries in the Lake Chad region developed during the project? And what is the plan ahead?


The Federal Foreign Office of Germany has been supporting the Lake Chad Region since 2017 and cooperates with the United Nations Development Program, which has recently activated a stabilization fund: the Regional Stabilization Facility for Lake Chad. Germany is supporting the region to fight against the crises with a further 40 million dollars this year. Germany and other donor governments fund many initiatives in the region, but it is really important that the funded programs and actions are climate- and conflict-sensitive. We call for new approaches to better link humanitarian and development measures and to cross sectoral barriers, which poses issues. Military counter-terror measures are the focus in the region, but government initiatives should also look at the links between climate, conflict and military actions; to sensitize military and soldiers about the impact of climate on the conflict, and how initiatives might harm the population. For example, in the region, there were trade barriers initiated by the governments to avoid movement of armed opposition groups, such as Boko Haram, across borders. The consequence is that the population can no longer trade in the region. This harms and undermines livelihoods, and in a way, it may force the population to join armed opposition groups as the only source of income they have. To sum up, we highlight the importance of climate- and conflict-sensitive military actions which have the support of the local population.



What is the role of the German government, and also the governments of Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger and Chad, into the organization of the conference?


The Lake Chad Risk Assessment Project is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. We organized today's launch event together with the German Federal Foreign Office and we are hosted here today at the International Club of the German Federal Foreign Office. We also cooperate closely with the governments of the Lake Chad countries.  The Ambassador of Niger, H.E. Issiakou Souleymane  gave the closing remarks today and last week we organized the Launch Event of Adelphi’s study ‘’Shoring Up Stability’’ in Niamey, Niger, in collaboration with the German Embassy in Niger and the Institute for Security Studies of Niger, the leading Nigerien institution for security.  


What are the opportunities for local communities in the countries that arise from projects funded by state actors such as the German government, regarding sustainable development, climate change action and so on?


The findings of „Shoring up Stability” aim to inform policymakers in the region and donor government about how to address the links between climate and fragility in the Lake Chad region. Research for the study shows that integration of these recommendations into policies and programmes and implemented on the ground could contribute to improved livelihoods for the population and stabilize the overall situation in the region.


During the panel discussion, they brought up the point about rebuilding or repairing social bonds within and between the communities, countries and different ethnic and religious groups. Cultural diplomacy is concerned with how cultural activities can promote sustainable development. What do you think are the opportunities to create socio-cultural cohesion?


Thank you for mentioning this. I think it is an important entry point with a lot of potential. As you heard, for example, Taïgué Ahmed has a social dance project in Chad. He uses this to sensitize people and make them aware that in situations of displacement, it may take a while until the population can return to their place of origin and sometimes, they may never return. The project aims at providing them with some means of adjustment to the situation through dance. Cultural activities like dance can be a powerful tool to create interactions among the population, and encourage a type of communication often not within the reach of policy makers or development actors.



Final remarks 


The discussion during the event focused not only on climate change and its effects in the Lake Chad region, but also on finding solutions for addressing the humanitarian crisis and to promote peaceful development in the region. Soft power can be used as an alternative approach in order to achieve humanitarian stabilization rather than the military enforcement. The promotion of cultural diplomacy could possibly help to achieve the desired improvement of the situation in the Lake Chad region. It is also possible to move beyond the scope of this particular case and explore how inter- and intracultural dialogue can be a tool to achieve social-cultural cohesion in conflict-ridden regions. 


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