Jörg Kühnel, Deputy Country Director of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Nigeria, vividly remembers May 9 2018. That was when the first Governors’ Forum was held in Maiduguri, a former stronghold of the Boko Haram terrorist militia in the northeastern part of the country. The idea behind the meeting, which was organised by the UNDP, was to gather all the region’s political actors together around the table and create an opportunity for dialogue. “It was a really big deal, the first conference of this kind ever in the region,” says the German.
The meeting was special for several reasons. In total, four countries were represented – not only Nigeria, but also Cameroon, Niger and Chad – all of them neighbours of one of the world’s politically most fragile regions: the Lake Chad Basin. In addition, high-ranking representatives of the international community travelled to and accompanied the Forum – and they did so despite the tense security situation. “We wanted to send a strong political signal and show that our support for the region is very serious,” says Kühnel.
The Governors’ Forum, which is to be held annually from now on, is part of a broadly based UNDP stabilisation project in the Lake Chad Basin that the Federal Foreign Office has been supporting since October 2017. The project aims to contribute to conflict resolution and promote peace. “The fact that we need to approach humanitarian assistance, peacebuilding and development together was already discussed in theory at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016. This then was a case of putting it into practice,” explains Kühnel.
Stability on the path to peace
In addition to the development of regional political forums, the UNDP project is also implementing measures to secure basic services in communities in northeastern Nigeria and for the resocialisation of former Boko Haram fighters. “All that is extremely ambitious, but in our opinion it is crucial if we want to help the region back on its feet again in the medium and long term,” says Kühnel. It is all about giving people back a feeling of security and control. Above all, the project wants to reach out to the young people who due to a lack of prospects joined one of the many armed groups – whether Boko Haram or one of the citizens’ militias – that formed in the course of the conflict. We spent six months just going from community to community asking people: “What needs to happen for you to be able to take the former perpetrators back into your area?”
The situation in the Lake Chad Basin is complex. The struggle against the Boko Haram terrorist group has cost the lives of at least 25,000 civilians since 2009, over two million people have been forced to leave their homes and roughly 3.6 million are threatened by acute hunger. Furthermore, a rapidly increasing population is leading to a lack of resources.
Kühnel stresses that the Federal Foreign Office’s early readiness to provide a conceptual stimulus and develop a programme clearly linked to a political idea was a decisive factor in stabilisation work in the country. “During the pilot phase at the beginning of 2017 we ascertained we couldn’t do this alone, so we began discussions with several partners. In a crisis-ridden region with such serious humanitarian needs, many people doubted whether the basic preconditions existed that would enable politically oriented project work to have a positive impact on the development of the Lake Chad countries. The Federal Foreign Office took the bull by the horns and immediately launched the political process.”
A foreign policy toolkit
Feedback of this kind is positive confirmation for Ekkehard Brose that the international efforts of the Federal Foreign Office in this field are moving in the right direction. Brose is Special Envoy for Crisis Prevention and Stabilisation at the Directorate-General for Crisis Prevention, Stabilisation, Post-Conflict Peacebuilding and Humanitarian Assistance, a new department in the Federal Foreign Office that was only founded in 2015. “There was an ambition to redefine foreign policy engagement in crisis regions,” says Brose. “A modern foreign policy means more today than just traditional diplomacy. It is important, especially during crises, to underpin political goals with tailor-made instruments – for example, promoting the rule of law, mediation, reforming the security sector or coming to terms with the past. The idea of a ‘foreign policy toolkit’ was conceived here; we pooled personnel, funds and competencies for that purpose,” explains Brose. During crises, politics requires a networked approach: diplomatic, development policy and security policy measures must be applied in a flexible and coordinated way as needed.
First of all, an examination of the concept of stability itself was crucial. Past experience – above all, in Afghanistan and Iraq – was a decisive factor for the Federal Foreign Office; Brose himself was active in Iraq as Ambassador from 2014 to 2016. “We had already worked closely with the UNDP there, which certainly also contributed to our cooperation in the Lake Chad Basin working so well from the very start.” Stabilisation, according to the Federal Government guidelines adopted by the Cabinet in October 2017, is an approach to dealing with violent conflicts that relies on a political process of conflict resolution.
Another example of Germany’s redefined engagement in the process of stabilisation is its collaboration with the UK non-governmental organisation Conciliation Resources (CR). Like the UNDP, CR also works on peacebuilding measures in northeastern Nigeria. For several years now, the organisation has been developing so-called Youth Peace Platforms (YPPs) to reach those who their analysis shows are at the centre of the conflict: young people. “If you want to achieve effective crisis prevention in the region, you need to support young people,” explains Janet Adama Mohammed, West Africa Programme Director at CR. “They are the people who suffer most.”
Crisis prevention in Nigeria
The YPPs are meeting places for young people where they first find refuge and then, in a second step, support in giving structure and perspective to their everyday lives. “One of the core problems in the Lake Chad Basin is the failure of government structures,” says Mohammed. “We think it is absolutely crucial that long-term conflict prevention should give people a feeling for the rule of law and political participation.” The Federal Foreign Office supports this and similar forms of dialogue as part of its stabilisation approach so that the advantages of living together in peace quickly become visible to the population as a so-called peace dividend.
The Federal Foreign Office does not only support projects of this kind financially; it also arranges multilateral coordination and the pooling of resources at international conferences. The High-Level Conference on the Lake Chad Region brought important actors together around the table in Berlin in autumn 2018.
Climate and security
Extreme weather events and other climate impacts can threaten stability and peace. The fact that anthropogenic climate change is not only an environmental problem, but also one of the main threats to security in the 21st century is clearly visible in the Lake Chad region. Extreme weather events are occurring more frequently and with greater intensity and, as a result, are increasingly damaging the basis of life for the people in the affected regions. Uncertainties about when to expect periods of rain and drought are increasing the already enormous pressures on populations to adjust.
Up to 90 percent of the people in the Lake Chad region live from agriculture, fishing and animal husbandry. The military conflict with Boko Haram massively restricts access to fertile land. “If this situation is exacerbated by uncertainty about rainy seasons and harvesting times, it becomes too much for people,” says Janani Vivekananda. She is Project Manager at adelphi, the Berlin-based think tank with which the Federal Foreign Office is investigating the effects of climate change in the Lake Chad Basin. Climate-fragility risks are being identified and possible action outlined as part of the Lake Chad Risk Assessment Project, which will run until 2020. In addition to this, at the international level, Germany is using its voice on the United Nations Security Council in 2019/2020, among other things, to raise awareness of the security policy consequences of climate change at the United Nations and strengthen the possibilities for action.
Mine clearance in many countries
The redefinition of crisis management has given German foreign policy action greater credibility. At the same time, the reach of Federal Foreign Office involvement has increased. “Our commitment to the clearance of mines and booby traps in Iraq is a good example of this,” says Ekkehard Brose. This is much more than a humanitarian act: “It is about stabilisation with a clearly defined goal: helping the Iraqi government.”
Germany is supporting a dozen or so organisations in several countries that are working to ensure that life can go on when combat operations end and that displaced persons can return to their homes. When it comes to the clearance of mines and military ordnance, Germany was the second largest donor in 2017.
The Federal Foreign Office is supporting the HALO Trust in Ukraine. The European country is now one of the world’s most contaminated states when it comes to mines and military ordnance residues. In the areas of Iraq that have been liberated from IS, Germany is supporting a number of organisations, including the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and Handicap International e.V. IS left behind extremely contaminated cities here. In Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul, booby trap bombs were even found in refrigerators, toys and light switches as well as on doorsteps. Handicap International especially concentrates on removing these homemade explosive devices. “Large sections of the internally displaced population in Iraq have meanwhile been able to return to their home towns. That wouldn’t have been possible without mine clearance programmes,” emphasises Brose.
Humanitarian assistance in the Middle East
Nevertheless, Germany continues to attach as much importance to humanitarian assistance, which has been a responsibility of the Federal Foreign Office for over 50 years, as it does to establishing the concept of stability in crisis management. “Humanitarian assistance is fundamentally different from stabilisation. It involves meeting people’s concrete needs – with complete impartiality and without pursuing political goals,” emphasises Brose.
Accordingly, Germany is especially active at present in the neighbouring countries of Syria, which are now close to breaking point after taking in large numbers of refugees from the civil war country. In Lebanon, for example, the aid organisation Malteser International has set up a project with financial support from the Federal Foreign Office that provides mobile medical care to the population. For several years now, converted touring buses travel to doctors’ practices in villages where healthcare is most urgently needed. Janine Lietmeyer, Head of Regional Group Middle East at Malteser International, is one of the project managers. She emphasises: “Although we have been active in the Syria crisis region for such a long time, what we do is still essentially saving lives, therefore humanitarian in the traditional sense.”
Thomas Rottland, who is responsible for CARE Deutschland programmes in Jordan, considers it important not only to meet people’s basic needs, but also to protect the particularly vulnerable, such as children or women who have to bring up their children alone. The idea here is to provide the vast majority of Syrian refugees with targeted information on further support opportunities, psychosocial help and cash grants for children’s school attendance. Incidentally, contrary to the public perception, they do not live largely in camps, but are distributed relatively widely in urban areas.
Michael Frischmuth of Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe has a similar view. He coordinates a food security project for Syrian refugees in Lebanon that Germany is supporting. “When we talk about humanitarian assistance this long ago stopped meaning just distributing aid packages.” Above all, that is because crises are becoming increasingly complex. “We want to put people back in a position to provide for themselves.”
Like CARE, the Diakonie project in Jordan also focuses on people who are not based in the large camps; they often live in urban areas, in improvised shelters or illegally in fields. “We offer mobile kitchens and also provide food that refugees can use to produce meals. As a result, people gain an opportunity to earn a small income and at the same time meet their own food needs.”
Asked to identify the core of German crisis management, Ekkehard Brose says it lies in the concept of responsibility. “It is part of our international responsibility to apply modern crisis management to contribute towards the settlement of conflicts and prevent further conflicts while simultaneously providing humanitarian assistance to those who are not yet able to help themselves and are not receiving help from others. This requires the cooperation of the most diverse forces and actors in a multilateral approach. That is the only way we can effectively address the challenges.”