As delegates arrive for the Oslo emergency summit on Northern Nigeria and the Lake Chad region today (23 February), why should people in the EU care about people who live in such a far-off place, writes Jamie Drummond.
Jamie Drummond is executive director of global strategy at ONE Campaign, the advocacy NGO co-created by U2’s Bono.
Morality aside, here’s why: this region is tragically infested by diseases that ravage the body and diseased ideologies that cause people to commit extremist acts of terrorism. Ebola, Zika and Malaria feed on the malnourished; Boko Haram or Islamic State prey on those left vulnerable because they lack basic education or access to opportunity.
You may not be interested in these far-flung afflictions, but they’re interested in you.
That was the profound, powerful and foreboding message delivered by Bono and Bill Gates at the Munich Security Conference last week, which must be carried into this week’s emergency summit.
An insect bite and a Boko Haram bullet may seem unrelated but can have the same deadly consequence in unstable regions of the world.
Borno State, in north-eastern Nigeria, is at the epicentre of these challenges and of the “three extremes” – extreme poverty, extreme climate and extreme ideology.
This trio has destroyed millions of homes, thousands of school, closed clinics, roads and bridges, destroyed farms and caused the displacement of 2.5 million people. The loss of this vital infrastructure and their forced upheaval means they are at risk of starvation.
Before the hell of Boko Haram and the armed resistance against them, decades of neglect and rampant corruption had already impoverished citizens.
Hopelessness, disaffection and frustration gradually increased – especially among young men. There is no better recruitment campaign for violent extremists than impoverished communities and corrupt elites – and so Boko Haram swelled its ranks with young, desperate males.
Weak as it was prior to the extremist’s insurgency, the battle for stability and development was set further back. We can and must reverse the tide.
When in Borno a few months ago I met Amina, a 20-year-old mother of six whose husband has been lost to Boko Haram.
When Amina needs help, who will she turn to? Will it be us, working with local civil society and good actors in government, with our promise of stability, or will we leave it to Boko Haram, with their message of violent extremism? That’s the stark choice facing us.
If Nigeria fails, Africa fails. If Africa fails, will Europe cope?
If Nigeria fails, Africa fails. And if Africa fails, will Europe cope? We’ve seen what happened with Syria’s civil war, and the population of Nigeria and the Sahel is 30 times bigger.
Europe has struggled to cope with the influx of people. But if we don’t act now, for the extremists, there will be no shortage of recruits.
The population of the region will double in the next few decades, and the population of Africa as a whole will double by 2050, from 1.2bn to 2.5bn.
Instead of adding to misery and threatening stability, this population boom should however, be an opportunity for the region and the world.
Economists call it a demographic dividend – accelerated economic growth because there is a bigger proportion of the population of working age available to contribute to the growth of the economy.
To cash in the on the dividend, however, the must be investments in education, employment and empowerment. Right now in regions like north-eastern Nigeria, these are lacking: millions of children are out of school, the majority of them girls.
Educating Amina’s children will not only provide them with life-long opportunities but protect them from the likes of Boko Haram. Getting them to school will send a signal of the global intent to defeat terror. After all, translated, Boko Haram means “western education is forbidden”.
But education alone is not enough. It must be accompanied by employment opportunities and empowerment of citizens. It will need business, government and civic coordination with an accountable security sector.
The private sector must be incentivised to invest in infrastructure. Basic health and nutrition services which citizens urgently need must be improved. Importantly, local civil society organisations must be supported so they can hold to account those who promise these improvements.
We must boost anti-corruption laws, like those which demand information on ownership of currently anonymous shell companies and trusts be made publicly available.
This will help excellent local and global anti-corruption campaigners “follow the money” through the system to ensure our aid and locally raised taxes actually provide lifesaving health, nutrition and education services.
All of this will cost. But it will cost tens of billions more, and millions of lives lost, and increased global security threats, not to make these investments. So in Oslo delegates must throw their weight behind funding a compact to answer the short term humanitarian need and long term development. If the Lake Chad region is denied these funds, the world will have to deal with a far worse humanitarian tragedy and security risk than we witness today.
Amina lives on humanity’s frontline against inhumanity. We must partner with her to raise her kids, or accept that the frontline will move ever closer to us, whether you live in Brussels or Lagos.