Chadian Oil and Instability in the Lake Chad Basin
Significant oil reserves have been discovered in the Lake Chad Basin, a vast, semi-arid and desert area at the heart of the Sahel, surrounding Lake Chad. It is estimated that oil fields in the regions around the Lake, including northern Cameroon, north-eastern Nigeria, southern Niger and western Chad, may contain up to 2.32 billion barrels of oil and 14.65 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. However, a raft of challenges face companies and governments seeking to commercially explore and produce in the Basin.
The instability caused by Nigerian militant group Boko Haram’s ongoing insurgency has the potential to threaten oil operations already underway in Chad, Niger and Cameroon and is preventing Nigeria from beginning oil exploration at all. Despite the Chadian military being one of the largest and well-equipped armies in the region, defence forces in neighbouring countries are not as strong and have so far proved unable to quash the militants. Since August 2014, for the first time in the group’s history, Boko Haram has begun seizing and retaining territory and there are fears that the wider Lake Chad region — plagued by lawlessness, porous borders and ambitious local Islamists — may be under threat as the group strives to expand its base beyond their current stronghold south-west of the Lake.
The Boko Haram Insurgency
Created in 2002 in Borno State, north-eastern Nigeria, bordering Lake Chad, Boko Haram is seeking the establishment of an Islamic state in Nigeria and across neighbouring parts of West Africa. Indiscriminate in their targeting of all opponents, including Christian or ‘western’ institutions and individuals and Muslims opposed to the insurgency, Boko Haram has recently dramatically changed its modus operandi, with the group now focused on direct, sustained battles and the capture of towns and exposed rural areas in north-eastern Nigeria and northern Cameroon. Recent advances have given the militants two clusters of territory which form a strategic crescent around the Borno State capital Maiduguri, a swathe of land along the south-western shore of Lake Chad, a number of towns in Yobe and Adamawa in Nigeria and along the unmanned Cameroonian border, and Fokotol and surrounding areas in northern Cameroon.
While the group has not captured any territory in Chad to date, it is believed the Chadian side of the Lake is being used as a safe haven of sorts for Boko Haram, with a number of the group’s key commanders living in and operating from Chad, and a cluster of strategic camps located across the Chadian border. Some of the 234 schoolgirls kidnapped from Chibok in Nigeria in April are understood to be being held in Chad and there are believed to be a number of critical arms trafficking routes into and out of Chad, facilitating the provision of weapons for the group. Boko Haram is also believed to contain a large number of Chadian fighters, with kidnappings and recruitment drives ongoing in the vulnerable Lac and Hadjer-Lamis States. Historically, local residents surrounding Lake Chad share ethnic and religious links with neighbouring communities, irrespective of national boundaries, with many being from the same Kanuri ethnic group from which Boko Haram draws many of its fighters. The lake has shrunk by over 90 per cent in the past 50 years, leaving many communities, for whom the lake is their lifeline, poverty stricken as national governments fail to address deep socio-economic imbalances. It is this sort of environment in which Boko Haram, adept at exploiting state weakness, disenfranchised populations, security gaps and religiously charged political divisions, can thrive.
Despite these socio-economic issues rendering the population vulnerable to infiltration by insurgents, Chadian President Idriss Deby is known to have fostered a comparatively strong and cordial relationship with Boko Haram, which has led to him being at the centre of recently reported negotiations between the group and the Nigerian Government. Chad is also understood to be benefitting from the delayed commercial exploration of oil on the Nigerian side of Lake Chad, as it taps oil from shared underground reserves irrespective of geographical sovereignty. It is reported that a number of prominent Nigerian and Chadian politicians have personal business interests the Chadian oil industry and consequently have a vested interest in ensuring the Boko Haram militancy continues to destabilise north-eastern Nigeria and prevent Nigerian commercial oil production. There is the possibility therefore, that Boko Haram may be benefitting from high-level financial sponsorship from political figures either side of the border, with… Read full: http://blog.edinburghint.com/chadian-oil-and-instability-in-the-lake-chad-basin/