By Morenike Taire
The West African sub region has fared poorly in the last twenty to twenty five years, with regards to infrastructure, social structure and the economy. Worse still, the region- like much of Africa- has also suffered unprecedented unrest and fully fledged warfare in many cases. Nigeria had been one of the lucky countries.
In Liberia and Sierra-Leone, politically fawned insurgency had given birth to a surreal but rabid insurrection, not only killing progress in the course of at least a decade but actively taking those countries and the entire region decades back in terms of infrastructure and social structure. It had taken the effort of Sani Abacha’s The Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group, ECOMOG, forces to finally quell that fire for good. We will return to this.
Trouble in the West African sub region has not been limited to these two countries however, and Nigeria has become the newcomer to the class of troubled West African nations. Our incredible amount of diversity which we often point to as being the cause of our troubles might well be the only reason why the country has not disintegrated into total chaos. It gets worse daily.
While we continue to attempt to grapple the slippery essence of the Boko Haram insurgency in Borno, Adamawa and now Yobe, pastoral conflict has consumed the better parts of Taraba and Benue, as well as parts of Cross Rivers. Last month, there was a security report that separatist groups in Nigeria’s neighbour, the Republic of Cameroon, had declared war in their push for an independent country. This declaration, not by the official separatist group, is the result of growing frustration with what people in the region see as Yaounde’s attempts to wipe them out.
Until a few years ago, Cameroon seemed like an oasis of calm in a region buffeted by storms of violent insurgencies; the proliferation of small arms; increasing ethnic division; and crushing poverty. It had not experienced any major challenges to its external sovereignty and internal cohesiveness, and the regime of Paul Biya, while imperfect, added a veneer of certainty and predictability in the Sahel region of West and Central Africa that was an Illusion.
This has clear security implications for Nigeria and the region.
Nigeria’s longest international border is with Cameroon at 1,975km. This essentially means that, at every point along the Nigeria-Cameroon border, there is a proliferation of arms and ammunition, trained fighters and complicated violent clashes. This is a cauldron of gunpowder not only for the two countries with a combined population of over 225 million, but for the whole region.
In the south, militancy continues to hold sway, despite immense efforts and resources expended.
Come March 7, the gentle country of Sierra Leone will vote for another leader. Despite their abundant natural resources and far more than 10 years after their insurrection, the country is deemed the most dangerous country in the world to be a young person (defined as aged between 15 and 29), with one youth in every 150 there estimated to have died in 2015. Its youth mortality rate per 100,000 (671) is almost 100 people higher than the next country on the list, war-torn Syria (579).
Nigeria, 25 times the population of Sierra Leone, pales in comparison in terms of numbers of casualties in violent clashes, attacks and other situations.
As though this were not bad enough, the tiny country has had more than her fair share of natural misfortunes and disasters in the past five years. The Ebola scourge, which was quickly contained, handled and eradicated in Nigeria; killed thousands upon thousands in Sierra Leone. Last year’s mudslide killed off those who survived Ebola. Those who remain, hunger is threatening to finish off.
Neighbouring Liberia only recently installed legendary footballer George Weah as her second post-war president. The entire affair was mostly peaceful, and Nigeria’s role has been commended internationally.
The economic impact of all the trouble cannot be overemphasized.
The regional economy has been severely affected in Cameroon. Big corporates with significant interests in the region are reporting reduced profits; councils are unable to realise budgeted revenue; most development projects have stopped; and government officials are unable to collect taxes and levies.
The wider economic impact on the trickling cross border trade has been significant. With its market of almost 170 million consumers, Nigeria is Cameroon’s largest trading partner (22% and 17.8% of imports in 2011 and 2012 respectively), with whom trade exchanges total on average FCFA382 billion (¦ 217 billion) a year according to the Cameroonian Ministry of Commerce; not including the robust informal trade linkages on both sides of the almost 2000km border shared by both countries.
Cameroon will also hold local council, parliamentary and presidential elections in 2018. It appears that the outcome of the coming elections will hold a huge significance in the outcome of the calls for independence in the Ambazonia region. All these polls and the Libera success have brought an incredible amount of hope to the region.
The big brother role played by ECOMOG in the 90s has given rise to the big brother role that has been thrust upon us where these countries are concerned now. But the role should not be thrust upon us. By now, Africa- specifically West Africa, should be able to run its own affairs. It should begin with us putting our ‘big brother’ affairs in order.