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  • Writer's pictureRed Line Producer

Episode 36. Lake Chad (Boko Haram and the French Foreign Legion)

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Lake Chad has shrunk by almost 90% since 1960, and the 30 million people who rely on the lake for farming, fishing and transport are watching their livelihood disappear. Such a situation is a prime breeding ground for regional terrorism, and outfits including Boko Haram and ISIS in Africa are now capturing big patches of land in Lake Chad Region. France, the US, and their regional partners including neighbouring countries Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, and Chad are trying desperately to avoid the situation spinning out of control.



  • Expert at University of Gdansk

  • Analyst focusing on the geography of terrorism around the Lake Chad Basin.

  • Research Fellow at the French National Science Research Centre (CNRS)

  • African consultant for the International Crisis Group

  • Senior fellow of African Policy at the Council of Foreign Relations.

  • Former US Ambassador to Nigeria and director of the Office of UN political affairs.


Part 1: Shrinking Shores (02:09)

  • Tomasz Rolbiecki breaks down the relationship that the states surrounding Lake Chad have with the lake and with each other.

  • We take a look at the specific issues present in each littoral Lake Chad state; the religious and north/south divides in Nigeria; the dysfunctional economy and government in Chad; the devastating poverty and terrorism hot beds of Niger; and the deep civil divides and conflict in the deserts and jungles of Cameroon

  • The long term consequences of colonialism in the region, including economic, linguistic, cultural, and religious divides are a key aspect of many countries in this region. We take a look at how these have caused civil strife over the past several decades, and what they mean for the functioning of governments.


Part 2: Fighting Terror with Terror (16:19)

  • Vincent Foucher dives deep with us into the nature of terrorism in the region, particularly focusing on Boko Haram.

  • We analyse Nigeria; a country with an enormous GDP, working population and trajectory of growth. How do the divides in the country result in Boko Haram as a social movement, and how does it operate as an organisation? Where is it based out of? Where does its support come from? How does it operate warfare? In what way does it interact with wider Jihadism in Africa, and with extreme Islamist terrorist groups globally such as al-Qaeda and ISIS?

  • The Nigerian army has been battling Boko Haram for decades now, in what has developed into an extraordinarily complex conflict. We look at operational difficulties and break down some specific incidents from recent years, including the kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls in 2014.

  • We also look at the involvement of external actors. ISIS in Africa, the French Legion, US allied forces and other groups like South African mercenaries all have and continue to play various roles in the region and conflict.


Part 3: Colonial Leftovers (37:32)

  • John Campbell brings his decades of diplomatic, geopolitical, and strategic experience and knowledge in the region to help us understand this region, and his view on the prospects for change.

  • We look at the sometimes completely fluid borders between these countries, the extensive history of competition between them that plays a key part in the lack of coordination today and the goals of past and present regional actors, including France, the United States and Muammar Qaddafi's Libya.

  • We look at regional economics; the strength of and reliance on oil industry; the question of weapons manufacturing and tracking the origin of weapons used in terrorism; and the sources of funding that allow Boko Haram to operate.

  • What is the potential for a unification between different terrorist groups in the region, such as we saw with ISIS? What would be the result of French and US withdrawal from the region?


The Red Line's Lake Chad Reading List:

We’ve put together some further reading for those of you looking for more resources to help you get across the geopolitics of Lake Chad.


The Looting Machine

Tom Burgis

Nigeria and the Nation-State

John Campbell

New Architecture of Regional Security in Africa: Perspectives on Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Insurgency in the Lake Chad Basin

Usman A. Tar



For episode transcripts, monthly geopolitics Q&A’s, member-only videos and to support the show, check out our Patreon here:

This episode is dedicated to Patreon member Jud Gardner.


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