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Space of refuge, space of war: reshaping territorial order in the Lake Chad area

Espaces-refuge, espaces de guerre : la reconfiguration de l’ordre territorial dans la région du lac Tchad
Alessio Iocchi
p. 17-30


The purpose of this contribution is to frame the role and significance of borders and national space in the Lake Chad area in the wake of the expansion of the so-called “Boko Haram” insurgency. Since 2011, the forced repositioning of entire communities in neighboring states, the spread of refugee camps and the coordinated military effort conducted by the Multi-National Joint Task Force (a transnational army created by Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Benin) have led to a re-think in the relationship between mobility and territory, violent conflicts, and political entrepreneurship. Renewed political attention has mostly translated into a massive military-coordinated operation and in a series of emergency and development measures, which in turn have supplied the area with the basic social services that have traditionally been neglected by the central government. The gradual process of securing, militarizing, and policing the area is testing the resistance of communities that have already endured cycles of economic and political marginalization, while increasing violence from “Boko Haram” and its affiliates is further destabilizing a weakened social balance. This work aims to study how terrorist violence and the militarization of public life in the region have reshaped the relationship between communities and their territory, while offering reasoning on concepts of territoriality, governmentality, and social identity.

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The hoarding dynamic and the Boko Haram regime
A Space of Refuge, a Space of War

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During 2016, weakened by factional struggles among various leading figures from its Shura and worn down by the attention of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), Jamā’at Ahl al-Sunna li’l-Dawa wa’l-Jihād has fatally lost its grip over large portions of the rural areas it once controlled. Arrests by Nigerian, Chadian, and Cameroonian police diminished the group's ambitions to “remain and expand” while almost simultaneously, al-Dawla al-Islāmiyya (The Islamic State Organization) began to decline in Syria and Iraq. Today, though virtually defeated according to the propaganda-style statements by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Boko Haram is still able to move freely and operate in two small fiefdoms in the Mandara Mountains and Waza National Park (on the Cameroon-Nigeria border), while a plethora of “affiliated” groups has spread all across the Lake Chad area, provoking one of the fastest and largest population mass movements the zone has ever known, despite its long history...

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Electronic reference

Alessio Iocchi, « Space of refuge, space of war: reshaping territorial order in the Lake Chad area », Égypte/Monde arabe,Troisième série, 18 | 2018, Online since 15 June 2020, connection on 16 June 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/ema.3904

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About the author

Alessio Iocchi

ALESSIO IOCCHI is completing a Ph.D. at the Department of Asian, African and Mediterranean Studies of University of Naples “L’Orientale”. His dissertation, entitled “Fear and Floating. The Political Economy of the «Boko Haram» Conflict in the Lake Chad Basin”, investigates the impact of extra-legal economies (informal small-scale trans-border trade, smuggling, trafficking) on the security, development and political dynamics of the wider Lake Chad Basin, specifically with regard to the Nigerian and Chadian sides.

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