Read, Debate: Engage.

Inside Boko Haram’s control of the smoked fish and red pepper trade

August 05th, 2020
topic:Economy
by:Bob Koigi
located in:Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon
tags:Boko Haram, fishery, Lake Chad

With international financial support drying up and revenue streams increasingly dwindling, Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram has over recent years shifted its focus to the lucrative smoked fish and red pepper trade along the Lake Chad Basin in an economic coup that has left the local community who earn a living from the two commodities at the mercy of the terror group.

Before the Boko Haram insurgency, Nigeria’s economy earned an estimated $48 million from the smoked fish and red pepper industries, benefiting more than 300,000 people through direct and indirect employment.

According to a report by the Nigerian media platform HumAngle, the intensification of violence by Boko Haram along the basin that connects Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon drove many locals to Internally Displaced Camps, IDPs, as the extremist group sought to expand its territory.

But a splinter faction of the terror group dubbed Islamic State West Africa Province, ISWAP, which was more attuned to using trade and economy to bolster its influence, enticed the refugees in camps to return to their fishing and trading businesses. Faced with tough conditions at the camps, the refugees obliged.

The militant group has however held a firm grip on operations around the island with the traders being forced to pay taxes to the extremist group which is usually determined by the number of cartons of smoked fish and bags of peppers they sell, the HumAngle report further stated. The majority of the traders are small scale. For each carton of smoked fish purchased, traders have to pay the insurgents $3.

As well as taxes, traders have to pay protection fees and pay to acquire fishing rights. Before the takeover of the basin by Boko Haram, smoked fish and red pepper were a huge source of revenue for the government. Now the levies and taxes are shared between the militia group and the military officers in the event that they (the military) impound the merchandise.

In what points to the insurgents running a parallel government in the basin, payment of taxes and levies guarantees the locals of access to medical services, mediation in case of dispute through an Islamic doctrine of accountability and order (Hisbah) and security for traders when transporting their merchandise from the island to markets in Northern Cameroon and the republic of Niger.

“Data shows a 96 percent decrease in the number of people reporting gaining an income from pepper since the onset of the conflict, and those who continue to work as small pepper farmers can earn only 64 percent of the revenue they used to earn before onset of the Boko Haram conflict; their production has fallen from 50–100 sacks per pepper harvest to 10–50. There is a high level of fear of Boko Haram attacks, looting and extortion in the field, on the road and in their villages, especially at night,” read a 2016 report by Oxfam dubbed ‘A Modified Emergency Market Mapping Analysis (EMMA) and Protection Analysis Smoked fish and dried red pepper income market systems Diffa Region, Eastern Niger’ that captured the impact of the terror group’s incursion in the basin on local livelihoods.

With such a lucrative trade, the militia group has managed to consolidate its financial muscle that it then uses to advance its cause and grow its influence.

“It is a strategy that has become particularly common with insurgent groups especially in Africa from Al Shabaab to Boko Haram. As traditional sources of their revenue including financing and ransom diminish due to governments and international institutions stepping up efforts to weaken their operations, collection of revenues and setting up parallel governments seem to be a plausible alternative for the militant groups first because they have instituted a sense of fear among local communities and traders which has worked. Again by being guaranteed of essential services like healthcare and security by the terror groups, services that haven’t been easily available in their areas, these local communities have learnt to embrace this arrangement,” said Reuben Otondo, a security policy analyst in Nairobi.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
Nigeria Niger Chad Cameroon
Nigeria economy earned an estimated $48 million from the smoked fish and red pepper markets which also benefitted more than 300,000 people through direct and indirect employment.
The militant group has however held a firm grip on operations around the island with the traders being forced to pay taxes to the extremist group.
With such a lucrative trade, the militia group has managed to consolidate its financial muscle that it then uses to advance its cause and grow its influence.