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Ghanaian president backs regional anti-Boko Haram force

During a visit to Germany, President John Mahama of Ghana has called for an African Union-mandated force to "deal with the menace" of Boko Haram in Nigeria and neighboring countries.

Staatsbesuch Ghanas Präsident Mahama in Berlin

Chancellor Angela Merkel (left) welcoming President John Mahama (right) to Berlin

DW: You are asking the African Union (AU) to organize a multinational force to fight Boko Haram. Why do you think that such a force is necessary?

John Mahama: I think that considering the current activities of Boko Haram it is important for us to deal with it more comprehensively by looking at it collectively, either through a regional force, or through some kind of multinational force. We are going to go to the AU and ask for a discussion on terrorism in Africa with particular reference to Boko Haram and I believe that if the AU gives us the mandate then we will go ahead and set up a regional force to assist Nigeria and Cameroon deal with the menace.

Nigeria's army has been battling Boko Haram for some time. What difference can soldiers from Ghana or other West African countries make? What can they do that Nigerian soldiers can't?

When you deal with terrorist organizations like Boko Haram, they are not like a conventional army that fights under the Geneva Convention and so they are not the easiest opponents to deal with. I do believe that dealing with it collectively is a much better way to go about it, because the threat of Boko Haram goes beyond Nigeria. As you can see currently there are attacks taking place in Cameroon, there have been incidents in Niger and so it is not a Nigerian problem only; it is a regional problem and must be dealt with regionally.

So you are going to deploy the force in different countries where Boko Haram is active and then fight it in those countries?

If the African Union endorses our suggestion, the chiefs of security will come out with an operation plan and identify in which way the regional force will be deployed.

How big should this force be and how many soldiers would Ghana be willing to contribute?

I'm not sure. Often before an operation like this the heads of security - based on the threat level or based on what the task is - are able to determine how many troops will be needed. Off the top of my head - I'm not a soldier - I can't tell how many troops would be needed. But if the African Union endorses it, then the next step would be for the regional heads of security, national heads of security to meet and determine what the structure of the force should be.

You had a meeting with Chancellor Merkel and she said she welcomed the plan, but apart from friendly words what kind of support do you need from Germany and from Europe?

I think the whole world can empathize with Nigeria and countries affected by Boko Haram because of some of the dastardly attacks. You remember the Chibok girls, more than 200 of them abducted; recent attacks in Baga have led to hundreds of deaths; suicide bombings in market places are taking precious lives. And so the whole world is willing to assist. I think the assistance that we will require from our international partners will be more in terms of logistics and equipment and finance. I don't envisage seeing European boots on the ground in northeastern Nigeria. I guess that at a regional level the countries can mobilize enough troops to be able to do the job.

Germany and Europe have always been somewhat reluctant. They've always been sympathizing - as you say - but we haven't seen much support forthcoming. What makes you think that this time round they can really provide the equipment - if you are talking about logistics - airplanes or other means to transport soldiers - or the funds?

Well, we've seen that kind of assistance before coming from Europe in the case of Mali - France committed troops. Aside from that - if I remember correctly - Ghana's contingent in the Mali AFISMA [African-led International Support Mission to Mali] was airlifted by German troop transport planes and so we have a record of that kind of cooperation already, and I'm sure that we can do the same again.

Your plan to set up such a force - does that mean that you no longer believe that negotiations with Boko Haram could achieve anything?

I don't think negotiations have gone anywhere. I know that in the past they have been some attempts to establish a communication link with Boko Haram. The Nigerian government offered an amnesty, they ignored it. There have been attempts through third parties to have a discussion with Boko Haram. I don't think those have been successful. We can't say that we are waiting for negotiations and dialogue while the group continues to kill and abduct people.

But besides military means, what other initiatives are necessary to end the Boko Haram phenomenon?

I think beyond military solutions it is necessary for the Nigerian government and governments in the area to put into operation a plan to integrate people and to give them a setting, a sense of opportunity that they are able to better their lives in their countries. Sometimes it is this sense of hopelessness that creates a perfect breeding ground for terrorists where people believe that their lives are worth nothing, and cannot make any progress in terms of the quality of their lives. Beyond Boko Haram, it would be nicer for us to ensure that the fruits of economic growth are spread across the country so that everybody can benefit.

John Dramani Mahama has been president of Ghana since July 2012.

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