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Can Theatrical Performances aid Conflict Management in the Lake Chad Basin Region?

Since the end of colonialism in the 1960s, concern has grown about persistent violent conflict in post-colonial Africa. Conflict management and resolution has become a major and dominant governance issue in most areas of the continent. Many conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa seem difficult to resolve and are primarily resource-related. Scholars and policymakers have warned against conflict over shared water, pointing out that physical, political, economic, and social differences between countries that share a lake or river may lead to hostile relations between the riparian states.

Conflict management and resolution initiatives in this regard have not yet yielded the required results, and when the results are positive, they tend to ensure short-term peace and provide little basis for a return to order as well as lasting peace. The main problems here are the institutional incapacity to deal with the challenges of resource scarcity, a thorough understanding of the conflict, and the existence of an alternative means or instrument to deal with the challenges of conflict as it occurs. For example, in the Lake Chad Basin area, the Lake Chad Basin Committee (LCBC) was established in 1964 by the heads of government of the four riparian countries - Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria - as a body responsible, among other things, for examining claims and promoting dispute settlement among Member States. But due to certain institutional challenges, its ability to perform this function has been unduly compromised. In addition, the recent emergence of insurgents in parts of the Republic of Niger and the Republic of Chad as well as the activities of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria have made the Lake Chad basin area potentially unstable with the increased risk of armed conflict.

In view of this, this article will propose theatre as an alternative tool for conflict management in the Lake Chad Basin area. Before getting to the heart of the matter, we will first look at the nature of the conflict and how to manage it in the region, assessing the role of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) as well as theatre's effectiveness in conflict resolution.

Fig. 1: Map showing the Lake Chad Basin Region (LCBC, 2018)

Nature of Conflicts in the Lake Chad Basin Region

Conflict is viewed as a related feature of human interactions that cannot be completely eliminated. According to Ogu-Rapheal (2014), conflict can occur as a phenomenon on an interpersonal and interpersonal level. It can also be expressed at a collective, local, state or national level and can take on an international dimension when it takes place between two or more countries.

Sawyer (2004) commented that contemporary conflicts in African societies are often classified as ethnic conflicts. Such a classification is based on the fact that ethnic factors are often mobilised as conflicting resources in zero-sum policies associated with highly centralised, autocratic, and exploitative regimes. Sawyer (2004) explains further that ethnic loyalty can claim superiority over other forms of collective loyalty and that the protagonists of a conflict can more easily resort to ethnic unity. Furthermore, marginalised conditions or persistent fear of assimilation can increase ethnic divides, and appeal to ethnic sentiment that can prove to be a powerful tool in conflict. As important as ethnicity is to conflict, empirical evidence suggests that ethnicity itself is not a source of violent conflict but can be used as an instrument of conflict (Lake and Rothchild, 1998). However, this does not rule out the existence of purely ethnic conflicts as African societies are rife with conflicts between ethnic and cultural groups, herders and agrarian communities. While they may not have led to systemic collapse and catastrophic violence that engulfs entire nations or regions; these conflicts are sometimes exacerbated by the failure of governmental mechanisms involved in conflict resolution (Sawyer, 2004).

Another category into which conflict in post-colonial Africa falls is what Bächler and Spillman (1996, p. 334) call "environmentally-induced conflict". This has been defined as “violent or nonviolent contradiction between actors competing for scarce natural resources caused by human interference” (Bächler and Spillman 1996, p. 334). Homer-Dixon (2010, p.178) describes the cause of environmentally-induced conflict as:

Adverse environmental changes have effects on humans and societies. As developing economies largely rely on natural resources for their economic productivity, damage to the environment can severely constrain agriculture, lead to hunger and poverty and negatively affect the whole economy. Thus, people depending on the natural resources for their livelihood are forced to migrate. Moreover, environmental scarcity can strengthen ethnic, class or religious group identities, thus enforcing social segmentation, which reduces social trust and useful intergroup relations. The effects of environmental degradation increase furthermore the demands on the state, but simultaneously decrease state tax revenues. Consequently, a state's administrative capacity can be constrained, which can cause legitimacy gaps, thus weakening the state. A weakened state, in turn, faces increased vulnerability to insurgencies, ethnic clashes and Coup d'etats. Declined economic production can also lead to deprivation conflicts such as upstream-downstream riparian conflicts. In addition, migrating groups can trigger conflicts in the new areas they moved to.

Fig. 2: Map showing the evolution of Lake Chad (LCBC, 2012)

As such, environmental degradation produces negative socioeconomic impacts which, in turn, can lead to conflict, but not necessarily. Whether or not conflict occurs depends on the political, social and economic factors that exacerbate the conflict (Homer-Dixon, 2010). Homer-Dixon (2010) also points out that because environmental factors are related to political, social and economic contexts, conflicts caused by the environment can also be seen as ethnic, political or economical and argues that the fact that the environment being the source of various social tensions should not be underestimated.

In the region, Lake Chad is one of the largest freshwater lakes in Africa. Although levels have increased slightly recently, a clear contraction of the lake has been observed from a long-term perspective (Krings, 2004). During the same review period, Odada, Oyebande & Oguntola (2005, p. 82) observed that "the lake's water has receded more than 150 km from the north and east shores, and more than 80 km from the west shores". Odada, Oyebande & Oguntola (2005, p.83) further explain that "annual monsoon rains have historically filled the lake with water, but back-to-back droughts in the 1970s and 1980s and missing rains led to the desertification of the region with the Sahara Desert moving more than 100 km south“. Furthermore, Odada et al (2005) confirms that since households around Lake Chad lost their economic base, migration was observed. It is certain that migration flows will increase in the future due to population growth, worsening climatic conditions, poor harvests, fishing and livestock raising (Onuoha, 2010). According to Onuoha (2010), if migration reaches a critical scale and such mass migration movements begin to cross national borders or territories in the future, international conflicts may arise. Metz (2011) also notes that beyond the Lake Chad area being considered a war-prone area, changing environmental conditions have led to different types of conflict between people, who now compete for water and land resources. In addition, border conflicts between riparian countries have arisen and could flare up again if the situation is not managed properly.

The Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) and Conflict Management in the Region

Alder and Rodman (2009, p. 180) define conflict as "an expressed struggle between two interdependent parties who perceive incompatible goals, scarce resources, and interference from other parties in achieving their goals". Regardless of its form, cause or occurrence, the proper management and transformation of conflicts is essential for the peace and progress of human society. Anyanwu (2004) argues that conflicts cannot be managed; except it is borne in mind that conflict is a necessary human condition. Therefore, perceiving it as a negative phenomenon can be misleading because conflict will always arise as long as there are differences of thoughts, views, and ideas. However, avoiding total collapse in the face of conflicts have become one of the most important challenges of conflict management and governance in Africa. The situation is of particular concern due to the diversity of the continent as a multi-ethnic society, where the legitimacy of conflict resolution and management mechanisms is essential. Posen (1993) observed that when conflict resolution mechanisms fail or are perceived as unreliable, insecurity, including fear of physical insecurity, increases and individuals as well as groups are forced to rely on their own capabilities. Hence, security initiatives implemented in conditions of profound distrust of others' motives combine with limited information to create a security dilemma. This deep suspicion is especially noticeable in most intergovernmental institutions. Metz (2011) defines such institutions as "formal legal structure between nation states designed to facilitate cooperation between states with regard to shared natural resources" and sees the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) as one of such institutions.

Fig. 3: Violent incidents in the Lake Chad Basin from 2009 to 2020 (LCBC, 2021)

The LCBC has a duty to examine complaints and promote dispute resolution (article 9) but the commission has encountered some difficulties in carrying out this task. One of these difficulties was that the borders of the member states were fixed by the colonial powers at a time when Lake Chad covered a much larger territory. Onuoha (2010) notes that as the lake shrinks, new territories are liberated and boundaries are blurred. This led to a violent conflict between the armed forces of Chad and Nigeria which culminated in 1983. A serious border conflict also occurred between Cameroon and Nigeria which became violent in 1993. To resolve this conflict, the riparian states turned to the LCBC. This led to the creation of the Border Security and Delimitation Committee, which established a joint patrol system that included security officers from all member states to jointly patrol designated areas of demarcation at Lake Chad (Odada et al, 2006 p. 83). Wirkus and Boge (2006) found that the LCBC was not active enough in managing the conflict between Cameroon and Nigeria due to the lack of appropriate mechanisms. According to Wirkus and Böge (2006, p. 73), it is not clear how member states may use LCBC's powers to resolve disputes, as the LCBC convention and statutes do not provide for a specific procedure or mechanism for the management of disputes. When it became clear that the Commission could not resolve the dispute, Cameroon turned to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1994. Although the ICJ managed to settle the border dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria, the exact course of the border within the lake is still unclear. The LCBC conducted a frontier study to address the issue, but the result of the study was contested by Nigeria, while Chad, Niger and Cameroon accepted it. Though talks are still ongoing, there is a high likelihood of renewed conflict due to the actions of Boko Haram rebels and insurgents in the Lake region. Another contentious issue that could spark violent conflict in the region is the lack of rules on water allocation and fishing rights, as member countries push for a regime that serves their national interests.

Theatre and Conflict Resolution

The theatre is basically seen as a social art. This is due to its links with the society at large. Traore (1978, pp. 72-73), has described it as "...the elegant imitation of some action significant to a people or the physical representation or the evocation of one poetic image or a complex of such images". Also relating the theatre to society, Burns (1972, p. 73) observes that theatre is an arena in which it is possible to study manifestations of the social values, forms, and conventions of society and also the images of social reality which people of different times have construed for themselves. These definitions elucidate the fact that the theatre functions symbiotically with society. This relationship has culminated in several exchanges, linkages and interplays which have direct impacts on societal development. The society, on the one hand, contributes immensely to theatre practice by providing the resource or material with which the end product of theatre is derived; while the theatre, on the other hand, aims at re-shaping, recreating and reforming the society from which the ingredients were derived (Diakpomrere, 2008). Theatrical performances in this instance, present to an audience messages and effects which are deliberately engineered to arouse them both intellectually and emotionally. It is in this vein that Cohen (2008, p. 16) observes that "in great theatre we glimpse not only the physical and emotional exuberance of play, but also the deep yearnings that propel humanity's search for purpose, meaning, and the life well-lived".

Theatre, over the years, has served various functions in society. Examining these functions, Cohen (2008, p. 151) states that: from the dawn of time to the present moment, dramatic presentations have been concerned with inspiration, education, and entertainment - with the worship and propitiation of the gods, with the indoctrination of the young, and with thought -provoking and idea -impelling ideas and situations. There is hardly a facet of man's existence which has not been touched by or absorbed by theatre.

Fig. 4: Georges Mounin's Theatre Performance as Communication Model

Apart from those mentioned above, the theatre also functions as a vehicle of communication whereby what is communicated is determined by the various factors that are inherent in the society in which it is performed. Baker (1978) acknowledged this when he surmised that the theatre reflects the social relationship of its time. It might be said with justification that the theatre is the art of social relationships - more than any other art form, it concerns itself with the ways in which people interact.

Thus, as a communicative art, theatrical performance highlights the successes and failures of individuals and societies against the backdrop of their societal values. As such, it has come to function as a tool for the propagation of social change and development in recent times. Development, as expressed here, refers to what Darah (1994, p. 24), defines as "the qualitative improvement in economic and social life... the empowering of the populace with skills that can be employed to exploit the resources of our environment to cater for the basic needs of the people". Hence, theatrical performances of this nature appeal directly to the conscience and consciousness of the people in an attempt to evolve a better society. The people are consequently informed of what should be condemned and that which should be emulated (Emasealu, 2008). As noted in Sahid (2013), the modern theatre is a means of spreading ideas. It is used as a means of propaganda, and it is, potentially a very strong one, whether it is aimed at encouraging government or at the elimination of certain customs deemed atavistic.

From this perspective, therefore, the theatre clearly aspires to integrate the people. It serves as a means of producing a synthesis of the divergent ideas and concepts by different facets of society and thus becomes a veritable instrument of conflict management. The theatre as an instrument of conflict management can act as a stimulant or tranquilliser for a people to understand their individual self and to harness their potentials towards a collective social development. It can also promote peace and calm in conflict situations. Ogu-Raphael (2014) cites the cases of the 'Rwandan Ballet Isonga', where songs and dance were employed to mediate in the conflict between the major ethnic groups, the Hutus and Tutsis, in the Rwandan crisis; the Kenyan Amani people’s theatre and the Kamirithu theatre under Ngugi Wa Thiong'o as outstanding examples of the interventionist role of the theatre in conflict resolution. The theatrical performances advocated in this regard are those that lean towards the application of Theatre For Development (TFD) methodology.

The efficacy of this theatre methodology lies in the fact that, when explored to its fullness , it can create the awareness that conflict is antithetical to societal progress and development, by helping the people to understand issues through metaphoric communication and providing a communal experience, which relates the individual to groups, and the groups to the forces controlling the society. In this way, the theatre in performance can utilise the abundant ethno-cultural materials of the community in terms of song, dance and music to meet the challenges in ethnic struggles.

According to Ogu-Rapheal (2014), Theatre for Development is a process of stimulating and sustaining participation with the target communities along developmental lines, using the world of the theatre to achieve real solutions to practical life problems affecting the people. He goes further to state that, this form of theatre is aimed at transforming the people from being the object to the subject of development because, as active participants in the development process they are able to contribute to decision making, especially as it affects them.

The concept and methodology of Theatre For Development (TFD) can be traced to the pioneering efforts of Paulo Freire and Augusto Boal in Latin America in the early 1950s. According to Diakpomrere (2008, p. 173), Freire developed the principle behind this theatre in the line of his revolutionary philosophy of making use of radical literacy programmes as a critical 'conscientisation process' by which oppressed and backward entities are able to generate their own political awareness in a revolutionary process.

Fig. 5: Umberto Eco's Theatre Communication Chart

In Freire's (1972) conception, 'conscientisation' empowers the peasants by providing literacy, which helps them identify their problems as emanating from a particular social order to be corrected. The emphasis in the learning process, according to Freire (1972), should strive for rejection, through direct experience, of a fatalistic universe and of a mechanistic concept of society. Boal, on the other hand, is regarded as the pioneer theatre activist, who elaborately utilised Freire's propositions as a vehicle for achieving radical social change. According to Etherton (1982, pp. 342-343), "Boal had the conviction that popular theatre can only be significant and relevant when the people are not merely spectators but when they are actively involved as actors and creators of the drama". Mlama (1991, p. 67) describes the nature of theatre for development as a theatre intended to empower the common man with a critical consciousness crucial to the struggle against forces responsible for his poverty. It is an attempt to enable the masses to break free from the culture of silence imposed on them and re-awaken or strengthen their latent culture of resistance and struggle which needs to be part of the process to bring about their development.

Mlama (1991) sees the theatre as a tool for 'conscientisation' through which the people are made aware of their predicaments, and are able to identify and analyse them towards finding solutions. Such awareness therefore, becomes a prelude for positive action. Ogu-Rapheal (2014) notes that the theatre as an alternative conflict resolution mechanism employs the democratic method in conflict mediation and remediation. This method, more than any other, has the ability to create the desired consciousness advocated by Mlama (1991) and also engender an awareness that would enlist the people, especially the inhabitants of border communities along the region, in the process of identifying the remote and immediate cause of the conflicts, analysing their needs and making choices that would best suit them. The theatre as an instrument in resolving conflict, helps the people to hold effective discussions and work out strategies for dealing with the socio-economic and political conditions that affect them. It is a platform by the people, and for the people, which helps in stimulating a process of community or group problem solving and actions (Ogu-Rapheal, 2014). Freire (1972, p. 14) acknowledges that the theatre “can bring the community together, building community cohesiveness, raising important issues… creating a forum for discussion of these problems and stimulating group action”. This form of theatre thrives on the popular aspirations of “the people” and not one imposed on them by the elites in society.

The theatre as a medium for conflict resolution in the Lake Chad region is a potent tool for remedial, non-formal education that could ‘conscientize the people’ and make them aware of the potentials of harnessing their individual energies, collectively towards addressing the myriad of problems they are faced with, and not pick-up arms that will cause further destruction to lives and properties. Specifically, the performances could be used to stimulate the awareness among the contending forces to realise that lasting solutions to their problems can be achieved through constructive dialogue, understanding and trust.

This methodology of theatrical performance employs an inside–out, down-top method which involves the facilitators becoming part of the community by living in it for a period of time. This enables one to identify existing problems (first hand as part of the people), and construct scenarios or play skits with the active participation of members of the community. It explains why theatre for development is referred to as 'theatre for the people, by the people, about the people and from the people'. The process of living among the people and generating a form of theatre with the involvement of the people is known as “Forum Theatre” (Ogu-Raphael, 2014). Apart from serving as a veritable tool for conflict resolution, there is also an absolute advantage which TfD practice has over other forms of communication that reinforces its effectiveness to conflict resolution in the Lake Chad Basin Region. This is because the method has a clear-cut and well-defined system of engagement, monitoring and evaluation, which can ensure effective implementation of decisions and programmes designed for the people, by the people themselves. However, in spite of the fact that the medium of theatre can communicate and cause significant change in relations, particularly in conflict management and resolution, the governments of member nations and other stakeholders must abide by the terms of agreements reached, if sustainable peace is to be achieved.

Fig. 6: Augusto Boal, Theatre for Development Icon


The Lake Chad Basin region, like other parts of Africa, has experienced violent conflict in the past and the recent emergence of armed rebels and insurgency along the border has increased tensions, increasing the risk of a recurrence of armed conflict. The situation, though worrisome, can be managed through the use of theatrical performances as an alternative/complementary tool to the efforts of the Lake Chad Basin Commission in resolving disputes between Member States.

It was found that the commission's ability to carry out this conflict resolution mandate was seriously compromised by the implementation of programs by Member States based on their national interests, thus , this document recommends expanding the level of LCBC's community participation. This can be achieved through the use of the Theater for Development (TFD) approach to building linkages between local people and the Commission. It will also provide the necessary opportunity for people to express their needs or views and provide the LCBC with detailed information on basin situations.As such, theatrical performances generated from such participatory interaction should provide the platform on which adaptive conflict prevention methods are explored. The governments of the riparian countries should also have a strong commitment to regional integration and cooperation. Given these, therefore, the risk of conflict in the region can be peacefully managed using theatrical performances as a regional integration tool.

Bibliographical References

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Anyanwu, B. C. (2004) “The Media, Conflict Resolution and National Development”. A paper presented at the 1st International Conference on African Arts (ICAA) at the Delta State University, Abraka.

Baker, Michael (1978) The Rise of the Victorian Actor. London: Croon Helm.

Boal, Augusto (1985). Theatre for the Oppressed, translated by Charles A. & Maria-Odilia Leal McBride. New York:Theatre Communications Group.

Bächler, Gunther and Spillman, Kurt eds. (1996) Environmental Degradation as a Cause of War. Final Report of the ENCOP Project, Vol. II, Verlag Ruegger, Zurich.

Barker, Clive (1991) "Theatre and Society"In John R. Brown (ed.) Drama and Theatre. London: Routledge and Keegan Paul, 1991.

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Foley, Jonathan and Michael Coe (2001) "Human and Natural Impacts on the Water Resources of the Lake Chad Basin."In Journal of Geophysical Research. Vol. 105, No. D4.

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Lake Chad Basin Commission: Convention and Statute Relating to the Development of Chad Basin. Available at:

Lake, David and Donald Rothchild (1998) eds. The International Spread of Ethnic Conflict: Fear, Diffusion, and Escalation. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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Visual Sources

Figure 1: Lake Chad Basin Commission (2018) Annual Monitoring Report (AMR) of the lake Chad Basin: Hydrological Year 2017 - 2018. N'Djamena: LCBC, Cover.

Figure 2: Lake Chad Basin Commission (2012) Report on the State of the Lake Chad Basin Ecosystem. N'Djamena: LCBC, p.28.

Figure 3: Lake Chad Basin Commission (2021) 2020 Annual Report: Regional Strategy for the Stabilisation, Recovery and Resilience of the Boko Haram-Affected Areas of the Lake Chad Basin Region. N'Djamena: LCBC, p. 10.

Figure 4: Sahid, Nur (2013) “Theatre Performance Communication from the Perspective of Theatre Semiotics.” Humaniora vol 25 (1), p. 55.

Figure 5: Eco, Umberto (1979) A Theory of Semiotics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, p. 33.

Figure 6: Maccioni, Alex (n.d.) "Augusto Boal: Theatre of the Oppressed." Chiaroscuro Magazine. https//


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Gideon Morison

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