Last September, I spent two weeks in Chad. Everyone I spoke to — government officials, average citizens, religious leaders, former fighters, activists, and aid workers — kept bringing up a topic they felt was key to the future of the country: the urgent need to properly “manage” returning Boko Haram fighters and their families. The issue is fraught, and raises a number of difficult questions about how to approach the problem. What should rehabilitation programs entail? Who will coordinate them, and who gets to participate? And where will the funding come from?
These are all questions that the government of Chad will need to grapple with. But in the context of the most recent attacks across the Lake Chad sub-region — in which hundreds of people including soldiers were killed — the most important question is how to assure communities that former fighters have been successfully rehabilitated. The issue is increasingly urgent, with residents and local experts expressing concern that the recent upsurge in Boko Haram attacks is due in part to former fighters returning to the group. After an attack in March that killed nearly 100 soldiers, the deadliest terrorist attack in Chad’s history, concerns about recidivism are likely to grow.