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Five Steps to Improve African Counter-Terror Initiatives – Professor Hussein Solomon

November 6, 2013


Five Steps to Improve African Counter-Terror Initiatives

by Hussein Solomon

RIMA Policy Papers, Volume 1 (2013), Number 2 (November 2013)

At face-value, the African Union (AU) has a sophisticated counter-terrorism infrastructure. In this, the AU built on the existing counter-terrorism platforms of its predecessor, the Organization of African Unity (OAU). As early as July 1992 OAU Heads of State met in the Senegalese capital of Dakar and adopted Resolution 213 which aimed to curb extremism[1]. Two years later, in June 1993 the OAU Summit rejected fanaticism and extremism. The 1999 Algiers Convention of July 1999 made clear that terrorism was not to be countenanced whilst Article 4 of the Constitutive Act of the AU echoed these sentiments. The adoption of the Common African Defence and Security Policy and the establishment of the African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism[2] were similarly fundamental milestones in the fight against the scourge of terrorism on the African continent.

In recent years, however, given the cancerous spread of terrorist movements across the continent, there is reason to question the efficacy of current AU responses. First, the AU’s existing Peace and Security Architecture is regionally-based – through the so-called five Regional Economic Communities (RECs). These are meant to stabilize their respective regions through regional standby battalions. This has proved problematic. Recently, we have witnessed the growing interconnections between terror groups on the African continent: consider here the mounting symbiotic relations between Boko Haram in West Africa and Al Shabab in the Horn of Africa. Whilst terror groups are co-operating, we need to ask what the interface is between the respective RECs in West Africa (the Economic Community of West African States or ECOWAS) and the Horn of Africa (the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development or IGAD)? In addition, certain RECs are entirely dysfunctional –  the Maghreb REC is a case in point – whilst others have little capacity. The latter point was underscored in the case of the French-led intervention in northern Mali. ECOWAS, despite being one of the better developed RECs, simply did not have the capacity to oust the Islamists from Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal. This suggests that the current regionally-based security structures need to be urgently re-examined. To a certain degree, there is a tacit acceptance of this fact by the AU. Note here the current composition of the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) which includes such extra-regional countries like Sierra Leone.

There is a second question bedevilling African counter-terrorism efforts and this is the thorny question of sovereignty. Whilst the AU serves as a political platform in attempting to express a common African position as well as adopting a common framework for combating terrorism through the Algiers Convention, it is unable to implement its decisions and instruments. This is deliberate on the part of member states – a strong AU, they fear, might be an intrusive one. So these prefer having a weak AU whilst we all suffer the scourge of terrorist violence! As Anneli Botha has noted, “The Secretariat in Addis Ababa was not given a mandate to enforce decisions and instruments adopted by the AU to fulfil its role, … Member States therefore need to provide this mandate through strengthening the Secretariat’s position”[3]. To be clear, there can be no effective implementation of counter-terrorism resolutions with a weak secretariat. As a matter of priority, the secretariat needs to be strengthened vis-a-vis its constituent states in order to ensure effective compliance.

Third, AU counter-terrorism initiatives need to get the balance right between military responses and sustainable political strategies. Consider here the case of AMISOM which is doing exceedingly well on the military front – liberating vast swathes of territory from Al Shabab control. At the same time the overarching political strategy seems to be lagging behind military victories. Thus formerly Al Shabab controlled areas like Hiran, Galgudud or Mudug are little more than tiny fiefdoms at the whim of the local clan militia commander. Indeed, there are already between 14 and 20 “mini-states” in the country. Military victory against Al Shabab will prove incomplete unless liberated areas are made to answer to the Mogadishu government. In other words, at the heart of AU counter-terror initiatives in Somalia must be the reconstruction of the failed Somali state[4].

Fourth, increasingly counter-terror efforts are being undermined by the criminalization of the African state[5]. This is especially problematic given the growing nexus between organized crime syndicates and radical Islamists. Indeed there is abundance evidence to suggest that terrorists are exploiting this phenomenon of the criminalization of the state to expand their influence into state structures itself. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, for instance, noted that Boko Haram sympathizers are located within the executive and legislative arms of government, in the judiciary, as well as in the armed forces, police and other security agencies[6]. There can be no effective counter-terrorism initiatives unless these Trojan Horses are neutralized.

Fifth, African counter-terrorism strategies remain focused on non-state actors but there is little to suggest that a coherent strategy exists to respond to state actors – extra-regional or regional ones. Consider for instance the role of Iran on the African continent. Tehran, for instance, has been supplying arms and munitions to various insurgent groups in Somalia, including Al Shabab through Isaias Afewerki’s regime in Eritrea[7]. For that matter, developments in Libya are decidedly negative with the growing strength of a variety of militant Islamist groups. What if these decisively capture state power? How does the AU respond to a terrorist member state? These are some of the questions that the AU needs to ponder if their counter-terror efforts are to bear fruit.

[1] Martin Ewi and Kwesi Aning, “Assessing the Role of the African Union in preventing and combating terrorism in Africa”, African Security Review, Vol. 15 No. 3, 2006, p. 35.

[2] Ibid., p. 39.

[3] Anneli Botha, An Assessment of Terrorism Counter-Measures Adopted by the African Union. Paper emailed to the author by Ms. Botha on 14 January 2012.

[4] Hussein Solomon, Al Shabab on the Ropes, International Centre for the Study of Radicalization, London. 27 January 2012. Internet: Date Accessed: 25 April 2012.

[5] Jakkie Cilliers, “Terrorism and Africa,” African Security Review, Vol. 12 No. 4, 2003, p. 100.

[6] Hussein Solomon, Carnage Continues in Nigeria, International Centre for the Study of Radicalization, London. 11 April 2012.

[7] Abdullah Bozkurt, “Turkey challenges Iran in Somalia,” Today’s Zaman (Turkish Newspaper). 28 January 2012.

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