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Failed Counter-Terrorism Initiatives Linked to Myth of Security Sector Reform in Africa – Professor Hussein Solomon

April 1, 2014


Failed Counter-Terrorism Initiatives Linked to Myth of Security Sector Reform in Africa

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 2 (2014), Number 4 (April 2014)

From Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in the north-west Africa to Boko Haram in Nigeria, Ansar Din in Mali and Al Shabab in Somalia, it is clear that the terrorist threat is intensifying. This is despite US-drones being deployed against Somali targets which have contributed to the decapitation of Al Qaeda and Al Shabab leadership structures in the Horn of Africa, the deployment of French troops in northern Mali, the training of African military and security personnel and the provision of armaments to governments to counter the threat posed.

So how does one account for the failure of counter-terrorism efforts on the African continent, in spite of the assistance rendered by Western states to their African counter-parts? In the first instance, we need to acknowledge that African states are not the Westphalian equivalent of their Western counterparts. There is little notion of a common citizenship or nationalism within African states. Consider here the case of Somalia where arms meant to be used in the war against militant Islamists of Al Shabab miraculously found their way into the hands of Hawiye sub-clan from whom the president emanates?[1] Clearly, the president has no conception of the national interest – placing the interests of his clan above that of the need to defeat the terrorists of Al Shabab. It also raises the issue of why Western states should support a government in Mogadishu which is more serious about militarily arming their clan as opposed to prosecute the war against the jihadis?

In Mali, we see another side of the same problem – this time where personal ambitions trump national interest. On 22nd March 2012, the Westpoint-trained Captain Amadou Sanoga staged a successful coup against Malian President Toure[2]. In the ensuing chaos in the capital Bamako, the Islamists in the form of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar Dine captured the entire northern Mali. Trained by the US military to defend his country from the likes of these radicals, the captain’s personal ambitions to become head of state trumped that of the national interest – in the process ceding 300,000 square miles to these jihadis to transform into their own West African version of Afghanistan. Once more, it raises the question of why invest in the training of African militaries when they seek only personal advancement at the cost of the state and its people?

In Nigeria, too, we see that elements within the security services are either corrupt or are infiltrated by Boko Haram. If this was not the case, how does one explain the fact that the prime suspect in the Christmas Day 2011 bombing miraculously escaped from custody[3]. His escape from a maximum security prison would not have been possible without some assistance from those guarding him. Several other Boko Haram suspects have escaped from custody in the past few months in equally suspicious circumstances. Indeed, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, himself, has acknowledged the seriousness of this problem. . As one senior military officer lamented, “The group is backed by powerful northern politicians who use the organisation as political muscle. We know who they are but the government is not ready to go after them and until those people stop supporting the group with funds, weapons and protection, we cannot defeat Boko Haram[4].

This, in turn, raises difficult questions. How does one fight Boko Haram when it is both outside there and within your own ranks? Is intelligence-gathering and ongoing security operations not compromised by the existence of these Trojan horse elements? Why would foreign agencies share intelligence on Boko Haram with Abuja, if there is a strong likelihood that such intelligence may find their way into the hands of Boko Haram? Why would they support the security apparatus of state with weapons, when these may well find themselves into the hands of the terrorists?

All this hold serious implications for those scholars focusing on security sector reform who like Western governments, view African states as merely poorer, less-capacitated versions of their Western counterparts. With sufficient training, resources and the like –the logic goes – these too can perform in the same way as Western states. However, in the past few decades which western leader has been toppled by a soldier? For the past century, which Western leader would support members of his/her ethnic group, rather than the nation-state as a whole? Which Western leader would deliberately undermine his/her country’s security whilst making common cause with terrorists? The proponents of traditional security sector reform in Africa should go back to the drawing board since once cannot attain proper governance in the security sector without achieving good governance in the state as a whole.



[1] “UN Groups reveals how Al Shabaab gets arms meant for Somalia regime,” Midnimo. 16 February 2014. Date Accessed: 17 February 2014. Internet:

[2] Hussein Solomon, “The Mayhem in Mali,” International Centre for the Study of Radicalization, 4 April 2012. London. Internet: Date Accessed: 22 October 2012.

[3] Chika Unigwe, “Boko Haram is Nigeria’s Enemy,” The Guardian, 22 January 2012. Internet: (Retrieved on 28 January 2012).

[4] Remi Adekoya, “Nigeria’s Islamists have the government dancing to their tune,” The Guardian, 4 January 2012. Internet: Date Accessed: Retrieved on 28 January 2012.


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