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Islamism on the Rise: Where the Hell is the African Union? – Professor Hussein Solomon

June 1, 2014

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Islamism on the Rise: Where the Hell is the African Union?

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 2 (2014), Number 7 (June 2014)

Death, destruction and destitution are becoming the norm on this blighted continent as the Islamist rampage shows no sign of stopping. In Kenya, twin bombings at a market in Nairobi left 10 dead and 76 injured[i]. Once more, the finger of blame was directed at Somali Islamists – Al Shabaab – who threatened Kenya with retaliation for being part of the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Bringing back recent memories of the Al Shabaab terrorist atrocity at the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi last year, it once more underlines the powerlessness of Kenya’s security establishment.

Whilst the world remains focused on the fate of the Nigerian schoolgirls captured by Boko Haram last month, this terrorist organization has reinforced the point that it is now a regional menace. This past week, it has staged an attack in northern Cameroon where a Chinese worker was killed and ten others were kidnapped[ii]. And just in case any person thought that Boko Haram was moved by the opprobrium levelled against it over social media, Abubaker Shekau and his band of religious zealots staged a number of murderous attacks across northern Nigeria. Once again, Nigeria’s security forces seemed unable to halt the carnage.

Whilst various Western powers, has offered assistance to the embattled authorities in Nairobi and Abuja, the question which needs to be posed is where the African Union (AU) in all this? Frankly, the silence emanating from Addis Ababa – the seat of the AU has been deafening.

At face value, the AU has a superb counter-terrorism structure in place. When considering counter-terrorism structures of the AU, we should also be aware that the AU has built on the counter-terrorism platforms already created by its predecessor – the Organization of African Unity or OAU. These included the legislative milestones of the Organization of African Unity from July 1992 when OAU Heads of State in Dakar adopted Resolution 213 which aimed to curb extremism to the June 1994 Summit when the Assembly of Heads of State rejected fanaticism and extremism[iii]. 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 African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism[iv] (ACSRT) were similarly fundamental milestones in the fight against the scourge of terrorism on the African continent.

The enactment of legislative frameworks, however, does not necessarily translate into successful counter-terror strategies on the ground as the violent resurgence of Boko Haram, the strengthening of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), or the tenacity of Al Shabaab would attest to. The ACSRT has to all practical purposes ceased to exist. The much-vaunted African Standby Forces with its regional brigades are little more than paper tigers with its effective operationalization constantly being postponed. Thus, when crises develop as when Islamists seized northern Mali, neither Bamako, nor regional forces from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) nor continental responses materialized. Instead, it was to France that Mali and all of Africa turned.

The AU needs to acknowledge this tragic state of affairs.  It needs to ensure that security structures are functioning. It needs to ensure that legislation adopted on extremism to money-laundering needs to be implemented at domestic, regional and continental levels. It needs to boost its secretariat in Addis Ababa to monitor this implementation. There is enough international goodwill towards the AU for the AU to partner with a range of external actors in the world.

 

[i] `Hunt for Bombers,’ Sunday Times, 18 May 2014, p. 17.

[ii] `Boko Haram attack,’ Sunday Times, 18 May 2014, p. 17.

[iii] 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.

[iv] Ibid., p. 39.

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