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Africa needs to strategise to combat terrorism

Opinion & Analysis
Terror attacks

TERRORISM has continued to alarmingly spread throughout Africa and its causes are not simple or universal. It is, therefore, crucial to understand the complexity of the menace before talking about its proliferation on the continent.

For a start, the word terrorism is difficult to define. Certain African countries may be accused of engaging in terrorism if the term refers to use of force and intimidation against civilians. Western officials frequently use this term to impose order on very fractious, fluid situations.

This can be problematic since labelling insurgent organisations terrorists makes it difficult for governments to defuse tensions and reach amicable solutions with insurgent groups.

Western nations’ opinions of terrorism in Africa have just recently shifted to emphasise Islamic Jihadism. Almost 200 people were killed by truck bombs at United States embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in1998, which for the first time brought Al Qaeda to America citizens’ attention.

Since then, particularly in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, a new narrative of a global jihadist threat has taken hold, occasionally driving the international community to get involved in local disputes that have little to do with international terrorism or religious indoctrination.

Due to terrorist group Boko Haram’s actions, Nigeria may have had the most infamous terrorist activity in West Africa during the 21st century.

Undoubtedly, terrorism needs to be combated because it brings lack of peace, injuries, death, trauma, destruction of infrastructure and economic and political instability.

This is even more pertinent for Africa, which is still striving to develop in all sectors, be it politically or socio-economically. The emergence of terrorism is threatening to destroy the little progress Africa has made so far.

For some African countries that have experienced war before, terrorism is threatening to repeat history. Somalia, Kenya, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, South Sudan, Libya and Egypt are among the African nations that have suffered greatly due to terrorist attacks.

African States are, however, not the only ones that should be concerned about the growth of terrorism in Africa, the entire planet must rise to the challenge and effective multilateral solutions are needed to combat terrorism across the globe.

These measures must not only target terrorism, they must also zero in on converging and concurrent threats such as armed conflict, the escalating climate disaster, poverty and inequality, the lawlessness on online platforms and the uneven COVID-19 recoveries.

However, the increasing ferocity of the terrorist attacks means that this scourge should top the world’s priority list. And a second suicide bombing strike that occurred in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu in October 2022 highlights this point. The attack resulted in 121 fatalities and more than 300 injuries.

According to United Nations sources, terrorist acts committed by Somalia’s Al Shabaab Islamist group resulted in 613 civilian deaths and 948 injuries in 2022 alone. The mortality toll was more than 30% higher than in 2021, making 2022 the deadliest year for the nation since 2017.

The growth of terrorism has taken place despite attempts made over the past 20 years to limit and weaken violent extremist groups by governments and regional, national and international organisations, including the African Union.

Sadly, however, that terrorism is a major problem in Africa appears lost to the African Union and its member States whose actions do not adequately reflect the threat, much of which is not new to the continent.

Those hoping to assist in the fight against terrorism must shift their attention from militarily defeating insurgent groups to addressing bad governance and promoting development in order to provide stability to countries threatened by terrorism.

I say this because, for example, US and European Union attempts to strengthen nations in the Sahel through military training have generally failed to destroy terrorism in that part of Africa.

Consecutive military coups in Mali were carried out by units with Western training, which also directly contributed to the establishment of Islamist groups in that region. It is, therefore, crucial that the voices of those impacted by terrorism, violence and insurgency are heard by the international community.

With the help of technology, it is possible to connect those who are directly impacted with decision-makers, non-profit organisations, the government and other global publics to develop solutions that are as much African as they are global.

Let me make a few recommendations that may help strengthen counter-terrorism activities in Africa.

Chiefly, the best way to combat terrorism, violent extremism and other threats to peace and security is through prevention. In order to prevent terrorism in the first place, we must address the violence and instability that can cause it.

It is our responsibility to assist in developing remedies that address the grievances of the deeply disgruntled, alienated and desperate people who too frequently find a home in terrorist and extremist ideologies.

It is crucial to promote conflict-sensitive methods and integrate pertinent polices throughout United Nations organisations.

The first step ideally would be to find ways to stop terrorists from even getting a chance to attack in the first place; so it is crucial that we detect and prevent threats of terrorism in their infancy.

Nations, therefore, need to boost law enforcement and judicial capacity, increase border security, deepen global information sharing, stop the financing of terrorism, enhance crisis response and stop violent extremism.

Countries are encouraged to develop counter-terrorism capabilities in their respective regions through global engagements, which also advocate for greater burden sharing to handle terrorist threats.

The other major reason why insurgencies occur in certain countries is that there is economic or political instability; the case of Cabo Delgado in Mozambique comes to mind.

The primary causes are the local community’s alienation, marginalisation and poverty since the community sees no prospective benefits from the present gas megaproject initiated by their government which is working with foreign multinational corporates.

Fishing had been the main source of revenue for millennia for the people of Cabo Delgado, but the discovery of gas resources and the ensuing investments forced them to relocate and lose their main source of income.

This generated the necessary conditions for confrontation and conflict. This provided the terrorist group justification to point to this issue as the root cause of its fight. So if the needs of people are met in time, its insurgencies will be obviated.

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