Africa holds the key to defeating terrorism


On Somalia’s southeast coast, the US outpost of Camp Baledogle is getting a facelift. After al-Shabab militants carried out an attack on the site in September, the US Defence Department has given the green light to “emergency repairs” worth more than $12 million.

The continued threat from al-Shabab is indicative of the importance that Africa, particularly East Africa, plays in the global fight against terrorism. The continent has turned into a hotbed for terror cells, with several groups operating nearly unfettered – a problem that has caught the EU’s attention and increased in urgency with the onset of the migrant crisis.

Traditional policy seeks to fight terrorism in the affected regions, although it has become evident that a broader approach is needed. Countermeasures are necessary across all of Africa, and even West African countries like Senegal, Niger and a host of others are stepping up to tackle the issue.

Africa at the heart of counterterrorism

September’s attacks in Somalia follow a deadly siege in February, when car bombs exploded in a popular area of Mogadishu and another went off near the home of appeals court chief Judge Abshir Omar. At least 24 people were killed in the incident.

It is no surprise that terrorism in Africa, affecting Africans and Europeans alike, has caught the attention of European lawmakers. Brussels has consequently upped its support for counter- terrorism in East Africa and the Sahel region. Earlier this year, representatives from countries in the Horn of Africa and the EU met to discuss criminal justice responses to terrorism, with a particular emphasis on the multilateral challenge of fighting a modern threat not contained by borders.

Multilateral action

The multilateral challenge of terrorism has thus far been met with a host of multilateral solutions on the continent, all of which have seen some success. The G5 Sahel Joint Force, made up of security forces from Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad, launched its first regional operation in 2017.

The similarly-tasked African Union Mission (AUM) in Somalia and Multinational Joint Task Force have also been able to report some wins against regional terror groups. The UN Security Council this year extended the authorisation of the AUM ahead of the 2020 national elections, and the Multinational Joint Task Force last month killed several fighters in northeast Nigeria.

France has been especially enthusiastic in helping to facilitate African peace and stability, having developed a range of security and defence cooperation programmes in a number of African countries. More than 4,000 French troops have been deployed to the Sahel to work with regional militaries and directly engage militants, and Paris has called for expanded international funding for regional security efforts.

West Africa stepping up

Still, if the spread of terrorism is to be contained effectively, countries in other regions of Africa need to take action too. In fact, West African countries are beginning to feel the threat as violent extremism has begun to spill over into Benin, Ghana and Togo; the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) is of particular concern in the west. As such, regional leaders last month announced a billion-dollar plan to mobilise against regional jihadism.

Countries like Senegal and Niger have shown particular initiative. At the UN General Assembly in September, Senegal’s president Macky Sall called on the international community to “unite and unequivocally condemn all forms of extremist and violent discourse, wherever they come from and regardless of the motivations and the victims.”

Sall held the speech in New York against the backdrop of accelerated efforts to curb extremism from spreading in the country and the region. The trial of several individuals exposed the possible existence of Boko Haram sleeper cells, which authorities have now begun to crack down upon. The country also implemented money-laundering and terrorist financing activities to cut off the cash flows sustaining the recruitment activities of terrorist groups.

Moreover, Senegalese law enforcement has strengthened its cooperation with US forces to better stem the threat. Senegal’s police officers and gendarmes are receiving tactical training from US instructors via the US State Department’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance Programme in Thiès, the first of such training centres in West Africa.

The programme shows that Washington remains a vital security player in the region, and Senegal is not the only country to have expanded its ties to the US in order to increase its own anti-terror capabilities. With six of the seven countries on Niger’s border facing some form of crisis, the country has developed into another African hotspot for the anti-terror fight. Both the US and the EU have dedicated centres and personnel there, with particularly France using Niger as a broader operational base across the African continent.

However, unlike Senegal’s, Niger’s security infrastructure is not yet sufficiently developed to present a viable defence on its own against militant incursions from Mali or Libya. Although the country is involved in international missions like the G5 Sahel task Force, Mali’s lawmakers are counting on Western powers to step up.

“It’s a miracle that our country is still standing, given these threats,” says Niger defence minister Kalla Moutari, “With the disappearance of the Libyan state, Niger is now the border with the west. If Niger falls, there is nothing.”

That African leaders are demonstrating a willingness to tackle the threat of terrorism on the continent is a positive sign of future stability – both in Africa, and beyond. The EU and US should expand their support if they hope to increase not only Africa’s security, but their own.