Counter-terrorism in Africa: a few constraints

Counter-terrorism in Africa remains a concern and the latest events testify of the increasing level of the threat. Indeed, in March 2017, 03 major West African terrorist organizations (Ansardin, Aqmi, and Al Mourabitoun), decided to merge and pledged allegiance to Al Qaida. The advent of armed groups, within the framework of this fight is a major handicap for states already facing multiple fronts as it is the case for Nigeria, Cameroon, Mali and Niger. Then, the problem becomes the following one: how can the African countries victims of terrorism overcome the diverse constraints impacting on their efficiency? Following the merger of those 3 African terrorist groups, many attacks occurred in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. This merger conveyed 2 messages, a political and a military one. The military message is clear, the mutualization of the all resources to reach a common objective. The limits in the antiterrorist action in Africa, are at the same time endogenous and exogenous. Thus we identified several constraints that impact this action at a national level but especially a regional level:

1/ The strategic and conceptual limit: several African states involved in counter-terrorism, have a defense or national security policy unfortunately unsuitable for the terrorist threat, because they undermine the terrorist and extremism challenges. Indeed, the lack of consistency in the process of elaboration of a national strategy against terrorism leaves the field open, in any form of interpretation and actions often inevitably coordinating and suffering from an insufficiency of coherence. Without quoting any precise example, thus it seems obvious that fighting against terrorism requires a realistic approach to the problem, by integrating the local factors which favor the emergence of any forms of radicalization, leading to violent extremism or to terrorism. The absence of national strategy, thus is a major weakness for an effective action against the terrorist groups, because not putting clearly the stakes and the answers adapted to the threat. A strategy is an unavoidable road map for any actions to be carried out. It is a prerequisite registering the threat in a national dimension and an African contextual reality with its strengths and weaknesses. The conceptual approach becomes, the road map to be followed in order to reach the expected results.

2/ The limit of the military and security programming: the inclusion of the military effort in time allows a rationalization of the investments and a coherence of the security expenditure in particular in equipment, infrastructures and armament. Security and military programming laws of the African countries when they exist, do not automatically integrate the expenses bound to counter-terrorism despite the evolving nature of terrorism. Following the example of Mali and Ivory Coast which passed military programming laws (Mali in 2015 and Ivory Coast in 2016), other countries would gain to rationalize their spending specific to this terrorist threat which is unpredictable. Why not anticipate a specific law against terrorism with a chapter dedicated to a special financial programming? Ivory Coast already has a law carrying repression of terrorism but it does not have a specific financial aspect.

3/ The limit of the regional and joint answer: African member states of regional organizations such as ECOWAS, are active in a regional or sub-regional effort to counter terrorism as in the example of G5 Sahel. These regional and inclusive initiatives often suffer from an effective implementation of road maps adopted in a consensual way. The limit of the commitment of states often absorbed by expensive national realities, comes to press heavily on the execution of the joint directives. The creation of several sub-regional mechanisms of early warning and prevention of threats, also suffers from a heavy redundancy and a lack of clarity in the implementation. Finally, the budgetary inadequacies and the non-payment of the contributions of states overshadows the momentum for an integrated and effective answer.

4/ The capacity limit: the fight against terrorism is clearly expensive financially but it is even more costly on a capacity point of view of security forces. Indeed, the specificity of the threat requires the creation of specialized national mechanisms and especially the existence of specialized units, trained, equipped and hardened regarding asymmetric warfare. The imbalance between the African states having specialized units and those who do not have any, is such that the vulnerability of some states is at a critical level. Kenya, Ivory Coast, Tunisia, Chad and Nigeria, to quote only those, are examples of countries whose specialized units are references because having been confronted militarily to terrorist groups in fights. The capacity building of Special Forces, should be more than ever a priority for African states.  Only prevention mechanisms and specialized units, can overcome such a threat. Finally, the ultimate capacity weakness remains the military intelligence to be perfected, because suffering from a hardening in equipment and skills.

5/ The limit of sensitization: the African states invest little in a communication and an offensive sensitization policy against terrorism. This insufficiency explains the increasing radicalization risks and the exposure of badly informed communities. Indeed, many states do not sensitize their population on the risks of radicalization and often underestimate this risk by not speaking about it. A few states such as Senegal, are today models regarding communication and regarding sensitization on the subject. The acts of deterrence, prevention and repression stemming from the commitment of President Macky Sall are not to be any more demonstrated.

6/ The limit of the permeability of the borders: the porosity of the African borders adds to their vulnerability within the framework of counter-terrorism because of the lack of control of migration flows. Thus the African states would gain to strengthen their strategies on the borders, to limit the traffic of weapons and materials used in the preparation of explosive devices.

To conclude, this brief examination of the constraints linked to counter-terrorism in Africa easily demonstrates the necessity of a complete revision at a national, sub-regional and regional level. An in-depth revision of the strategies and current mechanisms is a necessity, to strengthen the preventive and repressive response. We shall not insist enough on the importance of prevention regarding counter-terrorism, as well as the accent to be put on a robust regional cooperation in intelligence.

By Jean Francois CURTIS

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