Category Archives: terrorism

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

Human Rights based Counter Terrorism Strategy – Mark Dixon

There is a compelling argument to revise the prevailing Counter Terrorism (CT) strategies in order to move away from ones that undermine Human Rights (HR). The Institute for Economics and Peace Global Terrorism Index (GTI) (2016) reports fatalities from terrorist attacks have increased nine fold since 2000, arguably impacting on the pre text of counter terrorism (CT) strategies of many countries. The GTI also highlights 78% of all terrorist attack fatalities occur in five countries namely Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria with only 2.6% occurring in the West. Despite the realities of the terrorist threat in the West we have witnessed increases in CT budget’s and strategies that undermine HR. This has lead to criticisms of both military action in Afghanistan and other locations and domestic legislation in many Western countries. An example of controversial legislation would be the control order provisions of the UK Prevention of Terrorism Act (2005), which was later repealed. Walker (2007) suggesting whilst such UK legislation was an attempt to fulfil a duty to protect, significant elements of the UK CT legislative framework was constitutionally deficient, lacking accountability and breaching HR.

President Obama’s Executive Order 13491 (2009) banning the U.S. government’s use of torture was also a rebuke to the Bush administration policies following the 9/11 attacks which authorised the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SCCI) (2014) reporting the CIA’s interrogation program had not produced unique or valuable intelligence, this was immediately countered by ex CIA officials by means of the CIA Saved Lives (2014) web site on which it was stated the interrogation program had disrupted terrorist plots. However, both parties’ arguments focus on the validity of the tactic being dependant on the veracity of the information obtained, completely ignoring the human, legal and social consequences of torture. The reality is increases in budgets, militarised activity, legislative enactments allowing breaches of HR, and other gross breaches of HR in the name of CT has not reduced the threat level. Schulz (2001) suggests any CT policy that does not respect HR is counter productive, advocating not only is a HR orientated CT strategy morally correct but would be more affective than the prevailing approach.

It would be argued Western CT strategies have focused on quick fix operational aims rather than strategic impact. As a result the impact on; the trajectory of the ‘war on terror’, inciting further extremism, the relationship between the US its allies and the wider Islamic global population, the West’s ability to legitimately promote democracy, human rights globally and security in post conflict or fragile states have not been considered. Western governments have failed to understand ideologies that manifest, as terrorism created as a consequence of real or perceived injustices cannot be resolved using traditional military interventions. A HR centred CT approach would be better equipped to challenge the ideologies that fuel terrorism across the globe. It is an understanding of political, social and economic grievances and an acknowledgement that not all terrorists or terrorist motivations are the same that is the key to undermining terrorism.

A starting point when considering a HR approach to CT would be HR are not a luxury we can enjoy during times of peace. Paust (2006) argues CT strategies that impact on civil liberties and limit democracy do more damage to HR than the acts of terrorism they seek to prevent. He cites the use of collective punishment tactics by Israeli authorities against families when one family member is allegedly involved in terrorist acts. He argues not only has this done nothing to reduce Palestinian terrorist attacks but has provided opportunity for those supporting violence to promote and reinforce their ideologies. It would be suggested CT strategies that have a human security focus based on HR principles rather than that of national security, would be better equipped to tackle the causes of terrorism. Whilst it is not being suggested attack planning plots should be ignored CT strategies that focuses exclusively on the violent outcomes of terrorist acts will have little success in reducing the threat as the grievances that drive the ideologies remain. This is a view held by the former head of the British Security Service, Baroness Manningham-Buller, (2011) who suggests states should seek political solutions and reconciliation in the context of terrorism as foreign policy directly affects conciliation efforts. She adds it is her belief that the UK involvement in the invasion of both Iraq and Afghanistan contributed to the radicalisation of some UK citizens and did little to assist the security of the UK.

HR based CT strategies need to be coordinated transnationally and delivered with international consensus. They need to mobilise and engender national and international support, with particular emphasis in those areas of the globe that are disproportionately affected by terrorism. They should also support the advancement of international law and HR thus in turn promoting peace, security, and the rule of law globally particular within post conflict environments and locations experiencing fragile governance. This would encourage and enhance democracy and provide the supporting conditions needed for a reduction in the grievances that manifest as terrorism and promote effective conflict transformation and state building.

Post Script

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 the Bush administration quickly framed the issues within the context of a ‘war on terror’ inferring some form of end game with winners and losers. This view failed to acknowledge terrorism itself is a tactic that can be potentially undermined or reduced but not eradicated. The response from the West was to adopt tactics suited to conventional military activity, leaving little space for any assessment of the grievances or motivations that was being represented through violent terrorist acts. The absence of any meaningful assessment exploring the broader implications of CT strategies that undermine HR resulting in a continuation of the prevailing attitudes.

Those who advocated human rights should not take precedents over the need to prevent terrorist attacks have opposed any debate suggesting the strategy adopted was an overreaction that could create social and political tensions and increase opportunities for radicalisation. This resulted in the absence of any meaningful dialogue and assessment of how a HR based approach to CT would be complementary to the ultimate aim of making people safe.

In the post 9/11 era immediate media reporting and globalisation has fuelled the popular misconception that international terrorism is one of the major threats to the West. However according to the World Economic Forum (2016) terrorism has not featured as a top ten global threat during the last ten years of reporting. Yet governments have chosen the option of immediate action focusing on operational aims rather than strategic outcomes. As a consequence we have seen a lack of international consensus and coordination in joint CT strategies that address the drivers of terrorism with emphasis rather on joint enforcement/military operations. Partnership working at an international level has been further complicated when considering that sovereign states have primary responsibility to protect their own citizens and combat terrorism in their county. However, when countries appear unwilling or unable to deliver against this and the threat posed is transnational in nature, challenges exist to both the international community and individual states in considering thresholds for intervention. The favoured option in these circumstances being military interventions for the purposes of expediency and short term gains.


Manningham-Buller, E. (2011) BCC Freedom, Securing Freedom: 2011 (episode 5), The Reith Lectures, London: BBC (44 mins) [online] available at (accessed on 19/07/2016).

CIA Saved Lives (2014) [online] available at (accessed on 08/09/2016).

Institute for Economics and Peace (2016) Global Terrorism Index 2015 [online] available at (accessed on 14/08/2016).

Paust J, J. (2006) ‘Human Rights, Terrorism and Efforts to Combat Terrorism’ in: J. Mertus and J. Helsing (eds.). Human Rights and Conflict. Exploring the Links between Rights, Law and Peacebuilding. Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace Press.

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SCCI) (2014) Study on CIA Detention and Interrogation Program [online] available at (accessed on 08/09/2016).

Schulz, W, F. (2001) In Our Own Interest: How Defending Human Rights Benefits Us All, Boston: Beacon Press.

The National Archives UK Legislation (2005) Prevention of Terrorism Act (2005) [online] available at (accessed on 14/08/2016).

The White House President Barack Obama (2009) [online] available at Executive Order 13491 — Ensuring Lawful Interrogations (accessed on 09/09/2016).

Walker, C. (2007) ‘Keeping control of terrorists without losing control of constitutionalism’, Stanford Law Review, 59(5): 1395.

World Economic Forum (2016) Insight Report Global Risks 2016, 11th Edition, Geneva: World Economic Forum, [online] available at (accessed on 30/06/2016).