While terrorism in Africa spans much of the continent, the threat is no longer contained within the borders of the countries concerned. Faced with this observation, six African States have decided to pool their efforts in order to provide a collective and appropriate solution.
Uganda, Senegal, Congo-Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Togo and Mauritania. So many African countries that will initiate unprecedented cooperation in the field of security, more particularly in the fight against terrorism. The African Global Security (AGS) foundation will be launched in the coming days by presidential decree signed by Macky Sall. The vocation of AGS? Mutualize the efforts of African States with the help of the specialists of the structure, in order to apprehend the phenomenon of terrorism in Africa in its global dimension, to then process the information not by country but by blocks of African countries.
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And it must be said that the presidents of the founding countries of AGS, with the Ugandan head of state Yoweri Museveni as standard bearer, are already facing various terrorist threats, armed political movements mutated into rebels threatening the integrity territory and the life of the citizens, passing through the groups resulting from previous civil conflicts whose ideal has disappeared but whose violence is increasing, up to the fundamentalists who terrorize civilians and multiply the massacres.
“The common point between terrorist groups in Africa is that their crimes do not conform to the rules of war, summarizes a specialist in terrorism in Africa. Their activities are not limited to one country but often cover several, even deliberately settling in border regions in order to handicap the security forces, which share very little, or not effectively, intelligence”. But, above all, these groups impose a context of asymmetrical warfare – sabotage, guerrillas, bombardments, raids – in poorly protected regions.
What challenges do the States initiating this cooperation in the fight against terrorism face in this area, and what is their experience in the field? And how will the pooling of their efforts enable the AGS foundation to create, as the foundation writes in its press release, “a safer and more stable region and world”?
The Terrorist Threat in the Great Lakes Expands
Africa's Great Lakes, stretching from southern Ethiopia to northern Malawi, is a region that is home to dozens of terrorist groups, including three major ones: the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), Boko Haram, and the Shebabs. Boko Haram is currently in disarray, especially since the death of its leaders Abubakar Shekau, last May, and his rival and son of the founder of the nebula Abu Mosab al-Barnaoui. As for the Shebabs, an offensive by Kenyan forces and Amisom between 2011 and 2014 neutralized their threat along the Somali coast.
The ADF, on the other hand, have become much more hostile since suffering a setback after the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) offensive in eastern DRC. An episode that illustrates the mutation of terrorist groups, which evolve but do not die.
As a result, the change in the modus operandi of the ADF – initially a rebel group in Uganda – took the states of the region by surprise. Civilian casualties number in the hundreds in 2021 alone. And despite the joint military operation by Uganda and the DRC, uprooting the ADF will also require efforts in the sectors of education, infrastructure, diplomacy and intelligence.
Similarly, in the case of Shebabs and Boko Haram, the erosion of the two organizations has simply allowed a rapprochement with other terrorist organizations, this time non-African, namely al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. These two groups have branches in other regions of Africa. The influence of these organizations has thus become, in recent months, more global on the continent.
How to contain the spread of the Daesh virus?
If Yoweri Museveni and Félix Tshisekedi face this threat on the common borders of their respective countries, and that Denis Sassou N'Guesso faces the resulting migratory wave, the three Heads of State know well that the threat must be apprehended at the continental level, because it is not limited to the Great Lakes. The modus operandi of the terrorists can be anticipated by studying that of the "mother organizations", established more solidly in the Sahel and in North Africa.
With regard to the Islamic State (Daesh), its presence in Africa revolves around two groups: the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS) and the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM). The EIGS, whose leader Adnane Abou Walid al-Sahraoui died on August 17, is active in an area comprising Niger, Nigeria, Benin and Burkina Faso. As for the much more politicized GSIM, it concentrates its activities throughout Mali, and has made a few recent appearances in southern Algeria and eastern Mauritania.
It has already been two years since Faure Gnassingbé's Togo has aligned military forces to confront the spread of terrorist threats from the north. However, if the attacks by Daesh-affiliated groups in neighboring Benin prove anything, it is that an effective security system is insufficient to contain the damage caused by the attacks or prevent them.
However, Togo has little experience in confronting terrorist offensives. A Togolese military source informs Le Journal de l'Afrique that several reconnaissance cells dismantled by the armed forces in the north of the country saw their members released after being questioned, for lack of evidence and because of a legal vacuum, as well as an absence of exchanges with the countries of origin of the assailants – Burkina Faso, Benin and Mali. "We did not see the terrorist threat coming," laments a minister, explaining that Togo's lack of experience in this area poses a real problem.
The common origin of terrorist organizations
This shows how ineffective “security nationalism” is in the fight against terrorism. The senior heads of state members of AGS, Sassou N'Guesso and Museveni, former soldiers, know it only too well: bilateral communication can save lives and prevent disasters.
But these two are also aware that as terrorist groups evolve, so must Africa's security. And the interdependence of African States is now becoming a necessity.
Finally, "DSN" and Museveni also know full well that rebel groups can generate terrorist cells. In Congo-Brazzaville, the civil war resulted in years of skirmishes with rebels in the east of the country. In Uganda, ADF was initially a political movement made up of rebels. The organization is now a terrorist group present in 7 African countries.
In Senegal, precisely, the escalation of violence by the MFDC, which had attacked a patrol of the White Helmets on the Senegalese-Gambian border and kidnapped 7 soldiers, released on February 14, shows to what extent the political solution to the conflict can sometimes seem insufficient. For Macky Sall, improving the security system is essential today, in order to guarantee the integrity of Senegal if the talks initiated in 2017 fail.
However, if violence were to break out again between the Senegalese state and the Casamance rebels, two neighboring countries could act as a rear base for the MFDC: Gambia and Guinea-Bissau.
The study of the modus operandi of rebel groups, which have become terrorists, in other African countries, is therefore obvious for the Senegalese State. This would explain, in addition to Macky Sall's recent inauguration as President of the African Union (AU), the reason for Senegal's involvement in the AGS foundation.
An African solution, for an African problem
A geopolitical context also drives the fight against terrorism in Africa. Often, foreign interventions, such as that of France in Mali and Niger, or that of the United Kingdom and the United States in the Red Sea, or that of the European Union in the Gulf of Guinea, prove ineffective. Even harmful.
African military support, on the other hand, has proven its effectiveness in other cases of war against terrorism, although the media coverage of African victories is still lacking. It suffices to recall, in 2008, the Mauritanian-Algerian anti-terrorist operation after a series of attacks by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Or that of Algeria and Tunisia in 2007, and then in 2016. More recently, the intervention of the SADC, supported by the Rwandan army, has proven itself on the ground in Mozambique. Chad too has successfully repelled the threat of Boko Haram on several occasions, but in the absence of cooperation with Nigeria and Cameroon, the group is still rampant.
But what these joint African operations lack has always been information sharing, as well as understanding the origins of the terrorist threat. Thus, in the Sahel for example, we see that Daesh and AQIM act with complete impunity, while foreign forces seek above all to "protect their interests" or are content to bombard potential sites, sometimes with "collateral damage" which can be counted. in civilian lives. This is also one of the reasons for Barkhane's failure in Mali: the leaders of terrorist groups are dying, but their influence remains, and the attacks are getting worse, both in terms of violence and damage.
It is then, today more than ever, to establish an African "security culture", modern, effective, and not delimited by the borders inherited by colonization. In Africa, terrorist groups are also less rooted than in other regions of the world, such as the Far East or South America. If African states pooled their efforts today, perhaps they could deal with it, without being dependent on foreign aid, which is too often conditioned.