Countering Terrorism in Africa: A Historical Perspective and the Role of the African Union

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Africa is known as the world’s second-largest continent, comprising 54 sovereign countries. It hosts the world’s 18.2 % population and covers 20% of Earth’s land. In the era of “New Imperialism,” Western European powers brutally invaded, annexed, divided, and colonized most of Africa. The African continent has faced many problems since the new world order, but the most graving issue is terrorism. Africa is the most prone region to terrorist activities. It has grappled with many forms of terrorism and terrorist actors. The prominent terrorist organizations include Al Qaida, Boko Haram, al Shabaab, and the Lord’s Resistance Army(LRA). 

The African Union, with 54 African Member States, is Africa’s most recognized regional organization. The Union has been actively engaged in counter-terrorism moves to cope with this serious issue. Over the last four decades, the Union has been involved in continental efforts to prevent and combat terrorism. Previously, The predecessor of the African Union, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), was centered on a non-intervention doctrine in its Member States’ domestic affairs.  Contemporarily, the African Union has an expanded mandate to be more interventionist on matters of continental issues, which include terrorism and international crimes.

In the efforts of Counterterrorism, OAU Launched its first relevant mechanism in 1977, the Convention for the Elimination of Mercenaries in Africa. It was adopted on 3 July 1977 and entered into force on 22 April 1985. It criminalized mercenaries. The Convention stated, that this was defined as a “crime committed by the individual, group or association, representative of a State and the State itself … to oppose by armed violence a process of self-determination stability or the territorial integrity of another State …” (article 1(2)). The Convention also raised the impression and importance of non-state actors, including their possible influence on regional peace and security.

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In 1992, OAU adopted its second regional landmark measure, on counterterrorism, “Resolution on the Strengthening of Cooperation and Coordination among African States including the Central African Republic.” The member states pledged to fight extremism and terrorism in the resolution. Soon after, the Declaration on the Code of Conduct for Inter-African Relations was also adopted. It was about rejecting all forms of extremism and terrorism, whether attributable to sectarianism, tribalism, ethnicity, or religion. The Declaration also condemned, as criminal, all terrorist acts, methods, and practices, and expressed its determination to improve collaboration to combat such acts.

OAU’s other paramount mechanism against terrorism was adopted on 1 July 1999. The Convention demands that State authorities must criminalize terrorist acts under their national laws. It is described in the Convention. It also highlights the areas of collaboration among States. Further, demonstrates State jurisdiction over terrorist acts, and develops a legal framework for extradition. Extra-territorial investigations and joint legal assistance were also features of the convention. 

The Dakar Declaration against Terrorism in 2001 was Another counterterrorism effort. It identified a need to maintain inter-state cooperation across the continent. It was the Protocol to the 1999 Convention that was adopted in 2004. However, not yet entered into force. The Protocol acknowledges the growing menace of terrorism in Africa. Further, the growing ties between terrorism, drug trafficking, and transnational organized crimes.

The 2004 Protocol strives to establish the Peace and Security Council of the African Union 2002. Further, the objective of “co-ordinat[ing] and harmoniz[ing] continental efforts in the prevention and combating of international terrorism in all its aspects.” Moreover, Article 7 of the Protocol is unique. It demands that fundamental conventions and other instruments against terrorism be enforced in the rule of law. It must be in a respectful manner compatible with each Member State’s other responsibilities under international law. 

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Since its inception, the African Union has adopted several other necessary terrorism-related instruments on counter-terrorism. An example is the 2002 African Union Plan of Action on Preventing and Combating Terrorism. It seeks to reinforce the obligations and duties of States parties. It includes enforcing and executing the 1999 Convention. The Action Plan aims to strengthen factors such as law enforcement and border control. Further, legislative and judicial efforts, financing of terrorism, and the exchange of information are also prominent features. 

In 2010, the Union adopted another resolution on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism. It was an extended effort to maintain continental cooperation. It addresses some of the enduring challenges. It further established a dedicated African Union Special Representative for Counter-Terrorism Cooperation.

African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism (ACSRT) is another milestone to support international cooperation and to encourage the attainment of core African Union counter-terrorism goals. It embarks on research, analysis, knowledge administration, and capacity-building training.

Owing to these efforts in counter-terrorism, commendable progress has been achieved. It includes boosting the regional framework for countering terrorist threats and better-coordinating reactions, However, several challenges remain. These challenges include financial and human resource capacity limitations and complications linked with ensuring the requisite levels of escorting political will of African Union Member States. It has been noted that counter-terrorism endeavors have sometimes been inadequately resourced. For some Member States, counter-terrorism is not always of high importance. Most African states have been facing financial, developmental, environmental, and poverty eradication problems.

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