Terrorism in Africa: A Growing Threat to Stability and Development

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The African continent continues to experience a rash of political, economic and humanitarian crises—including food shortages, poverty, and a deterioration in the healthcare systems, along with droughts and floods initiated by climate change. Military conflicts and civil wars have exacerbated the crises. But Africa is also the “epicentre of terrorism”, according to UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Addressing the Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee on 24 January, he stated, “This growing inferno is engulfing millions of Africans.”

This includes women and girls who are highly vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence. Across the mainland, Da’esh, Al-Qaida and their affiliates are exploiting local dispute dynamics and fragilities to promote their agendas while shredding the social fabric of whole countries with the blades of violence, suspicion and fear, Guterres pointed out.

In Somalia, Al-Shabaab is under tension but far from defeated. And in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, terrorists persist in targeting civilians while expanding their areas of operation, he stated. Terrorism also remains an involved threat in northern Mozambique. Across the Sahel, Guterres cautioned, the increased hostilities between terrorist groups battling for control over territory and trafficking are “making nothing short of a hell on earth for the innocent people caught in between.” And the threat is rapidly extending to coastal countries, as witnessed in Benin and Togo.

A troubling pattern is clear. Community by community, terrorist groups are expanding their reach. Guterres expressed they are growing their continental networks with more fighters, funding, and weapons. “Forging ties with transnational organised crime groups. And spreading fear, misery and hateful ideologies through cyberspace. In every issue, civilians are paying the highest price. But in the end, all of humanity pays.”

“Each terrorist threat, each violent, extremist attack undermines our shared efforts to build and maintain peace, development and stability in Africa, stated Guterres. Terrorism is an all-out assault on civilisation itself, he said. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expresses Sub-Saharan Africa suffers from persistent security challenges, and Sahel nations such as Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Mauritania, and Mali are greatly afflicted by protracted conflicts and humanitarian troubles.

“While various factors can fuel conflict, our research shows that discontent with state institutions among marginalised groups is a key driver of regional unrest. Such distrust reflects perceptions that governments fail to address equity issues and inclusive growth—including the fair allocation of natural resources and human capital development,” IMF stated

The Counter-Terrorism Committee was designated by the Security Council back in September 2001 in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States. According to the UN, Member States are primarily responsible for implementing the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and the counter-terrorism provisions set out in Security Council resolutions.

“The UN system seeks to provide Member States with relevant, coherent, coordinated and impactful support, as they strive to fulfil their counter-terrorism related commitments and international obligations, including to uphold the rule of law and human rights”. At the heart of these actions, the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) cooperates, across all its areas of work directed by the General Assembly, with the Executive Directorate of the Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTED).

CTED aids the Committee in monitoring the implementation of appropriate Security Council resolutions by Member States and identifying any gaps. Security Council resolution 2395 (2017) applied the basis for the close coordination and cooperation between UNOCT and CTED, supported by Security Council resolution 2617 (2021). According to the UN, UNOCT and CTED work closely together, instantly and through the Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact, a United Nations interagency coordination framework led by UNOCT, of which CTED is a member.

Meanwhile, during a visit to several African countries, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken briefed reporters on 23 January that “what motivates us is primarily President Joe Biden, for whom Africa represents the future, the future for the United States.” “Soon”, he pointed out, “one in four people will be African; the voices of Africa are increasingly heard around the world in all international meetings, and for us, it represents both an opportunity and, I think, a need to connect with a rising, young population. We had all the African leaders in Washington last year, and this trip is a follow-up to that meeting to ensure that all our commitments in Washington are followed through.”

He also said the US has significant investments in Africa, especially from the private sector. The government’s role is to incentivise this investment to support it, for example, in risk and insurance if necessary. “And it’s going well, I believe, in the sense that we see investments not only in infrastructure but also in healthcare systems, food security, combating climate change.” 

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