Excerpt from a Keynote Address, International Conference on “Counterterrorism, Technology and Development in Africa”
September 22, 2022
Stellenbosch University and Obuda University
Undoubtedly, Africa has a persistent issue with insecurity. Terrorist groups like Boko Haram and Al-Shabab have continued to endanger the security of people’s lives and property as well as the survival of democratic governance in Africa. Unsurprisingly, the threat of terrorism has put Africa’s collective development and growth in even greater jeopardy. Due to the fear of investing in countries affected by terrorism, economies have collapsed. As statehood in some of these impacted countries slowly deteriorates, political advancements have also been hampered. Lately, discussions have focused on how crucial it is for African governments to stop this threat and nip terrorism in the bud. Africa is experiencing a rise in terrorism, which in addition to other humanitarian disasters, has caused mass migration and the loss of lives and valuables.
One of the key factors contributing to the domination of insurgency is the frailty of political institutions in most African countries. The blunt truth is that terrorism grows when the government is unwilling to combat it. Take the case of Nigeria as an example, the government’s longstanding unwillingness to engage in tactical warfare with Boko Haram has blown the destructive activities of the terrorist group beyond proportion, creating fertile ground for other insurgents to rise, and daily, it becomes even more complex to eradicate them. Repeatedly, worries have been expressed about the predicament of African countries in the face of internal and international terrorist attacks, as well as concerning potential repercussions for African political states, most of which have been labelled as weak or failed states.
While different state actions have been carried out against terrorist groups, the lack of robust democratic institutions in Africa is a significant barrier to the success of counterinsurgency efforts across the continent. African nations have been unable to work together to combat insurgency due to acrimonious politics. A close examination of leadership structures in African nations reveals that most of them are unsuccessful. How would this lead to success against the rebels in nations where the state and the people are constantly at odds? Internal conflict hinders African democratization and fosters rebel domination in return. It is sadder that democratic leaders also take advantage of their nations’ security to run for political office. Regrettably, most African leaders now place fighting terrorism at the top of their list of political priorities just because it commands a lot of emotions that can sway elections in their favour and not because they genuinely want to tackle it. Most African states’ security structures are, in fact, relatively flimsy. In many nations, domestic conflict further expands security gaps and creates the conditions for the insurgency to flourish.
In debates about terrorism, technological progress is unavoidable. Terrorists in Africa are developing, thanks to technical advancements. Terrorism and counterterrorism rapidly assume a new shape in their operations and subject engagement due to the expanding global instrumentalization of technology. Although both countries and terrorist organizations are modernizing their operation methods, there is evidence that many terrorist organizations in Africa are rapidly creating technical solutions to enhance their lethal operations. The internet, especially, is one technical tool feared for its potential to significantly impact global security. Policymakers are concerned about how communication networks like the internet may be used to carry out terrorist activities. Internets, specialized websites and social media platforms are frequently used in conjunction with secured networks to set up chat rooms for talks and activity monitoring, produce disinformation that could incite panic and conduct recruitment in Africa. Today, terrorist organizations like Boko Haram, Al-Shabab, and others use untraceable video and audio recordings to broadcast attacks, demand ransom for hostages, and engage in other despicable activities.
Terrorism in Africa has a detrimental effect on the socioeconomic and political developments of the region. However, it has been demonstrated that successful counterterrorism has benefited, or at the very least can improve, the socioeconomic and political environments on the continent. Like every other continent, Africa has experienced significant terrorist activity. The effects of terrorism, however, have affected Africa far more than other, more developed continents. Terrorism still exists on the continent of Africa despite the efforts of various African nations and regional and international organizations to combat it. The failure of the different counter-terrorist strategies launched to maintain long-lasting peace on the continent has exacerbated the continent’s underdevelopment. Despite security issues, Africa lags behind other continents in scientific, social, and political progress.
These reasons are why it has become paramount for African counterterrorism efforts to keep up with technological advancement. Due to the unique characteristics of each nation, the specific insurgent groups, and the nature of operations, counterterrorism battles in Africa assume diverse forms and employ varied techniques. Departments, institutions, and programs have been established in countries to address the crime afflicted by terrorism. In addition, several laws, regulations, and directives have been passed to guarantee the success of counterterrorism initiatives and tactics. Technology and new technologies are used to acquire additional intelligence and prepare for counter operations.
Creating powerful political institutions is the first transition stage African nations must go through. A nation’s political structure has a significant role in determining its security architecture. Launching counterterrorism investigations and conflicts between the political class and those in important leadership positions with access to resources and intelligence that could jeopardize government efforts is the second transition stage. As a result, corruption and money laundering are curbed, closing doors to money that may be readily transferred to fund terrorists. Additionally, collaboration with the public is required to create a community policing operation. By acting as informants and providing the necessary information to security personnel, citizens would be involved in the security architecture of African states. African nations must also calm ethnic tensions that could lead to domestic conflict because internal weakness in a nation creates favourable conditions for insurgency growth. Insecurity in Africa stems from internal crises that aim to undermine people’s safety and the African state’s coherence. Therefore, individual African states must organize more effective counterterrorism policies.
For this to be accomplished, effective political leadership and corporate governance must be ingrained at the internal level of the African state. Each African state administration must understand that defeating terrorism requires teamwork and must demonstrate the capacity and willingness to achieve victory. This is because if internal conflicts are permitted to persist and damage the political structure, it will pave the way for external forces to invade. African nations must fortify political institutions in their particular domains to achieve a change in the security architecture. Also, African governments must work together with other nations to implement counterinsurgency strategies. The African Union and regional organizations like the ECOWAS must intervene to maintain Africa’s peace and security. African nations must cooperate on forward-thinking projects to reach a common goal.
The trajectories of political and economic progress have been significantly impacted by security issues brought on by internal conflict, civil wars, and terrorist acts. In light of the continent’s security issues and other difficulties, and to address the problems that are slowly destroying the continent, African political leaders must use the opportunity to restructure the continent’s democratic system. The promises made by African leaders to develop counterterrorism technology development plans must also be reaffirmed. Establishing strong democratic and political institutions in each African state is crucial to transform Africa into a safe continent free from terrorist attacks and other types of danger. These institutions must be capable of using the military and diplomacy to combat terrorism.
Lastly, the effectiveness of the actions and policies put in place by the individual governments of African countries will significantly impact the future trajectories of counterterrorism and security in the continent. For African nations to effectively battle terrorism and firmly establish peace and security throughout the continent, better political institutions must be built, alliances with militarily stronger states must be formed, and counterterrorism policies and actions must be well coordinated. African nations must build strong political leadership and corporate governance in the battle against terrorism to overcome the insecurity dilemma brought about by terrorists in their continent. Only then can the fight against terrorism in Africa be won.