Africa rising: Terrorism on the continent too

Soldiers comforting a wounded boy in Grand-Bassam, Ivory Coast, on Sunday, March 13, 2016. PHOTO: Joe Penney/Reuters

Soldiers comforting a wounded boy in Grand-Bassam, Ivory Coast, on Sunday, March 13, 2016. PHOTO: Joe Penney/Reuters

The recent attack of the Grand Bassam Hotel on March 13, 2016, in Ivory Coast was carried out by AQIM using the same tactics as their other two recent hotel attacks in Mali, November 2015 and Burkina Faso January 2016.

Attacks on hotels continue to be the choice modus operandi for terrorist organisations in Africa because by nature hotels are soft targets and they attract a constant stream of people.

Terrorism experts believe that AQIM’s increase in attacks on hotels have to do with their rivalrous relationship with Islamic State. Ever since ISIS has been successful in grabbing the attention of the world in their attacks against innocent civilians in public places, there has also been an increase in such ‘copycat’ tactics with AQIM and Al-Shabab; the other two main terrorist organisations operating in Africa.

The idea is to keep carrying out high profile attacks on soft targets with high foreign or expatriate population in order to get a lot of media coverage which helps in fund raising and recruitment for the terrorist organisations.

It is for this reason that there continues to be fear of Nigeria’s main terrorist organisation Boko Haram, jumping on the same band wagon and carrying out similar attacks in other parts of Nigeria outside of their traditional area of operation in the North East.

Terrorist attacks on soft targets across Africa continue to highlight the continent’s vulnerabilities. The head of U.S Africa Command Gen. Rodriguez made a remark to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee that “The fight against Al-Shabaab is failing to achieve its objectives because African Union forces are “overstretched” and the Somalia national army suffers “endemic deficiencies.”

These sort of attacks continue to display the Africa’s inability to adequately tackle security challenges, and this is detrimental to the economies of the countries on the continent as potential tourists and investors have begun to think twice about opting for the continent as a choice location.

What should the governments do?

When it comes to West Africa, there were warnings of possible plots against hotels in Senegal, Chad and Ivory Coast. Security was beefed up in most of the luxury hotels across these countries but despite these efforts, the Ivory Coast attack still occurred.
In 2014, the deputy Chairman of the African Union, Erastus Mwencha, responded to a question about whether African countries have been weak in combating increasing terrorism on the continent.

He said these terrorist “attacks are asymmetric war, there is no face to it. So you are dealing with a network that knows each other but you don’t know them.”

Defeating terrorists and terrorism on the continent should not be viewed from a helpless point of view. Intelligence organisations can work hard to ensure that individuals in the various terrorist networks are identified, in other words, “the attackers need to be known.”

Proactive steps should be taken. Burying our heads in the sand, hoping that terrorism will go away is not going to work. Nigeria tried it and seven years later, we are still dealing with Boko Haram. African nations need to commit to thwarting the spread of terrorism on the continent by not just disrupting immediate threats, but also dismantling the insurgent networks. It just requires a willing and cooperative government.

Terrorists will continue to evolve their tactics to circumvent the effective security defenses of any individual nation. Before the whole continent throws its hands up begging for help from the “international community” it would be best they all come together and see how they can help each other in defeating this fast spreading threat of terrorism in Africa.

That is why African nations must begin to put aside political squabbles, work around legal constraints, and overcome financial grudging, and do more in the area of collaboration on security, intelligence and defense matters of the continent. Just as multi-lateral trade agreements exist among the various regional countries, so also security and intelligence sharing agreements need to be solidified among nations.

South Africa: Much ado about nothing
Just because a certain country has not been attacked doesn’t mean that it is safe. Gone are the days of neutrality, terrorists are willing to carry out attacks whether or not a country fights against terrorists or claims to be neutral.

Nigerian newspapers reported that the Nigerian Minister of Defense confirmed South Africa was deploying its special forces to the country to help fight against Boko Haram. In less than 24 hours, the Chief of the South African National Defence Force released a statement calling the reports “reckless and unfortunate”, reiterating that “there was no such decision to send any military elements by the RSA to assist with the fight against Boko Haram.”

Now I’m not sure what is more disappointing, the fact that South Africa was quick to let us know that they do not intend to help Nigeria with the Boko Haram issues being faced despite acting like they are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the country, or the immediate apprehension displayed by South African security and defense analysts.

After Nigerian newspapers erroneously quoted the minister and released that headline, SA security analysts were quick to spell out the implications of SA involving itself with Boko Haram. Their argument was that Boko Haram is the West African branch of ISIS and if South Africa is seen as taking sides, they risk their country and their other foreign interests being attacked by ISIS which already has been proven to be present in South Africa.

The first thought that came to mind after reading those reactions was that if South Africa was indeed attacked by ISIS, it won’t be because they were doing the right thing standing in solidarity with their fellow Africans in combating terrorism on the continent. It will be because they didn’t effectively tackle the already existing threat of ISIS on their own soil! Perhaps the analysts forgot that South African Mercenaries did fight Boko Haram in Nigeria and that didn’t lead to an ISIS attack in their country or any of their other economic interests in the country.

It turns out South Africa is dealing with its own defense personnel and resource constraints. The budget for South African National Defence Force was slashed and an editor of the African Defence Review remarked that “we don’t have the budget, we don’t have the capacity and frankly we don’t have the experience in training forces to fight 21st Century terrorism. The American, British or even French have operational experience in this.”

The above remark would have been a more sensible primary response to the false news of South Africa deploying Special Forces. Quite frankly, Nigeria has a lot more experience in fighting an insurgency and at this rate, the Nigerian Armed forces might as well start lending its counter-terrorism knowledge and skills to other African nations, including South Africa who may be needing our help soon if they do not actively work towards dismantling and disrupting the ISIS threat on their soil.

A few years ago, South African defence forces were sent to Central African Republic to provide protection to the then President Bozize as well as to provide military training to the CAR’s army. The SA troops were over run by the rebels, who killed about 13 South African soldiers. South Africa has continually shied away from involving itself in Africa’s troublesome conflict zones and this lack of experience has prevented them from being the continent’s military leader.

South Africa does have advanced military weapon systems that Nigeria military may procure which will mean that the extent of South African Defence activity in Nigeria will be training on how to use the procured weapons systems. Nigeria is better off receiving training from other countries that are actively combating terrorism, and with the level of experience the country has on that matter, it should begin to see and position itself as one of the leading authorities on the continent when it comes to fighting an insurgency.

Email: tanwa.ashiru@bulwarkintelligence.com
Website: www.bulwarkintelligence.com
Twitter: @bulwark_intel



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