Terrorism in Africa a concern for UN boss

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No region in the world is immune to terrorism according to United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who told the UN Security Council (SC) this week the situation in Africa was “especially concerning”.

Leaders from across the continent joined ambassadors examining how to counter terrorism and better prevent violent extremism through stronger co-operation between the UN and regional organisations at UN headquarters in New York.

The debate was chaired by Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi. His country, which holds the rotating SC presidency this month (March), has been battling a deadly insurgency in its north for over five years.

Nyusi said African countries, the African Union (AU) and continental regional organisations such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC), West African bloc ECOWAS and its East African counterpart IGAD have years of experience in conflict resolution.

A SADC Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) has been fighting terrorists in Cabo Delgado province for close on two years – an example of “African solutions to African problems” and an approach that could be replicated elsewhere.

“For Mozambique, this experience is vested with added value as presently we are fighting terrorism, combining SADC regional multilateral efforts with bilateral efforts between Mozambique and Rwanda and together we are successfully fighting terrorism,” UN News reports Nyusi as saying.

Guterres expressed concern over gains terrorist groups are making in the Sahel and other parts of Africa.

“Despair, poverty, hunger, lack of basic services, unemployment and unconstitutional changes in government continue to lay fertile ground for the creeping expansion of terrorist groups to infect new parts of the continent,” he said.

Additionally fighters, funds and weapons increasingly flow between regions and across the continent while terrorist groups forge new alliances with organised crime networks and piracy groups. Their “violent ideologies” are also spread online.

“Just as terrorism drives people apart, countering it can bring countries together,” Guterres said, pointing to initiatives in the Sahel, the Lake Chad Basin and Mozambique.

“The UN stands with Africa to end this scourge. Above all, it includes ongoing close collaboration with the African Union (AU) and regional and sub-regional African organisations.”

The UN is delivering “tailored assistance” to African countries including prevention, legal assistance, investigation, prosecution, re-integration and rehabilitation.

Alongside Nigeria, the UN is co-organising the upcoming African Counter Terrorism Summit and strengthening work on peace initiatives. The world body advocates new AU-led “robust” peace enforcement missions and counter-terrorism operations with Security Council mandates.

Looking to June when the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, adopted in 2006, undergoes its eighth review, Guterres sees this as a “critical opportunity” for countries to more effectively tackle conditions creating fertile ground for the spread of terrorism.

“Evidence shows counter-terrorism efforts solely security focused rather than human rights based, can inadvertently increase marginalisation and exclusion, making the situation even worse,” he said.

New AU chair, President Azali Assoumani of Comoros, noted terrorism “has been around for ages, since the Libyan crisis in 2011 it exploded particularly in Africa”.

As a result, thousands of foreign fighters and combatants flooded to the Sahel, which helped importing terrorist groups onto the continent, along with “an uncontrollable circulation of weapons”.

“In this way, progressively, terrorism took on greater scope in Africa – from north to south, from east to west. The terrorist contagion continues, broadening in almost all regions of Africa,” he said through an interpreter.

He vowed to “spare no effort” to ensure an AU flagship initiative to “silence the guns” by 2030 becomes reality.

Like climate change, terrorism is among the most serious threats to the international community, Nyusi said in his first-ever remarks to the UNSC.

“Expansion of terrorism is threatening and driven by varying factors. On one hand, radicalisation based on identity variables fuelled by intolerance and, on the other, manipulation of socio-economic factors accelerates recruitment to terrorist groups, particularly youth,” he told the SC through an interpreter.

Citing the 2022 Global Terrorism Index, he reported 48% of terror related deaths were in Africa, with the Sahel the “new epicentre” of terrorist attacks.

Nyusi offered proposals for the upcoming review of the UN Global Counter-terrorism Strategy, urging countries to establish a fund to strengthen local community resilience, including job creation projects for young people, particularly in Africa and the Middle East.

Other recommendations from the Mozambican president included support for regional solutions to combat terrorism and a holistic approach combining security, judicial and socio-economic interventions.

He warned the situation is making countries increasingly vulnerable to extremism, terrorism and violent conflict.

“For countries to emerge from the crisis, we call on the international community to restructure debt and facilitate access to affordable funding for high risk countries,” he said.

“To this end, the international financial system needs to be transformed by reforming multilateral financial institutions.”