The recent sixth AU high level retreat for the promotion of peace, security and stability on the continent acknowledged an increase in the frequency and scope of violent attacks by different groups and the growing presence of the so-called Islamic State in Africa.
The gathering in the Namibian capital of Windhoek said this was “a matter of deep concern”.
In the Windhoek Declaration, issued after the retreat and ahead of the one and only field exercise of the African Standby Force’s (ASF) rapid deployment capability in South Africa, it was noted that “casualties, destruction of infrastructure and loss of livelihoods have been unprecedented”.
“In Somalia, Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, Chad, the Central African Republic and in Libya armed conflict and/or terrorism has resulted in a humanitarian crisis of grave proportions. There are an estimated 28 million people in need of humanitarian assistance across the Sahel.
“It is likely that conditions fuelling violent extremism will not subside in the immediate future, especially given the current dynamics in the Middle East and the increasing globalisation evident throughout the world,” the Declaration states.
Those attending also noted the global debate is shifting from “a war on terror” to other types of responses with a more holistic approach.
“Terrorism and violent extremism represent a multi-dimensional and complex phenomenon, requiring a comprehensive counter-strategy,” the Declaration states noting responses to these threats “have often been designed to address the symptoms through military and security centred counter-terrorism strategies”.
These, it continues, may seem effective in the short term but have proven to be unsustainable and ineffective and “often counter-productive and resulting in an increased pool of individuals vulnerable to radicalisation. Especially if non-state armed groups count on popular support they cannot be defeated by military action alone and a political solution should be envisaged to resolve violent insurgencies”.
To prevent terrorism its underlying causes have to be addressed. These the retreat identified as good governance, particularly the promotion of accountable, transparent and inclusive governance systems based on the rule of law as well as poverty, unemployment and inequality.
The Declaration also notes that political solutions must become central to comprehensive strategies addressing terrorism and violent extremism.
As far as recommendations are concerned the Windhoek Declaration states that “addressing the scourge of terrorism is not a short term exercise but a long term commitment requiring firm political will, mobilisation of considerable resources, close collaboration and carefully conducted and shared analysis”.
The retreat also recommended that the prevention of violent extremism and terrorism be prioritised and placed at the top of the African policy agenda.