ECOWAS united front against ter­ror­ism

The Punch - - EDITORIAL -

RE­AL­IS­ING that the West African re­gion is now caught in the labyrinth of ter­ror­ism and other forms of crim­i­nal­ity, which have hin­dered the well-be­ing of the ci­ti­zens and the econ­omy, lead­ers of the Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity of West African States pledged to deal with the scourge at their re­cent meet­ing in Abuja. A $2.3 bil­lion bud­get was adopted for that pur­pose.

While mem­ber-states will con­trib­ute $1 bil­lion, the bal­ance is ex­pected from in­ter­na­tional part­ners. As a re­sult, the Pres­i­dent of ECOWAS Com­mis­sion, Jeanclaude Brou, has been man­dated to or­gan­ise a donor con­fer­ence as soon as pos­si­ble, just as he will put in place, a trans­par­ent mech­a­nism for man­ag­ing the funds. The com­mis­sion says, “The money is in­tended for the pro­vi­sion of equip­ment to sup­port the de­fence forces of mem­ber-states, train­ing of rel­e­vant bod­ies and ef­fec­tive in­tel­li­gence shar­ing.”

This com­mu­nal re­sponse, though be­lated, is a move in the right di­rec­tion. In­trigu­ingly, non-state ac­tors have de­mys­ti­fied the se­cu­rity forces of many mem­ber-states. For 10 years, Boko Haram’s mur­der­ous ac­tiv­i­ties have led to the death of about 100,000 per­sons in Nige­ria. Mil­i­tary lo­ca­tions are at­tacked in Borno and Yobe states with reckless aban­don. As sol­diers are killed, arms and am­mu­ni­tion, in­clud­ing hard­ware, are then carted away by the in­sur­gents to en­rich their ar­moury. In the wake of all this, the coun­try is fac­ing its worst hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis since the Civil War ended, with over 1.9 mil­lion peo­ple in­ter­nally dis­placed. With the Is­lamic State West African Province now in the North-east in an un­holy al­liance with Boko Haram, the end of their blood­bath in the area is not yet in sight.

Al-qaeda in the Is­lamic Maghreb, for more than a decade, has been a bad in­flu­ence on ji­hadists in Mali. The French mil­i­tary, com­ple­mented by the West Africa Joint Task Force, ousted the Is­lamists in the north­ern re­gion of that coun­try in 2013. Ever re­silient in their macabre ram­page, the Is­lamists killed more than 50 sol­diers there early in Novem­ber. An­other at­tack left 24 sol­diers dead. It was in pur­suit of these evil mer­chants that 13 French sol­diers died re­cently, when their he­li­copters col­lided.

In Niger Repub­lic, 71 sol­diers were killed last month and 30 oth­ers miss­ing as the Is­lamists at­tacked a mil­i­tary camp. The coun­try’s de­fence spokesman, Boubacar Has­san, said, “The ter­ror­ists bom­barded the camp with shells and mor­tars.” Burk­ina Faso is also reg­u­larly un­der at­tack. On Christ­mas Eve, a ter­ror at­tack there left 35 peo­ple dead, most of them women. Seven sol­diers were killed too.

The in­di­vid­ual ex­pe­ri­ence of each coun­try, in­clud­ing Chad and Cameroon that are at the re­gion’s fron­tiers, un­der­scores the fact that it is time mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism took the cen­tre stage in con­fronting these ji­hadists, who are fu­elled by the Salafist ide­ol­ogy. This strat­egy evinced in the Multi-na­tional Joint Task Force, which Nige­ria forged with Niger, Chad and Cameroon, when the Pres­i­dent, Ma­jor-gen­eral Muham­madu Buhari (retd.), as­sumed of­fice in 2015. And en­am­oured of the ini­tia­tive, the United States re­leased a $5 mil­lion grant to the group in ad­di­tion to the $21 mil­lion Nige­ria had pro­vided. But the mo­men­tum could not be sus­tained; per­haps due to the er­ror of judge­ment that the se­cu­rity chal­lenge was Nige­ria’s. No.

Is­lamism in the re­gion is a sub­set of the global ji­had. Re­spect­ing no na­tional bound­ary, reli­gion or race, no­body is, there­fore, safe. For in­stance, the at­tack on the tourist re­sort of Grand-bras­sam in Cote d’ivoire in 2016 left 16 peo­ple dead, in­clud­ing French and Ger­man na­tion­als. Western tourists were also some of the ca­su­al­ties of gun as­saults on Radis­son Blue Ho­tel in Ba­mako and Ho­tel Splen­did and Cap­puc­cino Cafe in Oua­gadougou within the same pe­riod.

There­fore, the re­gion’s se­cu­rity prob­lem will need more than rais­ing and shar­ing funds among mem­ber­states. Asym­met­ric bat­tles are fought with in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing and tech­nol­ogy. The mil­i­tary of coun­tries in the re­gion are de­fi­cient in these tools for ef­fec­tive coun­terin­sur­gency. There should be a cen­tral in­tel­li­gence agency that should re­de­fine the com­mon as­sault on these Is­lamic fun­da­men­tal­ists. Such in­tel­li­gence should tar­get tak­ing out their lead­ers and by so do­ing, weaken their re­solve. The US put this strat­egy to good ef­fect in 2011, when it elim­i­nated Osama bin Laden, the al-qaeda leader, in his hide­out in Ab­bot­tabad, Pak­istan. In Nige­ria, each video ap­pear­ance of Abubakar Shekau, re­new­ing his ter­ror cam­paign and dig­ging against Nige­ria’s mil­i­tary, brings in bold relief the ab­ject fail­ure of in­tel­li­gence.

ECOWAS lead­ers can get the US, France, Bri­tain and Is­rael, which have a wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence in fight­ing ter­ror wars, to sup­port the re­gion to the hilt. Their prom­ises of as­sis­tance by way of ap­prov­ing the pur­chase of some spe­cial mil­i­tary hard­ware and grants have not changed the dy­nam­ics for good. With Western satel­lites in space, they can lead the re­gion in in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing and track­ing of lead­ers of these mur­der­ous groups. The de­feat of ISIS in Iraq, Libya in tat­ters fol­low­ing the death of Muam­mar Gaddafi in 2011 and the corol­lary of il­le­gal arms in­flux will con­tinue to pose ex­is­ten­tial threats to the sub-re­gion. Hav­ing been dis­lodged in these places, these ji­hadists have turned West Africa into their new haven. Bor­der con­trol, there­fore, should be taken se­ri­ously. With­out cut­ting off the arms sup­ply chain and check­ing fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions to un­ravel sources of in­ter­na­tional ter­ror fi­nanc­ing, the lead­ers’ ef­forts would only amount to shadow-boxing.

The West should stop blow­ing hot and cold on the Boko Haram and al-shabaab ac­tiv­i­ties in West Africa. As they are among the five dead­li­est ter­ror groups in the world, ac­cord­ing to Global Ter­ror­ism In­dex, they could mu­tate into worse forms. Their transna­tional mass mur­ders and the hu­man­i­tar­ian crises in the wake of il­le­gal­i­ties are crimes against hu­man­ity. Western in­ter­ests might not be their pri­mary tar­gets cur­rently, but the 2011 Boko Haram bomb­ing of the United Na­tions build­ing in Abuja, points to the flu­id­ity of this evil with the global reach of its con­se­quences.

How­ever, the level of in­ter­na­tional sup­port will first be shaped by the se­ri­ous­ness that ECOWAS mem­ber­coun­tries at­tach to this new awak­en­ing. It took Chad three days to put on trial 10 mem­bers of Boko Haram that at­tacked her in 2015, con­victed and put them to death. Such swift le­gal ac­tion sends a strong mes­sage; and it should be adopted as a strat­egy. West Africa has some of the worst global health and eco­nomic in­dices. Ad­ding ter­ror­ism, ban­ditry and herds­men killings to her de­vel­op­ment mill­stone would be too cum­brous to bear.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Nigeria

© PressReader. All rights reserved.