Counter-terrorism in Africa must adapt to new realities

Can a special unit in the African Standby Force help as the terrorist threat grows and spreads?

Africa experienced 1,168 terrorist attacks from January to August 2020 – 18% more than the 982 incidents in the same period in 2019. Years after numerous counter-terrorism operations were deployed, including the African Union (AU) mission in Somalia ( AMISOM), the multinational joint task force (MNJTF) against Boko Haram and many non-African missions, the continent is nowhere near defeating or containing violent extremism.

The threat is spreading even to regions such as the Great Lakes and Southern Africa, and to countries such as Mozambique and West African coastal states that have not had such attacks until recently.

Extremist groups can increasingly start and sustain military offensive. They have developed the ability to fund their operations through illegal international networks and transnational crimes such as piracy and mercenary activities, as well as human trafficking, counterfeit goods, drugs, firearms and natural resources.

In some cases, they have areas that are already experiencing instability. Their work is facilitated when states have weak security institutions, weak government and large areas of ungovernment. Another factor is the return of foreign fighters to these areas after the fall of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The PSC could not agree on whether the anti-terrorism unit under the ASF was the best response

The growing threat of violent extremism in Africa shows the need to revisit existing continental responses. African heads of state during the AU summit in February 2020 ordered the AU’s Peace and Security Council (PSC) to consider forming a special unit against terrorism in the African Standby Force (ASF).

The PSC discussed the proposal on 28 October. Members acknowledged that violent extremism had become a continental threat that needed to reinforce Africa’s responses. However, the council could not agree whether a unit against terrorism under the ASF was the best response.

A task force composed of all stakeholders, including the PSC Military Personnel Committee, Regional Mechanisms and AU Security Cooperation Agencies, has been formed. It will evaluate the technical, structural, doctrinal and financial implications of the proposed entity and submit proposals to the PSC within the next six months. The AU’s specialized technical committee for defense, security and security will also provide input.

An anti-terrorism unit under the ASF could help streamline the ad hoc nature of existing missions, which some African states say are difficult to adapt to a structured response to terrorist threats. Under the ASF, the AU’s terror against operations can be supported by the African Peace and Security Architecture.

Africa’s response to terrorism may also extend from the current heavy military focus to include non-violent preventive measures aimed at the underlying conditions causing radicalization and violence.

An ASF terrorism unit can help streamline the ad hoc nature of existing missions

An amendment to the definition of peace support operations (PSOs) in the PSO doctrine currently under review should be endorsed by the PSC before the AU Summit in February 2021. This policy recognizes that multinational and multidimensional operations approved or granted by the AU to repair or maintain PSOs. If this definition is endorsed, the terrorist missions led by Africa could gain access to funding from the Peace Fund.

However, some members of the PSC believe that the proposed unit will cause redundancy. This is because the ASF is expected to have a multidimensional ability to respond to violent extremism.

Experts also question the benefits of an additional terrorism unit in Africa, which calls for existing mechanisms to be held accountable. Others criticize the lack of local consultations before the proposal was discussed at the PSC, because every regional body has already put in place mechanisms against terrorism. Some states are concerned about anti-terrorism units consisting of contingents outside their regional bloc, and which are not under their direct control, being deployed in their ‘environment’.

Although the AU has developed a general definition of terrorism, the member states are worded differently who qualify as a terrorist threat. This will be a major obstacle to deciding whether to deploy the ASF in response to specific ‘terrorist’ groups.

To reach consensus on the proposed unit under the ASF, the PSC must agree on a draft United Nations (UN) resolution on access to UN-rated contributions. It must also decide what kind of interventions will be assisted by the Peace Fund, and conclude the Common Africa position on funding.

If the PSC endorses an ASF counter-terrorism unit, it will have to negotiate extensively with the UNSC

Annette Leijenaar, Head of Peace Operations and Peacebuilding at the Institute for Security Studies, argues that ad hoc arrangements are quick ways to address the terrorist threat in geographical areas in the operational theater in the countries involved in the ad hoc missions. speak. They can also receive funding from the European Union and other partners, which is less complicated than getting financial support from the UN.

The AU’s definition and mandate of PSOs differ from those of the UN. Although the UN Security Council is increasingly dependent on the AU for deployment in response to terrorism in Africa, the global body continues to insist that the UN mandate PSOs not participate in military responses to terrorism.

The UN Security Council and PSC are also at odds with the mandate of active missions such as AMISOM. While the AU has given the mission a political mandate under the provisions of Chapter 8 of the UN Charter, it is not recognized by the UN Security Council.

Ad hoc terrorist missions in Africa are currently focusing more on military responses to extremism. Yet, as experience worldwide shows, these interventions cannot overcome the threat. Adopting a hybrid definition of PSOs will help the AU address this issue. However, it is unclear whether the UN will support the definition of PSOs by the AU.

If the PSC endorses the proposal to form a unit against terrorism under the ASF, it will have to negotiate extensively with the UN Security Council. The significant doctrinal discrepancy with regard to the deployment of PSOs for terrorist missions, in order to gain access to UN-assessed contributions, needs to be resolved.

Shewit Woldemichael, Researcher, African Peace and Security Management, ISS Addis Ababa

This article was first published in the ISS’s PSC report.


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