MOSCOW, (IDN) – UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mohamed Ibn Chambas, told the UN Security Council’s first formal meeting in 2020 that the West African region has experienced "a devastating surge in terrorist attacks against civilian and military targets". These have "shaken public confidence" and the humanitarian consequences are alarming, he said.
He elaborated on terrorist-attack casualties in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, which have leapt five-fold since 2016 – with more than 4,000 deaths reported in 2019 alone as compared to some 770 three years earlier. The number of deaths in Burkina Faso jumped from about 80 in 2016 to over 1,800 last year. The displacement has grown ten-fold to about half a million, on top of some 25,000 who have sought refuge in other countries.
"Most significantly," Chambas said on January 7, "the geographic focus of terrorist attacks has shifted eastwards from Mali to Burkina Faso and is increasingly threatening coastal West African countries" and added that "terrorist attacks are often deliberate efforts by violent extremists to engage in illicit activities that include capturing weapons and illegal artisanal mining".
IDN research shows that there were a number of terrorist attacks between November and December 2019. First, in Somalia's capital Mogadishu 90 people were killed, including 17 Somali police officers and 73 civilians in a bomb attack, another terrorist attack in Soum Province in northern Burkina Faso killed at least 35 civilians and seven members of the country’s armed forces. Government forces repelled the attack during intense fighting and killed about 80 terrorists.
On December 10, 2019 militants from Islamic terrorist groups operating in the Sahel-Saharan region attacked a military camp in the town of Inates near the Niger-Mali border. According to information from Niamey, over 70 soldiers were killed in a fierce battle, and dozens are wounded and missing.
The Niger Armed Forces sent in reinforcements, which helped repel the attack and neutralise some 60 terrorists. On November 1, an attack by the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara terrorist group on a Mali Armed Forces post near Indelimane in the Gao Region killed 49 and injured three Malian soldiers.
Against this backdrop, Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo has called on Moscow to support efforts aimed at creating necessary conditions for sustainable development and for ensuring regional stability.
In an exclusive interview published by TASS News Agency, Akufo-Addo urged Moscow to get engaged in fostering peace in "trouble spots" on the African continent, and primarily those in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
"We presume that settlement of conflicts in Africa requires attention and active support of the global community, and the creation of conditions for sustainable development. At the same time, Africans themselves must also be responsible for ensuring regional stability," he stressed.
Russia, President Akufo-Addo added, could make a weighty contribution to the peace-making process in Africa as well as contribute to the social and economic development in the African continent.
As far back as on September 26, 2019, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov remarked at a session of the UN Security Council on the topic, "Peace and security in Africa: partnership to strengthen regional peace and security," showed commitment to ensuring peace and security in Africa by the Russian Federation in conjunction with the UN Security Council.
"The African continent is facing numerous challenges. The world's fastest growing region – in terms of population – remains in the grips of instability. A number of African countries are going through acute political and socioeconomic crises. Terrorists often take advantage of unresolved interethnic and ethnic conflicts. ISIS and Al-Qaeda, as well as their offshoots such as Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram and other local groups are active throughout the continent from Mali to Somalia," Lavrov told the Security Council.
The African Union is stepping up its efforts to prevent conflicts, including relying on regional associations and "good offices" of the African leaders. However, Africans certainly need the international community’s energetic assistance, including that of the UN Security Council.
Russia, on its part, sees serious potential in building up interaction of the UN Security Council with the African Union Peace and Security Council. Annual consultative meetings of these two organizations provide a good opportunity. So does cooperation between the UN Secretariat and the African Commission.
Russia's assistance in ensuring peace and security in Africa is based on international law, including the principle of non-interference in internal affairs of states enshrined in the UN Charter, and is provided exclusively with the approval of the host countries and is designed to build their own anti-crisis capabilities, Lavrov said.
Russia is indeed profoundly concerned about escalating terrorism and extremism, its negative impact on human lives and destruction of infrastructure and destabilisation of the situation in most African countries. During the fourth quarter of 2019, there were attacks in Burkina Faso, Mali, Nigeria and Kenya, among others in sub-Saharan Africa.
It is significant and worth recalling that Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised to help fight terrorism and extremism. He has last reiterated this pledge and agreed to take action when he hosted African leaders in the Black Sea city of Sochi on October 23-24, 2019.
"Africa is entering a new, important stage of development linked with substantial changes for the better and the African people, in general, want to move forward and to do this as speedily as possible. But, we are also aware of the host of problems facing Africa that need to be settled. It is within this framework that we will continue to coordinate our positions at international platforms and our joint efforts in the interests of stability on the African continent," Putin said at the Summit.
Professor Galina Sidorova, lecturer from the Diplomatic Academy of Russian Foreign Ministry and a researcher at the Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told IDN in an interview that many African countries have become explicit targets of Islamic radicalism and extremism that are perceived as a major threat to international security around the world.
She is of view that the most prevalent Islamic groups in sub-Saharan Africa are the Wahhabis and the Muslim Brotherhood. Other widespread groups are the Sheikh Balala sect in Kenya with an active subdivision in Zimbabwe, the Sunni Muslim Association in Cote d’Ivoire, the People against Gangsterism and Drugs, and the Islamic Jihad in South Africa.
In Nigeria, the greatest danger is posed by the Boko Haram – an extremist organization imposing the Shariah laws. Menacing in Senegal is the Al-Falah Movement for Salafi Islamic culture; in Burkina Faso, Jama’at Ahl al-Sunnah al-Muhammad; in Somalia, Al-Shabaab and Jihad al-Islamiyya, the radical wing of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in west Africa (headed by Oumar Ould Hamaha) and Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb region.
Sidorova said the growth of terrorism spread by armed groups on the African continent as a whole is the additional risk factor for the destabilization of situation. Academic research studies have shown that the radical Islamic groups have already set foot in Libya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan and South Sudan, and are spreading further throughout Africa.
Experts pointed to terrorism and criminal activity are too frequent biggest problems facing the African continent, and to ensure a continental security, a set of measures needs to be taken, along with preventive action to combat possible threats. The biggest vulnerabilities in this regard include proliferation of weapons, weak border control and unprotected industrial facilities.
Besides creating effective armed forces is just one factor of ensuring national security, preventive measures are, in fact, necessary. In order to eliminate the root causes of conflicts, review and plan for sustainable development and it is necessary to resolve acute socioeconomic problems of the countries of the region and to strengthen their public institutions.
An effective set of counter terrorism measures has to be developed, in which Russia has to play a cardinal role and share its experience especially from Syria and Middle East with African partners, by sub-regional organizations and the African Union and with the Security Council of the United Nations.