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The Achilles’ heel of AU counter-terror efforts remains the African State

07/02/2012

In view of the resurgence of Boko Haram in Nigeria, the strengthening of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) following the Arab Spring in North Africa, not to mention the still active Al-Shabab threat in the Horn of Africa, it is essential that we re-examine Africa’s counter-terror security architecture.

This security architecture was initially established by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and its successor body, the African Union (AU), built on these foundations. In July 1992 OAU Heads of State met in Dakar, Senegal and adopted Resolution 213 which aimed to curb extremism. This was further strengthened in the June 1994 Summit when the Assembly of Heads of State rejected fanaticism and extremism. This was important given the context of the vicious Algerian civil war being waged at the time. The July 1999 Algiers Convention made clear that terrorism was not to be countenanced whilst Article 4 of the Constitutive Act of the AU echoed these sentiments. The adoption of the Common African Defence and Security Policy and the establishment of the African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism were similarly fundamental milestones in the fight against the scourge of terrorism on the African continent.

Since its inception the African Union’s main concern has been to reinforce and implement existing counter-terror instruments and to promote coordination between states and the regional organisations, the so-called Regional Economic Communities (RECs). The AU also sought to serve as an interface between the continent and the international community, especially the United Nations. In a very real sense, then, the state was and remains the primary instrument to combat terrorism whilst the AU sought to provide guidelines and strategies for collective and individual state action against terrorism.

This reliance on the African state, whilst understandable, is also the Achilles’ heel of any counter-terror efforts. There have been instances where political elites have made use of counter-terror legislation to consolidate their draconian rule thereby undermining the democratic aspirations of their citizens. The resultant popular alienation makes the populace vulnerable to the propaganda of extremist elements and renders genuine counter-terror efforts illegitimate. In other instances, states either over-state or under-state the magnitude of terrorism in their countries for their own reasons. Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, for instance, attempted to accentuate the linkages between Al-Qaeda and domestic terror groups like the West Nile Bank Front and the Lord’s Resistance Army. The point being made is that if the AU or the RECs are reliant upon information being supplied by state actors and if this information is deliberately tainted by narrower political considerations, then strategy formulated on such flawed information is bound to be ineffective, if not counter-productive.

There is however something even more worrisome and that is the growing criminalisation of the African state and the fact that terrorists are exploiting this to expand their influence into the state structures themselves. Recently, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan noted that Boko Haram sympathisers are located within the executive and legislative arms of government, in the judiciary, as well as in the armed forces, police and other security agencies. In South Africa, meanwhile, we have witnessed terror suspects being tipped off before police raids as well as the murder of terrorism trial witnesses under witness protection.. Indeed, in South Africa, Jackie Selebi, the former National Police Commissioner, shared information with a drug dealer resulting in him being sacked and jailed.

This raises the question as to why would countries share information with other countries, if those countries security services are leaking? In other words, it is one thing to foster regional and continental counter-terror regimes, as the AU has been attempting, it is quite another thing for such co-operation to take place in this context. Unless, there is a major overhaul of the African state, counter-terror efforts at continental level are bound to fail.