Abuja regional security summit: Was it helpful and what next?
The Abuja Security Summit has just ended, a follow up to the Paris Summit for Africa two years ago. So what next? Despite numerous counter terrorism resolutions, Africa continues to see an increase in the activities of terrorist groups and attacks across the continent.
Outside of Nigeria we have seen Tunisia, Mali, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast affected by the most heinous attacks, rudimentary and clumsy in execution but most effective in instilling fear and with long term security and economic implications. It is no wonder that when a regional security summit on Boko Haram was called, many saw this as just another summit to add to a repertoire of “talk shop.”
William Gumede recently wrote an article in the New African Magazine, about how global gatherings offer little benefit for Africa. Gumede wrote that “lots of promises of trade, development and cultural partnerships are often made at such events, with very few real benefits for Africa, except window dressing.” The author’s opinions are not far from what is seen as a lack of coordination between African countries. Despite several counter-terrorism summits, gatherings, policy agreements and resolutions regarding the challenge, little has been done in countering the threat of terrorism on the continent.
For instance, The African Union Counter Terrorism Framework lists several efforts in preventing and combating terrorism on the continent. There’s the 1992 Resolution on strengthening of co-operation and co-ordination among African states, the 1994 Declaration on the Code of Conduct for Inter-African Relations which rejected all forms of extremism and terrorism. There is also the 1999 OAU Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism, the 2002 AU Plan of Action on the prevention and combating of terrorism, there’s the 2011 African Model Law on Counter Terrorism and so on.
The Paris summit for Africa
Unfortunately for West Africa, it took the intervention of France, to bring all the neighbouring West African countries together in order to understand that Boko Haram could not be effectively dealt with through single country solutions. The French government called the leaders of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroun together in Paris on May 17, 2014, urging the need for strengthened cooperation between member states of the Lack Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) and Benin Republic.
If the summit had anything to do with rallying the region together to defeat Boko Haram, then it has worked. The second Regional Security Summit took place two years later in Abuja on May 14, 2016. Nigeria hosted the summit this year which is apt considering that as the Nigerian Foreign Minister said, “Boko Haram threat is essentially Nigerians within Nigeria” so the country has been bearing the real brunt.
There was certainly a remarkable difference since the last time the meeting held in Paris. During the last summit, Boko Haram had its flags hoisted across 14 local government councils on sovereign Nigerian territory. This time around, the MNJTF has finally gotten its act together and has recorded remarkable achievements. The MNJTF commander commented that task force has liberated 4,690 hostages this year alone, ‘taken out’ 675 Boko Haram terrorists and arrested a total of 566 terrorists, destroyed 32 terrorist camps and IED making factories and seized an impressive number of vehicles, weapons and equipment.
The Abuja security summit
The focus of this year’s summit centered more on ‘what next”. What to do with the 566 terrorists arrested this year. How to contain the humanitarian crisis of 2.2 million Nigerians internally displaced. How to handle the 450,000 displaced persons in Cameroun, Chad and Niger. How to deal with the 4.2 million people in the Lake Chad Basin region who are currently facing a food security crisis, and the 184 children per day who risk starvation in the North-East.
How to find the Chibok girls that are still missing and what to do about the children in and around the Chibok community that have not attended school in about three years. How to stabilise the lives of the returnees in liberated communities and so on.
Gumede’s New African article states that often in these gatherings, public announcements of large sums to be invested in Africa are made, but in many cases, the money promised is simply a promise being repeated, not new money. The Abuja summit reflects the major challenge in securing the Lake Chad Basin, and that is funds. President Buhari said that 916 million Euros was required for long term development of the Lake Chad region which will be crucial in reducing the level of poverty in the area. The MNJTF commander also stated that the force was in need of the redemption of pledges made by several international organizations in order to maintain adequate troop sustenance.
The Abuja security summit, posed a lot of questions and highlighted several upcoming issues, but it did not offer concrete answers or state how these issues are going to be tackled.
The need for trans regional collaboration
British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond stated that if ISIS gains a stronger foothold in Libya, the collaboration between Boko Haram and ISIS may be increased, further threatening stability in Nigeria. In late April, U.S military officials cited a weapons convoy believed to be of ISIS fighters in Libya, heading for the Lake Chad region. This is believed to be the first major sign of direct link between the two groups.
But despite this revelation, President Buhari insisted at the Abuja Security Summit that there is no credible evidence that ISIS is Boko Haram’s source of weaponry, pointing out that raided military barracks and police stations were the group’s main source of arms. But the president also said that there are links between the arms proliferation by the Fulani herdsmen and the crisis in Libya. Either way, we are left with no doubt that there is need for a solid regional or continental security summit because if left unfettered, terrorism will rescind the already fragile stability of just about every country on the continent.
More African security collaboration
There has been a steady increase in the presence and activities of terrorist groups such as Al-Shabab, ISIS, AQIM and Boko Haram, in Africa. In recent times, we have seen even more deadly terrorist attacks in Tunisia— in June 2015, Mali in November 2015, Burkina Faso in January 2016 and Ivory Coast, March 2016. Furthermore, a plot against a hotel in Morocco was thwarted in February, and there have been new warnings of possible plots against hotels in the region, including in Senegal, Chad and Ghana.
We have seen how terrorists circumvent the effective security defenses and penetrate the seams of a nation, taking advantage of ethnic differences and disputes. Trans regionally, the opportunity to widen the seams of discontent is even greater as environmental and resources concerns contribute to the problem set. The maritime space provides an example of how resources such as oil and fishing lanes can contribute to a much larger security paradigm. In the Gulf of Guinea, heightened security along Nigeria and Benin waters has now led to increased piracy along Togo waters. The case was similar with Boko Haram where lower IED attacks in Nigeria, saw increased IED attacks inside Cameroun and Niger. Without a cohesive plan that looks at threats trans-regional from all and every perspective, the cyclical nature of terrorism will continue to swirl around Africa with no end in sight.
The Africa Intelligence Fusion Centre (AIFC)
Just as the Paris security summit was a step in the right direction, the Abuja security summit was another step to understanding that terrorism and countering it needs to happen in a more collaborative environment and coming up with solutions trans-regionally.
The enemy operates in a more fluid, trans regional environment and any solution countering their activity needs to be able to not only react in the short term but identify and mitigate threats “left of crisis”. The next regional security summit should be less talk but more action. Gumede gives a suggestion that, every country should come to these meetings with their own country-level plans and these gatherings should serve as a means by which these country plans can be integrated in to trans regional or continent wide response.
A solution, following the economic model of ECOWAS, would be the development of an African Intelligence Fusion Centre (AIFC) with regional hubs that can have laser focus on more regional issues. The centre would allow for collaboration and sharing of information in order to prevent future attacks. Similar to the successful fusion center model in California, the center would provide for sharing of information to countries that have limited resources to fight terrorist activity. The center would look at a myriad of problem sets and can include cyber, financial and maritime threats.
Armed with analysis of soft targets on the continent and lessons learned collected from previous attacks a co-ordinated “Africa” response to countering the threats would provide a more viable solution. The center could also serve as a point for providing training for military and first responders on CT analysis, situational awareness and rapid response techniques, and establishing and/or strengthening Special Operations Forces for timely and effective response.
African nations must begin to put aside political squabbles and work around legal constraints in order to do more in the area of collaboration on security, intelligence and defense matters.