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Security and integration in West Africa


Participants at the workshop

Participants at the workshop

Last week in Abuja, there was an important international workshop on the theme , “Improving Security in West Africa through Regional Integration” . This conference was organised by a German NGO,  Konrad Adenauer Foundation in collaboration with the German Embassy in Nigeria. It was attended by representatives of Non Governmental Organisations (NGO) from West African countries and  diplomats from  Europe, USA, Canada  and African countries working in Nigeria.

By coincidence, this relevant and topical  workshop took place at a time two major events were unfolding in West Africa: one encouraging , the other a disaster.

In Dakar, capital of Senegal, President  Macky Sall organized “the third Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security in Africa”. Many African  Heads of State and international organisations, the United Nations , European Union and African Union, just to name a few, were present . Various themes on security and integration similar to the ones of Abuja workshop , put together by Konard Adenauer Foundation,  were also thoroughly debated at the Dakar Conference . This simply demonstrates the fact that participants in Dakar and Abuja were concerned that insecurity in any part of Africa is an obstacle to peace and development for the continent . And African leaders in partnership with the international community must work together to tackle insecurity in Africa.

The other event was the unfortunate political events which were unfolding when the Abuja and Dakar meetings took place.  Yaya Jammeh, the Gambian President who ruled Gambia for over 20 years organised a free and fair election, lost to his political rival, accepted defeat , congratulated ADAMA BARRO, only to turn around annulling the results of the election. Yaya Jammeh is in the process of fomenting a major political crisis which may further complicate the  security challenges and regional integration in West Africa because if he continues to reject appeals by West African leaders to accept the results and peacefully hand over power, he may precipitate another round of crisis leading to Gambians fleeing the country and creating refugees problems  in the neighbouring states.

These   fears were in the minds of participants at the Abuja workshop on improving security in West Africa through Regional Integration.

In his opening address, TINKO WEIBEZAHI, the Programme Director of Konrad Adenauer Foundation explained the main trust and objective of the foundation in Africa: participation and collaboration with African governments and African civil societies to ensure the advancement of peace , development through regional integration.

Drawing inspiration and example from the European Union model,  Tinko Weibezahl was convinced that in a rapidly changing world and its contradictions especially in this 21st century, it is imperative that regional cooperation amongst nation states remains the only viable option to guarantee peace , regional integration and development.

In his own, Thomas BRILLISAUER  , Defence  Attaché, German Embassy, in Nigeria succinctly explained reasons for  the involvement of his country, as a partner,  in the process of ensuring peace, security and integration in Africa. “ Germans tried to work alone  and in isolation during the First and Second World Wars. We know the disastrous consequences of working alone. We have since then decided that  shall no more  we work alone again.” , he affirmed.

Although Germany lost her African  colonies as a result of the consequences of the First World War, he indicated that for the past 15 years , there has been a renewed German interests in Africa. This interest, according to him, will not diminish . Rather
It would  increase especially with the renewed efforts  by the international community to stand up against terrorism.
As a show of interests in this common efforts to fight terrorism, he affirmed that there is an increase in collaborative efforts with Nigeria, Mali and recently Niger Republic to improve security measures in the fight against terrorists in these countries.
In order to properly focus on the interconnection between insecurity and regional integration, three experts provided the theoretical framework as vectors for the participants to make their contributions. They are: Professor Nassirou Bako-Arifari, Chairman Committee for Defence and Security, National Assembly Republic of Benin, Dr. Hyacinthe Bley, History Department , Felix Houphuet Boigny University, Abidjan , Cote d’Ivoire and Professor Chris Kwaja , Centre for Conflict  Management and Peace Studies, University of Jos.

They are of the view that there are multidimensional security crises confronting West Africa.  “When the Organisation of African Union was founded in 1963 and was subsequently replaced by  the Africa Union modelled along European Union, the African elite accepted , as a major priority , the creation of regional economic blocs . When these economic blocs were created the African leaders never anticipated that they would have to set aside , for a while,  their still-born regional economic blocs and a matter of urgency , they had to create regional security  blocs to confront intra-border and inter border crisis capable of destabilising the regional economic blocs”, affirmed Professor Nassirou Bako-Arifari.

He further declared that the formation of the regional security organisations was undertaken alone by the region economic giant like Nigeria giving birth to ECOMOG and other sisters state were invited to join.

One of the consequences of lack of  unified and well funded regional security organisations was the ability of organised terrorist groups to overrun , at the initial stage , with ease, vast expanse of trans-border territories. Three edifying examples were highlighted by  different participants: Al-Mourabutoun, MOJWA, Ansar Dine, AQMIN, Ansar al-Sharia , MNLA, – all operating in Northern Mali; Boko Haram in Nigeria, Cameroun, Niger, and  Chad; Al-Sheba in  Somalia and its tentacles in Ethiopia and Kenya; Seleka and Balaka armed groups in Centraal African Republic; armed groups in Northern Uganda and those in North East and South West of Democratic Republic of Congo, just to name a few.

In their various intervention in the debate, Souleyman Sangare (Mali), Felix Kokou Aklavon (Togo),Maman Aminou Koundy (Niger) spoke with one voice on the reasons for the mushrooming of these armed groups and their initial success against national armies: the refusal of big countries with strong armies to pull their resources together to confront these little armed groups. Algeria, Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt and Kenya are not willing to create very strong sub-regional military blocks to counter these armed groups because many African countries have abandoned the principle of pan African philosophy.

As from the early part of 21st Century ,  it became obvious that the boundaries created by the 1885 Berlin Conference were going to be dislocated and  African nation states were under the threat of re-balkanization by armed groups.
This trend had the potential of creating, on the long run,  immense refuge problems for European and American powers. Consequently, under the auspices of United Nations Security Council, European Union and USA created and funded various United Nations peace keeping missions in Africa. The immediate impact of these UN funded peace missions is the gradual re-establishment of State authorities in these no-man land territories in some countries in Africa: vast territories seized in Northern Mali and Lake Chad regions have been retaken from terrorist  groups, by the nation states,  with the assistance of these foreign powers.
However, this attempt at re-balkanisation of Africa, by armed groups,  has not ended. Maman Aminu Koundy (Niger) and  Blegue Ramadane (Chad) reminded the participants that the collapse of the Libyan State with its immense armouries gave the armed rebel groups in all parts of Africa opportunities to re-equip themselves , with the latest sophisticated weapons. This frightening situation coupled with the presence of ISIS and Al-Qaida branches along the Mediterranean Sea coastal lands  of North Africa
facing Europe became an additional impulse for Europe and USA to redouble their collaboration efforts in Africa with a view to checkmating terrorist groups.

Just like on the land, the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean has its own share of increasing security challenges. This vast maritime area is where strategic raw materials leave by big cargoes, for many centuries, Africa for Europe and Americas; and also finished industrialized goods and services are imported into West Africa from the industrialized world. All participants agreed that the Gulf of Guinea needs to be secured.  They also agreed that the Yaounde and  Lome Maritime Treaties signed by some maritime African states are sufficient to provide security for human being of all nationalities, goods and services.
They are of the opinion that kidnapping, hostage taking, drug trafficking and oil theft drive away investments, peace and development in West African coastal States.

In the overall assessment of the 3-day workshop on improving security in West Africa through Regional Integration put together by Konrad Adenauer Foundation all participants agreed that in a dynamic global world, African States must come together, plan together with a view to providing strong security umbrella without frontiers. Terror and armed groups take advantage of porous borders to create security challenges for all nation states.

African State must, as a matter of urgent priority, invest in education and vocational training so that vast millions of African can acquire must needed skill to transform into finished industrial products Africa’s raw materials. Africa must emulate the success story of South Korea, which continues to invest over 50 percent of her annual budget in education and vocational training.

To guarantee improved security in West Africa through regional integration, West African states must, deliberately and consciously move  large portions of their annual budget  from the opulent political class and invest these resources to develop human capital in the areas of education and vocational training – the twin sources of security of lives and properties in the developed world. This goal is achievable if there is resolute political will amongst Africa’s political class. Participants agreed, unanimously with above conclusion.

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