In light of #Parisattacks, ISIS has become a global threat, but what does this mean for African counter-terrorism?

The attacks in Paris on Friday, November 13, have left France and other European nations in a constant state of fear, as there have been several shootings and bomb scares in the days following the tragic incident. In Nigeria and Somalia precisely, there have been similar attacks within the same period, allegedly carried out by terror group Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab. Africa has been plagued with an increasing presence of terrorism, following the aforementioned attacks, and with Boko Haram accounting for 591 more deaths than ISIS as of 2014 alone, but the recent barrage of terrorist attacks begs the question of whether a link exists between the groups in both continents.

Ventures Africa spoke with Ms. Tuesday Reitano of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria, South Africa, to investigate the facts and myths surrounding the attacks on Paris, the aftermath and Africa’s terror problem.

What do the Paris attacks mean for terrorism in Africa?

What the ISIS has demonstrated is the increasing capacity to mobilise foreign fighters, a feat none of the African based terrorist groups have been able to achieve to the same extent. For example, Al-Shabaab has often attempted to incite international incidences but has never been able to do so. What we have seen from groups in Africa is that these groups learn from each other and ISIS’ ability to use social media and technology to mobilise campaigns through propaganda is something that others are emulating.

At the same time, arguably, the more successful the ISIS is, the harder it is for these groups have the same ideological goals as they are constantly struggling to attract fighters and resources.

Seeing as Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab and others have pledged allegiance to ISIS, in light of the emulation you mentioned, do you think that they can grow into becoming global threats at some point?

No. Al-Shabaab, in particular, has never really had global jihad goals and if you analyse the way the group has evolved you will be able to see that their targets have always been domestic, limited to Somalia and neighbouring countries. Besides, only half of the group has pledged its allegiance to ISIS, while the other half claim to be in support of al-Qaeda. Terrorism in Africa is less of a globalised phenomenon than people would like to characterise it as and in many ways these are very micro-regional groups with domestic agendas.

This is also true for Boko Haram and its targets. The group has never shown any interest beyond Nigeria, except for their insurgencies in Niger and Chad. Besides, they are already dealing with a lot of regional attention. There has been a very significant upscale in terms of regional actions against them and I do not think they have the capacity to carry out global attacks nor have they ever sought international attention. So, frankly, I’m not sure that ISIS is teaching African terror groups anything that they are not already aware of and I don’t think that there will be a dramatic change within African terror groups.

What is your take on Africa’s security policy concerning terrorism?

When you look at African terror groups versus African insurgencies, or even African civil conflicts, there’s a western depiction of the problem. I spent a month in the Sahel in September at a time when Niger and Mali were going through a change in the nature of terrorist groups. There was a vast spread of ideologies and a cooperation that was not present in that area before and that was the greatest concern for the governments in the region because it presented a greater threat to their own stability. Now we are beginning to see an awakening of a recognition that terrorism is a threat to governments in Africa and it is damaging.

A lot of it is manifested in a meteoric rise in the number of regional initiatives, and it is not only the traditional regional and economic commissions, but also the reawakening of old and defunct initiatives, such as the creation of the G5 Sahel which is found in Mali and Mauritania, amongst others. All of these regional groups have a strong security focus and that is due to a greater understanding of national interests.

So, certainly an inward-looking analysis that shows that what we have come to call terrorism and terror groups in Africa are not necessarily the greatest concern of the international world.

What is the global community currently not getting right in combating terror attacks, and why is it so difficult to eliminate the threat of terrorism?

The big impact of this is actually having it confused with the questions around migration. It is very interesting that one week after the Valetta Summit and the EU’s promise of 1.9 billion Euros to Africa based on its migration and border issues, you have the terrorist attacks in Paris. It is worth it to frame some of these conversations around the fact that Europe is drawing a link between migration and terrorism while the migration crisis gets worse.

Regional economic commissions in Africa need to be more proactive in portraying themselves as an equal partner in questions concerning western and domestic migration. There should be a desire to show that we are committed to Africa and we have a migration plan that is not just responsive to western interests. Migration and terrorism are two separate debates and Europe does not seem to be able to make the distinction. We should know we have a humanitarian obligation concerning the Syrian community, for instance, and should be working towards granting them asylum. The issues should be dealt within that framework.

For Europe, it is worth keeping the two streams separate, rather than establishing a clampdown on borders and changing the way migration and migration opportunities are offered to Africans.

In relation to bomb scares or threats of an attack, what would you suggest should be a long-term response in dealing with such situations, besides the evacuation, for example?

It is inevitable. After the 9/11 attacks, everything was a terrorist threat, even a sandwich in the subway was a potential bomb. Realistically, we can’t expect a huge amount to be done in response to such threats. A sense of insecurity would naturally be a result of a period of any such random, unexpected event. However, Europe will begin working towards a borderless intelligence capacity and maintaining their ideology and power. They have power in surveillance, sharing common database information and so on and all of these will become priority. Even though it is not necessarily global cooperation, we should expect that from them in the nearest future, as it is a basic trajectory that was followed off 9/11.

It has been very staggering for Europe still.

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