The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission has said fighting terrorism without attacking the root causes is an exercise in futility.
The Commission, which traced the root causes of terrorism in the West Africa to cases of weak governance, poverty, youth unemployment and human rights abuses, lamented that Boko Haram attacks in the Lake Chad Basin alone in the last 10 years have led to more Han 30,000 deaths, with terrorism displacing over three million people in the region.
Speaking at the launching of the Early Warning Study on the Spillover of Violent Extremism to ECOWAS Coastal Member State in Abuja, the Vice President of ECOWAS Commission, Madam Finda Koroma said: “It would be illusionary to fight against terrorism without attacking its root causes, such as bad or in some cases, weak governance, poverty, youth unemployment and human rights abuses.”
She said data from the ECOWAS Alert and Response Network (ECOWARN) shows terrorist incidents perpetrated by Boko Haram alone resulted in more than 30,000 deaths, in less than 10 years of subversive activities, in addition to the physical attacks on the populations and the territorial integrity of ECOWAS’ s member states.
She lamented that terrorism has unprecedented humanitarian consequences, stating that to date, more than three million people are displaced.
Koroma said: “After North-East of Nigeria, the Lake Chad Basin, the Sahel, the Nothern Part of Mali, the threats escalated in the Liptako-Gourma region; made up of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. From the North of Mali and Burkina Faso Violent Extremist groups conducted years back attacks in the southern Part of these members states.
“Since 2019, the southwestern regions of Burkina Faso have seen an escalation of jihadist presence from JNIM’s Katibat Macina, who are present in the Cascades region and in the forests along the Ivorian border. This explains why Côte d’Ivoire saw a major escalation of violent extremism throughout 2020, including its first jihadist attacks since the 2016 Grand Bassam incident. We all remember the Park W Pendjari abduction in Benin.”
She noted that under the instructions of the Heads of States, the ECOWAS Commission has been working to address this multifaceted issue, with the goal to achieve peace and security in the region.
She disclosed that: “With regard to these root causes in the prevention and the fight against terrorism, the ECOWAS Commission has made the “nexus” between security and development its major area of focus.”
She revealed that various strategies and programmes have been put in place to combat terrorism in the region.
Koroma however said the fight against terrorism does not rest solely on member states or the ECOWAS Commission, and to this end, “in the joint policy statement, the Authority of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government have called on the international community, development partners, relevant international organisations and civil society organisations to coordinate their activities with ECOWAS Commission.”
Also speaking at the launching, Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama said the impact of the responses on counter-terrorism going on in various areas of operations requires terrorists to find climes where they can retreat and recuperate, noting that ungoverned spaces and places where state presence is weak or absent provide the perfect conditions for such activities.
He said: “All member states affected must therefore put more efforts to eliminate these conditions that facilitate the activities and movements of terrorist groups.”
He stressed that: “It is my view that only concerted regional initiatives such as this can help us to better understand the dynamics of the security challenges facing us and hopefully, we can agree on the best strategy for curbing the menace of terrorism and violent extremism. Without a doubt, terrorism threatens the free movement of persons, goods and services, which represents the core values of our regional integration agenda.”
Onyeama, who was represented by the Director, Africa Multilateral Affairs, Ambassador Ngozi Ukaeje said: “It is evident that the Kinetic approach towards combating terrorism is yielding positive results but that alone cannot provide the total solution. There is need for more emphasis to be placed on non-kinetic approaches to complement the kinetic approach.”
He noted that: “Nigeria is applying Kinetic measures in the fight against terrorism with intelligence-led operations such as Operation Hadin Kai, Military super camp strategy, integration of Civilian Joint Task Force into the fight against terrorism which have successfully dislodged terrorist strongholds.
“Equally, non-kinetic approaches such as the launching of operation safe corridor which serves as a de-radicalisation, rehabilitation, and reintegration programme for repentant terrorists have yielded positive results. Nigeria has therefore witnessed a lot of progress in this approach which has provided an avenue for hundreds of terrorists to lay down their arms and surrender to our security forces.”
Onyeama also agreed that: “To effectively combat the menace of terrorism and violent extremism, we must also address the root causes of the menace. Social challenges such as poverty, unemployment, inequality can result to the existence of a breeding ground for potential recruitment of affected persons into terrorist folds, if not properly addressed.”
He however assured that “Nigeria will work closely with the ECOWAS Commission to ensure that the actions we shall be taking, in preventing terrorists and violent extremists from crossing our borders into our coastal regions would not negatively affect the regional economic integration agenda.
The Representative of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), James Aji said the launching of the study is very relevant and timely for the region, adding that: “It comes at a time when there is increasing talk about the reality and impact of the spread of terrorism from the Sahel to coastal states.”
He however raised the alarm that: “If we do not take action swiftly, the spread of terrorism to coastal states could be devastating to the region, especially given the fact that this spread would meet the major security threat of piracy and insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea
He said: “The mix of terrorism and violent extremism as we know it today in the Sahel and maritime insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea would be potentially explosive.”
Michael Olugbode in Abuja