Terrorism in Africa: Best way forward is economic development

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Representatives from seven African countries met, Tuesday, March 16, in Algiers to assess the security situation in the Sahel-Saharan region. Participants at the conference stressed the urgent need to address economic development in the region.

Diplomatic representatives from Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad met, Tuesday, March 16, in Algiers to assess the security situation in the Sahel-Sahara region. Besides the pooling of military resources and information, the participating countries stressed the need to focus on economic development in the region, without which real peace in the Sahel can not be achieved. According to Antonin Tisseron, associate researcher at the Thomas More Institute, the Algiers Conference “is a step in the right direction.” Interview.

Afrik-news.com: What can we learn from the Algiers conference about security in the Sahel?

Antonin Tisseron:
The conference, which brought together foreign ministers from 7 countries in the Sahel-Sahara region of Africa, is not the first of such initiatives in the region. For example, in July 2009, at the African Union summit in (the Libyan city of) Sirte, Algeria, Libya and Mali announced the pooling of their military resources and information. This conference is a step in the right direction in terms of the number of partner countries as well as proposed measures. On the one hand, the fight against terrorism cannot be achieved without a comprehensive approach that brings actors in the region together. On the other hand, besides organizing meetings between political and military leaders from the seven countries, participants of the Algiers conference agreed that quite apart from security issues, the fight against terrorism and crime must be supported by economic development. We can indeed not have a real and lasting security without addressing the roots of violence. We must also take note of the incomplete nature of the process due to the absence of some countries that are also facing terrorism threats. First among them is Morocco, as well as other countries like Tunisia and Senegal, whose president last month called for a regional cohesion in the fight against Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Afrik-news.com: Where does AQIM come from and why has it invested its efforts in the Sahel?

Antonin Tisseron:
The threat of radical Islam and terrorism is an old issue for the Maghreb countries. With the September 11, 2001 attacks and ensuing invasion of Iraq in 2003, terrorist movements were boosted and tried to redefine themselves both regionally and internationally. It is in this vein that the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat in Algeria joined Al-Qaeda and took the name “Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb” in January 2008. After an explosion of violence between 2001 and 2008, the year 2008-2009 was marked by a break in AQIM’s development. Two reasons may account for this: The presence of moderate Islam in the Maghreb did not allow for a strong support in favor of the Islamist discourse, while Algeria recorded several successful clampdowns against terrorist groups. The shift of terrorism to the Sahel area is the result of the absence of a grip on terrorism in the Maghreb. Taking advantage of the porous borders and lack of controls, jihadist groups redeployed in the southern areas of the Maghreb, where they have developed criminal activities, including abductions and ransom demands, which have become lucrative business enterprises. At the Algiers conference, participants also reaffirmed their opposition to the payment of ransoms; criminalized by the UN in December 2009 following a request by Algeria. This issue is indeed crucial: Ransoms as well as the release of terrorists only strengthen terrorism. It is in this regard that the release of Camatte Pierre, a French hostage, in exchange of four terrorists, drew heavy criticisms from Algeria and Mauritania. By calling for the release of hostages, European states, according to them (Algeria and Mauritania, ndlr), are likely to nurture terrorism and revive a movement that has been weakened in recent years.

Afrik-news.com: Why is Morocco, which is also concerned by the problem, not at the Algiers conference?

Antonin Tisseron:
The Moroccan Foreign Ministry issued a statement in which it regrets having been ostracized from the Algiers conference when in fact an official demand to participate had been sent. Algiers’ refusal can of course not be separated from the antagonism between Morocco and Algeria with respect to the issue of Western Sahara, since 1963. The Algiers meeting, while seeking to tackle one of the important regional issues of tomorrow, reveals without doubt an attempt by the Algerian diplomacy to marginalize their neighbor, who is also at the forefront in the fight against Terrorism in the Sahel. Algiers’ attitude is unfortunately revelatory of the… political rationale that is eating away regional integration and the building of an Arab Maghreb Union (UMA). A rationale which today leads us to speak of a “non-Maghreb”, and is contrary to the demands of the fight against terrorism on a short, medium and long term basis, particularly because of their impact on development in the region.

Afrik-news.com: A number of observers fear that foreign intervention, from the United States in particular, encourages armed groups to radicalize even more?

Antonin Tisseron:
The radicalization of armed groups has been fueled by American foreign policy from the 1990s and 2000 as well as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Besides, one of the hopes of Barack Obama’s election was to enhance the U.S. image around the world, but I have my reservations despite his Cairo speech. Whatever the case, the Sahel countries have more to gain with funds and expertise from America or even even Europe in their fight against terrorism. Indeed, the United States and Europe have different perceptions of international politics and their methods can be complementary. Especially since the best way to fight against radicalization in countries where the population is predominantly young and where unemployment is high is to emphasize economic development and political openness. It is a condition for peace and strengthening of the Sahel-Sahara region.

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