Reader’s response: modest assistance for African counterterrorism
25 Sep 2014|
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Africa’s more stable than ever before. The continent’s economy is growing faster than any other’s. According to International Monetary Fund figures, 10 of the world’s 20 fastest-growing economies are located in Africa. The continent’s population is expected to double by 2050 to more than 2 billion people.

Yet as Tobias Feakin makes clear in his recent report and blog post, the spread of violent Islamic extremism in Africa is troubling; there’s no doubt that terrorism is limiting Africa’s progress.

A peaceful and economically strong Africa can counter the threats of terrorism. A more secure Africa is one in which Australian engagement can flourish. So what can we do to help Africa here?

I’d suggest we should offer modest security assistance, focused on those states who respect democratic principles: we shouldn’t be offering security help to regimes that abuse their own citizens.

We might consider sending a defence or foreign affairs officer to serve with US Africa Command (in the same way we’ve attached senior Defence people to PACOM).

Unlike the other US regional commands, which were created primarily for warfighting, Africa Command is designed to support regional partners and includes large components from other government agencies like the State Department and the US Agency for International Development. AFRICOM’s whole-of-government approach has been evident in its counterterrorism work.

Africa has a number of highly professional militaries. But we could make worthwhile, albeit modest, efforts to assist defence institution-building. IED detonations are of great concern in Africa. ADF personnel are among the best in the world at managing this threat so we might offer assistance here.

Unfortunately there’s minimal funding for defence cooperation with Africa: we have only one Australian defence attaché on the continent (based in Addis Ababa). That’s totally inadequate to cover the many areas of potential defence cooperation across 54 countries

We can lift our efforts in peace operations on the continent and do more with UN missions to show we’ve not forgotten about Africa after our UNSC stint ends later this year: seventy percent of UNSC business concerns Africa.

Given the links between crime, corruption and terrorism on the continent, we could provide training through Attorney–General’s on financial crimes and anti-corruption.

Training opportunities in counterterrorism in Africa should be explored by our Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism. It helps here that we weren’t a colonial power. Our Australia Awards could be extended in this area.

We’ve got a range of humanitarian goals across sub-Saharan Africa, but countering Islamist militancy should be accorded a higher priority in our aid policy. Our aid to Africa has slipped from around $230 million last financial year to around $150 million this financial year. (There’s a case for stabilising it for now at around 5 per cent of our aid program, i.e. around $250 million.)

We should be spending our African aid budget in those countries threatened by jihadist groups and lacking the resources to fund the necessary capabilities to defeat those terrorist groups.

Australia’s long term global interests are served by tackling terrorist groups at the source by building local capacity. We might consider a special program on counterterrorism working with the appropriate NGOs.

We should sponsor educational institutions that compete with radical messages emitted from foreign-funded educational institutions. We’ve done that in Indonesia. Africa’s full of mosques built with Saudi and Libyan money, and Imams trained accordingly. That needs to be balanced with more enlightened Islamic preachers.

We should focus on nation-building in those front-line African states as part of a co-ordinated strategy worked out with all other agencies of government to counter Islamist militancy in Africa: our foreign aid should be seen as the soft end of counterterrorism.

Communication via social media is of growing significance in Africa and that can be important in developing counter-narratives. But we have no public diplomacy activities in Africa yet to promote universal values in any organised way. We could partner here with other ‘like-mindeds’, such as the UK, US, Germany, and the Nordics.

Countering Islamist and other militia groups could be directed by supporting regional bodies, such as the Economic Community of West African States. That would build better capacity for coordinated responses to cross-border groups, like Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Tuareg in Mali.

We might partner in areas like security sector reform and forensics. Our federal police have, however, only one Africa-based officer (located in Pretoria).

Counterterrorism shouldn’t trump all our other causes for aid. But we can make a modest contribution to building Africa’s resilience to the forces of international terrorism.

Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user United Nations Photo.