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Constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN has blamed African leaders over slow pace of response in combating the emerging security threats on the continent.
The legal luminary stressed that while some African countries have taken ad hoc measures in handling the threats, some are undertaking promising steps to respond to the scourge.
Ozekhome expressed this strong view in Abuja yesterday while delivering a keynote lecture titled “Democracy in Africa: Emerging Security Threats: Issues and Challenges”, at this year’s Nigerian Pilot newspaper/Nigerian Newsworld Magazine’s Annual Awards.
He noted that, “Africa is grappling with several difficult security challenges. These difficulties result not only from the magnitude of these challenges, but also from the lack of capacity of African states and organizations to respond quickly and effectively to them. While wide swathes of Africa are compelled to deal with problems in an ad hoc manner, there are indications that some states, Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and the African Union (AU) are undertaking promising steps to respond.
The senior advocate of Nigeria identified some core security challenges being faced by Africa as terrorism, piracy, drug trafficking and other organised crimes.
He noted that the terrorists’ groups like Al Shabaab, Ansar Dine and Boko Haram have exploited Africa’s vulnerabilities – whether ungoverned spaces or corrupt officials – to expand their operations.
“At the same time, traditional responses to terrorism, with their primarily military focus and privileging of the state, seem incapable of stopping this menace. This is evident in the fact that there are currently three terrorist attacks per day on the continent.
According to him, the existence of militant religious groups is not a new phenomenon in Africa but their increasing presence and violence has become a growing concern. “As a result of religious fundamentalism, tribal and ethnic tension, continued regional and political instability, and the extremist ideologies of groups to establish new states and reform old ones, Africa offers fertile ground for extremism. This year alone, scores of people lost their lives in attacks orchestrated by terrorist groups in various regions of the continent. The main groups are Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabab in Somalia and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), based in Algeria and the Islamic States of Iraq (ISIS).
“To compound matters further, while these various terrorist organizations are co-operating, little co-ordination is taking place among the various African states despite the existence of the African Union and its counter-terrorist regime. Despite their efforts, external players like the United States’ African Command have in many ways exacerbated the problem on account of their insufficient knowledge of the local context which is driving these insurgencies. The synergy between the terror networks is so efficient to the extent that Nigeria-originated Boko Haram comfortably destabilizes parts of West and Central Africa, Somalia-based al Shabaab attacks in East Africa and ISIS joining AQIM to attack North Africa.
He observed that pirate attacks emanating from both Somalia in the Gulf of Aden and the Gulf of Guinea are a major maritime security threat in Africa.
According to Ozekhome, starting roughly in 2004, two networks of pirate militia emerged on the northern Somali coast (at the villages of Eyl and Garad in the Puntland area, and the villages of Harardere and Hobyo in the Mudug region).
“The pirate attacks are as low-tech as they are brazen. The rate of pirate attacks has continued to rise: 214 ships were attacked in 2009, of which 47 were actually seized with 867 crewmembers taken hostage.
“Among the other factors contributing to the emergence of piracy off the western African coast have been the proliferation of arms in the region (due to recent history of civil wars and weak state controls), as well as high levels of youth unemployment. Unemployed youths have been lured into criminal groups engaged in piracy or the theft of crude oil (referred to as illegal oil bunkering). The International Chamber of Commerce’s Commercial Crime Services has, for instance, highlighted some areas in the sub-region, including Lagos and Bonny River (Nigeria), Conakry (Guinea) and Douala Outer Anchorage (Cameroon), as being piracy prone areas and cautioned mariners to be watchful when transiting those areas.
Speaking on the drug trafficking challenges being faced by Africa, Ozekhome said the menace has risen significantly in Africa over the past decade, and the continent has emerged as a major transit hub for narcotics from South America and South Asia to reach Europe and to a lesser extent the United States.
He noted that in 2007, an estimated 48 metric tons of cocaine valued at $1.8 billion transited West Africa, comprising some 27 percent of Europe’s annual supply.
“In 2009, several stocks of precursor chemicals were discovered in West Africa, indicating that the region is becoming a hub for stockpiling and refining “base cocaine” into a finished product. On the other side of the continent, some 30–35 metric tons of heroine, as well as a much smaller volume of cocaine, were smuggled through East Africa in 2008.”
He accused Southern Africa of becoming a distribution hub where all forms of narcotics are present, as well as a destination for the synthetic amphetamine known as mandrax (methaqualone).
“In North Africa, Morocco alone accounted for up to 40 percent of European cannabis supplies in 2003, while that drug is widely produced (and consumed) across much of Africa.
“Cocaine is imported to Africa from Latin America by aircraft at rural airstrips or dropped by ships for pickup by smaller motorboats. From there, bulk shipments are brought on land and are divided into smaller parcels. These can be sent overland and via coastal routes toward southern Europe, or ‘shotgunned’ on commercial aircraft using multiple parcels and human ‘swallowers’ or mules. In one infamous operation, Dutch customs officials at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam arrested 32 drug couriers off a single plane.”
According to the SAN, Africa’s current security challenges are predominantly governance-related or intra-state conflicts, the continent’s ill-defined national borders remain a potent source of instability.
“In fact, more than half of all African countries have engaged in boundary-related conflicts, and border disputes are a strong undercurrent affecting ongoing regional crises in the Great Lakes and the Horn of Africa. Africa’s regional bodies need to develop stronger mechanisms to manage the disputes and threats that arise across the continent’s many uncertain boundaries.”
He recommended that there is need for proactive steps to be taken in the security communities via intelligence gathering as against naked brute military campaign as such will always nip potential acts of criminals and terrorist in the bud temporarily, to resurrect later, like sleeping magma into volcanic eruption.
Ozekhome also advised that the military and other security agencies within the African context should be well equipped in terms of hardware, trained and re-trained manpower, to fight the various emerging security threats.
He said there is the need for private-public alliance and partnership towards an urgent transformation of the African security agencies through ICT-based security networking and police reforms. “There is increasing need for the promotion of peace, culture and harmony in the country through the gents of socialisation and peace guarantor,” he noted.
He said African governments should invest in human capital through education of the citizenry since education emancipates the mind, it will make it more difficult for recruiters of terrorism and other criminal activities to deceive ad get gullible youths into nefarious criminal activities.
“Political peace education and voter education should be intensified at all levels of the national life so as discourage electoral violence, political thuggrey and other ancillary electoral vices. There is need for the government and the private sector to create jobs and encourage youths to go into all manners of small scale businesses, commercial enterprises, technological-driven productivity and mechanized farming.
He concluded that African member-countries should create coast guards to compliment the Navies in the fight against terrorism, and that the need to revisit the fundamentals by developing effective counter terrorism strategies in Africa as an important step towards the prevention of terrorism in the continent.