Ghana: Government on high alert as terrorism spreads across West Africa

By Jonas Nyabor

Posted on Monday, 23 May 2022 12:36
Boureima Dicko, 70, who recently fled attacks by Islamist militants in northern Burkina Faso is pictured at a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in the capital Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, January 29 , 2022. Picture taken January 29, 2022. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Globally renowned as an oasis of peace and security, Ghana is increasingly worried following a spate of terrorist attacks in neighboring countries and lingering political and ethnic tensions at home.

The 2022 Global Terrorism Index from Australia’s Institute for Economics and Peace shows that the Sahel has become a global epicentre for violent extremism, with Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger accounting for three of the 10 countries with the largest increases in terrorism-related deaths in 2021. Recent attacks in neighbouring Togo and Côte d’Ivoire reveal that the threat is growing, leading Ghanaian authorities to raise the alarm.

Combined with ethnic tensions, clan succession fights in the north and rising unemployment across the country, Ghana is ripe for exploitation by terrorist groups if its social problems aren’t urgently addressed, according to the Accra-based West Africa Centre For Counter-Extremism (WACCE).

“We are highlighting vulnerability factors, such as rising youth unemployment, chieftaincy conflicts and tensions, ethnic profiling and marginalisation which extremists could exploit to attack or recruit or radicalise young people,” WACCE  Executive Director Mutaru Mumuni Muqthar tells The Africa Report.

Although any part of the country could be targeted, recent developments in Ghana’s northern regions and along the border are seen as particularly worrisome.

Home-grown threats

Northern Ghana comprises five regions: Upper East, Upper West, North East, Savannah and Northern. For decades, they have lagged behind in terms of physical and economic development, with limited economic opportunities driving many young people to the south for menial jobs.

Meanwhile, chieftaincy conflicts have rocked the northern towns of Bawku, Bimbilla, Dagbon, Bole and Bolga.

Those tensions are providing fertile ground for recruitment by radical extremists, with at least 13 Ghanaians reported to have travelled out of the country to join various terrorist groups since 2015.

Nazir Nortei Alema had just graduated from the university when he left Ghana to join the Islamic State in 2015. He reportedly sent WhatsApp messages to his parents to inform them about his new cause, only to be killed a year later in Syria, according to Ghana’s ministry of national security. Around the same time, another Ghanaian identified – only as Rafiq – was also reported to have left the country to join the Islamic State in the Middle East.

In 2019, Burkinabe officials alerted their Ghanaian colleagues that suspected extremists were regularly crossing into Ghana’s northern regions to escape arrest.

There is good reason to believe that the terrorists operating within the region have Ghana as a target.

In June 2021, a Ghanaian Fulani man from the northern town of Karaga who went by the alias Abu Dujana recorded a 13-minute video of himself calling on his fellow Fulani to fight local authorities in protest of corruption and injustice. Later that month authorities identified him as the Jamaa’at Nusrat-ul Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) militant who detonated a suicide bomb targeting France’s Barkhane force in the central Malian town of Gossi, injuring several soldiers.

Taking action

Ghanaian security officers have conducted more than 40 terror-related arrests in the past five years, with intelligence regularly shared with regional partners on planned or potential attacks in the country. According to the Institute for Security Studies, a November 2021 operation involving forces from Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo led to the arrest of about 300 suspected extremists.

“Intra-regional cooperation is critical to preventing terrorist threats and so we need to deepen that to deter extremists,” says Mumuni.

Ghana is also building the capacity of its security agencies and improving logistics to help its army to detect and counter terrorist threats. Recent developments have prompted it to step things up.

Earlier this month, the ministry of national security advised religious leaders and managers of public spaces to be vigilant and take precautionary measures against potential threats as it also works to secure the country’s borders and foil possible attacks.

“This appeal is being made because there is good reason to believe that the terrorists operating within the region have Ghana as a target and there is a need to increase security measures and engage the public to be more careful,” the minister for national security, Albert Kan-Dapaah, said in a 17 May press release shared on social media.

The warning comes as security experts have been calling for more public education on identifying and reporting suspected criminal activity, especially around border communities. The Ghanaian government has also been advised to decentralise power so that more local officials are publicly elected rather than appointed by Accra, reforms that could help make government more responsive and thereby reduce extremist groups’ appeal.

“We want decentralisation to be strengthened so that people get to choose their leaders in local communities,” Emmanuel Bombande, a senior UN mediation adviser, told Accra-based Citi FM. “The moment they do this, their interest in local governance is heightened, ultimately reducing the threat of terrorism.”

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