Can the Accra Initiative prevent terrorism in West African coastal states?

By Kent Mensah
Posted on Tuesday, 29 November 2022 11:41

Accra Initiative regional security conference
West African heads of state pose with European Council President Charles Michel at the Accra Initiative regional security conference in Accra, Ghana, November 22, 2022. REUTERS/Cooper Inveen

Five years ago, Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo convened to find proactive ways to deal with the spillover of terrorism and violent extremism from the Sahel region.

Culminating into the Accra Initiative, the group of seven West African states after Mali and Niger joined in 2019, has agreed to create a military force to fight jihadists who have destabilised the region.

At the end of its maiden high-level counter-terrorism conference in Ghana’s capital last Wednesday 23 November, the heads of state and government of the group “reaffirmed their commitment to mobilise the necessary indigenous resources to operationalise within a month, the Multinational Joint Task Force of the Accra Initiative.”

Activities of Islamist militants keep spreading from Niger to Burkina Faso and Mali to West Africa’s coastal states amidst lingering instability caused by political crises.

Sahel: worst-hit

The Sahel has seen the most rapid growth in violent extremist activity of any region in Africa over the past two years, according to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.

Despite being among the poorest and facing some of the most fragile environmental conditions, the region has become a hub of criminal networks and illicit trafficking, posing a huge danger to polarised West Africa.

Hundreds of attacks have been carried out within and around the Sahel by Islamic State and al-Qaeda fighters leading to coups and instability in Mali and Burkina Faso over the past two years.

“The situation is worrying and quite alarming. We cannot sit unconcerned. No country is safe from the nefarious activities of these terrorists, so we have to put our resources together to deal with the jihadists,” Ghana’s national security chief Albert Kan-Dapaah tells The Africa Report.

According to Kan-Dapaah, 346 terrorist attacks were recorded in Africa in the first quarter of this year, with half of them occurring in West Africa alone.

He added that between July and September of this year alone, 745 deaths and 239 injuries have been recorded in West Africa as a result of terrorist attacks.

Experts fear the porous security situation in West Africa could get worse after Britain, France and Germany recently withdrew their peacekeeping troops in Mali.

Since 2020 these countries have been providing military support to the Malian government with the UK sending around 300 soldiers as part of a UN mission to protect locals from Islamist extremism.

Europe’s instability

However, as a result of political instability European forces have been withdrawing from the region while Russian influence has been growing.

“It cannot be business as usual going forward. We must face the issue with a common and coordinated front. Now the entire region is at risk. No country is safe so we must all come together to face it. The Accra Initiative is a step in the right direction because it helps to sustain the dialogue in the fight against terrorism,” Dr Omar Alieu Touray, the president of the ECOWAS Commission tells The Africa Report.

Although the picture looks grim, James Heappey, the British Armed Forces Minister said Western nations want West African states to take charge of their own security situation then they will step in with whatever support they require of them.

“This is a regional problem that you have here in West Africa and it’s right that you seek to provide solutions,” Heappey told the African leaders gathered at the Accra Initiative conference.

It’s not just about combat

However, fighting terrorism and violent extremism cannot only be limited to combat. Political leaders have to look at the economic aspect by creating jobs.

The militant groups have been effective at recruiting young unemployed Africans, especially livestock herders to join their activities.

According to the World Bank, the unemployment rate in Sub-Saharan Africa stood at 7.7% in 2021.

Patrick Osei-Kufuor, a senior research fellow with the Department of Peace Studies of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana, said youth unemployment poses a major threat to the fight against terrorism in the region.

“Youth unemployment fuels conflict and crime, both of which then, in turn, increase unemployment still further by their effects on economic performance, investor confidence and social, physical and institutional structures.

“Current levels of unemployment and under-employment among young men and women in West Africa constitute a political-security concern,” he said.

Kan-Dapaah said leaders in the region have not lost sight of that aspect of the modus operandi of terrorists, who take advantage of the high unemployment situation to radicalise the youth.

“We are absolutely concerned. Job creation is also high on our agenda. We don’t want to have a situation beyond our control, so we will also make it difficult for the jihadists to radicalise youth in border communities,” he said.

Cooperation is key

As a group, the Accra Initiative has not achieved much since its inception. However, in 2018 and 2019, member countries conducted joint military operations on their borders, which resulted in the arrests of about 700 suspected terrorists and gang members, and the seizure of homemade weapons.

Information and intelligence sharing has been the primary focus of the group as they continue to seek support from partners to train security and intelligence personnel.

“Cooperation is key when it comes to the fight against terrorism. However, you cannot leave out the citizens because they live with these terrorists and they can help to flush them out.

“The Accra Initiative will be more effective when leaders invest in building a database of informants rather than focusing solely on combat,” Antonio Alphonso, head of research of Togo-based Dialogue for Safety, tells The Africa Report.

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