Anti-terrorism in Africa: Experiences and lessons
[This speech was delivered at the international conference on China’s constructive engagement in Africa’s peace and security, convened by the Social Sciences in China Press, on behalf of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), Beijing, China, 18-19 October 2016.]
Root cause of terror
A look at the Oxford Dictionary for the definition of ‘terror’ explains it as ‘extreme fear’, ‘use of violence and intimidation’ and ‘coerce by terrorism’. In applying terror there would be an objective. Whatever the end result, the motive of terror is to coerce, to force by the use of violence.
In Africa it could be said that the enslavement of the Africans, by first the Arabs and later the Caucasians, was a form of terror. To remove people in large numbers from their areas of birth so as to put them to work elsewhere, by use of force, amounts to terrorism. In those instances the slaves were commodified for material benefit. Africans have long experience of marginalization and subjugation by the use of terror.
The former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, at the Tana River Forum held in Ethiopia in April 2016 connected underdevelopment, extreme poverty and unemployment as stimulants for violence and terror, in referring to Africa and the global security architecture. Annan points out that in Africa rebel groups have flourished in the impoverished parts of weak states that feel hard done by their governments, where the population is often abused by the security forces, or where they do not trust the courts to deliver justice. External forces take advantage of such shortcomings.
Unemployed youth are especially vulnerable to the temptation of violence and are easily instrumentalized for that purpose. Kofi Annan goes on to point out that 40 percent of those who join rebel movements say they are motivated by a lack of jobs. Apart from youth, there is no shortage of people and organizations ready to recruit others to fulfill their violent objectives. Those who use others to commit acts of violence are rarely interested in committing such acts themselves. Although the paper of Kofi Annan is illuminating, it does not tell who are those instrumentalizing others to commit acts of terrorism. But it does point to extra-African agencies as the cause for terrorism.
Covert Arabization and Islamization in Africa
The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)
Eastern Equatoria state in South Sudan has a long history of hosting groups opposed to the Ugandan government. In the 1980s the forces of Museveni’s predecessor and adversary, Tito Okello, and of Alice Lakwena’s Holy Spirit Movement ,both stayed in the area. Lakwena’s movement is generally seen as the spiritual and military precursor of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). This connection is based on the spirituality of both movements. There has been speculation about old family connections between Joseph Kony and Alice Lakwena, both Acholi. Lakwena, however, never played a public role in the LRA war and denied any connections to Kony after she went to live in exile in Kenya, before her death in 2007. Her Holy Spirit Movement was formed in 1986, which is usually seen as the beginning of the LRA insurgency, because that year Lukwena briefly teamed up with the rebel Uganda People’s Democratic Army (UPDA). After the Holy Spirit Movement was defeated, the LRA emerged as one of its splinter groups and successors.
The group, under the command of Joseph Kony and his second in command Vincent Otti, both Acholi, formed an armed opposition in 1987 to the Ugandan government of President Yoweri Museveni. With breathtaking brutality the LRA became known the world over for its violence and use of terror against unarmed civilians. This led to the cantoning of the civilian population, resulting in the marginalization of northern and parts of eastern Uganda. There were reports of the use of violence by the Ugandan Army. The LRA ventured into Sudan in the early 1990s to seek refuge from the fighting in Uganda, where it claimed to be fighting for Acholi interests.
The earliest sightings of the LRA in Eastern Equatoria in South Sudan date from 1991, but it was not until 1994 that the group located its base of operations there and made its presence felt. Locals recall the first killings of civilians occurring the same year, along with the first abductions. It was their use of tactics similar to those reported in Uganda that led people to realize that those fighting in the bush were LRA. Even after this identification was made locals did not know why the group had come to Sudan. The LRA’s arrival marked the beginning of more than a decade of fighting involving Ugandans in Sudan, which led to the International Criminal Court (ICC) issuing it’s first warrants against Kony, Otti and another LRA Commander. The LRA alleged that the ICC was biased politically. Many saw the war as a planned intervention into Sudan by Museveni’s government. Factual information about the LRA has been difficult to obtain.
Both Kony and Otti were regular visitors to Khartoum from the beginning of 1994. The relationship LRA/Khartoum peaked in 1996. It was in 1997 when the LRA stronghold in the Imatong Hills, at Aru Junction, usually hosting 3,000 to 4,000 fighters, was overrun by the SPLA, that Kony and Otti fled to Juba administered by Khartoum, which became their headquarters. When the LRA engaged the SPLA in combat, LRA fighters typically attacked first, followed by a second attack by the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) troops. When this happened the SAF often employed tanks and sometimes Antonov planes.
Information about the LRA in South Sudan, before it went to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR), would require the co-operation of the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF), who were present in both northern Uganda and in South Sudan before 2005. Such absence of clear information is endemic in situations involving armed formations using violence, in large part because they operate on the borders of conventional warfare, in situations where internal and external intelligence agencies are found.
Without going into detail, the antecedents of the conflict in South Sudan are found in the enslavement of the people by Arabs long ago. The war in the south in an earlier manifestation was ignited by the rebellion of southern soldiers against their northern officers in Torit in South Sudan in 1955, with Sudan gaining self-government in 1956. The fighting continued up to the signing of the Addis Ababa Agreement in 1972. A short interlude followed between 1972 and 1983, when the fighting started again, which ended with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, bringing relative peace to South Sudan.
Whereas the war between the government of Sudan based in Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement /Army (SPLM/A) came to an end with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, the Juba Peace Talks between the Ugandan Government and the LRA began in July 2006. Your author arrived in Juba, South Sudan, from Windhoek, Namibia, on the 14 August 2006, leaving on 6 October 2008 back to Namibia, arriving on the invitation of Deng Ajak Atak to partake in the founding and running of the Kush Institute, which he saw established by Presidential Proclamation in Juba in the Office of the President, as a social science research center.
When the LRA went to Juba for the Peace Talks, mediated by Riak Machar, then Vice President of the Government of South Sudan led by Salva Kirr, many were surprised by the level of sophistication of its negotiating team, which consisted of Acholi from the Diaspora. The Lord’s Resistance Army/ Movement (LRA/M) in Uganda had its political agenda defined by its manifestos, which had called for human rights, free and fair elections, separation of powers in the state and the like. In the west the perception had been created that the LRA was a Christian fundamentalist terror organization, intent on implementing the Ten Commandments, with no political agenda. It was in Juba that the LRA presented an organized Information Department.
The Ugandan government has stated that the LRA’s move to Sudan was a result of UPDF pressure. More likely it was politically driven, to push the fighting from Uganda into South Sudan and in the process assist the SPLM/A locked in war with Khartoum. The LRA states it was invited to become one of Sudan’s pro-government armed groups. It was William Nyuon Bany, then working with Riak Machar, who had split from Garang’s SPLM/A and was co-operating with Khartoum whilst operating in Eastern Equitoria, under the banner of the South Sudan Independence Movement (SSIM), who facilitated the first contact between the LRA and the Khartoum government (M. Schomerus, 2007, p13 ).
Khartoum and the LRA established a partnership. Khartoum ran a proxy war through the LRA against both the SPLA and UPDF, whilst the LRA obtained supplies and assistance from Khartoum in its attempt to overthrow Museveni’s government. In Sudan the LRA was one of a number of armed groups in Eastern Equitoria, supported by Khartoum. One Sudanese politician said that the LRA changed its behavior after moving into Sudan ‘partly because they were encouraged by Khartoum to commit atrocities and due to the generalized violent atmosphere’. She said, ‘they [ the LRA ] kill people and hang them up, so when local people come, they don’t touch anything. I think the LRA learned these things from Southern Sudan’ ( M. Schomerus, 2007, p20 ).
In November 2006 the LRA crossed into Garamba National Park in the DRC. The peace talks in Juba, between Uganda and the LRA, which began in 2006 bought de facto peace to northern Uganda enabling many to return to their home villages from government displacement camps in Uganda.
As already stated there were other armed groups apart from the LRA operating in South Sudan. One such group was ‘LRA Sudan’, most likely an Acholi militia supported by Khartoum and not under Kony’s command. There had been a culture of armed groups in South Sudan, sponsored by Khartoum, a tactic Khartoum used in other parts of Sudan, such as Darfur, in its wars against the marginalized in the country, to retain centralized authority. One United Nations official stated of these groups that ‘they have had many years of a sense of being paid for their service and that is hard to overcome’( M. Schomerus 2007, p33 ).
In 2012 Uganda persuaded the African Union Commission (AUC) to declare the LRA a terrorist organization – rather than the movement for the liberation of the Acholi people of northern Uganda, which it claimed to be. The LRA remains operational today. Recent sightings talk about CAR, where Khartoum is said to be the sponsor. Otti and Kony fell out whilst your author was still in South Sudan and Otti was summarily executed on Kony’s instruction.
There are some conclusions from this snap shot of an armed terrorist group in operation in Africa. The LRA became a mercenary bandit group and with the passage of time strayed across borders, on hire to do the bidding of its financer. It began as a Christian organization using the appellation ‘Lord’, whilst in South Sudan it served the interests of the Khartoum government , which is widely understood as driven by Islamist and Arabist motivations, serving as the geo-strategic advanced guard in the Afro-Arab borderlands and iron fist of jihadi interests in north Sudan and the Gulf.
Hassan al –Turabi in Sudan, 1989 to 2003
Al-Turabi was born in Sudan in 1932 at Kassala near the Ethiopian border. He was the son of an Islamic judge. He was raised amongst the Ikwan, who were devoted to the restoration of Islamic law, the Shari’a and Quranic values. His secondary education was in Khartoum and tertiary education in London, England, and Paris, France. Dr Turabi returned to Khartoum to become Dean of the Law Faculty. He married the sister of Sadiq Al Mahdi, former President of Sudan and member of the family of the late Sudanese nationalist and Jihadist, the Mahdi.
Al-Turabi stimulated an Islamic Renaissance through the use of logic and theology. He established the political party, the National Islamic Front (NIF), which rules Sudan today. Al-Tourabi, his NIF and its military backers introduced a revolutionary Islamist experience into Sudanese politics. Sudan’s only comparative experience might be the Mahdist Jihad of the 1880s. Al-Tourabi’s considerable organizational abilities were used to create and organize the Popular Arab and Islamic Conference, which served as a meeting point for many Islamist revolutionary movements and future terrorist leaders from around the globe to plan their global strategies. He was the political guide (Murshid) and eminence grise of the Sudanese Islamist movement.
Al-Turabi was advisor to the Sudanese military led by al-Bashir, who seized power from Sadiq al-Mahdi in June 1989. He eventually emerged from the background of Bashir’s government to dominate not just domestic but also foreign policy, until his arrest by his former ally, President al-Bashir in 2003. Al-Bashir, who suspected Al-Turabi of being the author of challenges to his authority in Sudan had him arrested many times. Al-Turabi was released from jail in March 2009, days after Bashir was charged by the International Criminal Court of Justice (ICC) for crimes against humanity. He died on 5 March 2016.
Al-Turabi is little known to Pan-Africanists and African nationalists. He was much admired by Islamists. This resulted in many people mis-reading his influence in both Arabia and Africa. From an African perspective the critique may be late, but Al-Tourabi was universally admired by Muslims, including those in Africa. He was fully integrated and representative of the Khartoum power elite. After losing influence he continued to live in Khartoum and lead a political party. A visit on him at his Khartoum residence was obligatory for anyone interested in Islam in the Middle East and Africa.
The period covered is that when his influence was as leader of Sudan and one of the main architects of Pan-Arabism, Pan-Islamism and global Jihad. He it was who provided the platform and protection for Islamists such as Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Such persons lived in Khartoum and used it as a base to conceptualize what today has become a major factor in international relations – Islamic fundamentalism. Al-Turabi was the planner and convener of 21 century global jihad. He was part of the early planning of the next stage of Islamic international power politics, which ushered in terror as a legitimate arm of struggle, which would later become violent and intermixed with Western strategic planning in the Middle East and Africa. Whilst in power in Khartoum Al-Tourabi waged a merciless fight against South Sudan in his attempt to Islamize it, which ultimately led to South Sudan exiting Sudan and attaining its self-government.
Al-Tourabi has not received the international notoriety he deserves, probably due to his careful management of public relations and his assumption of a spiritual mantel as Imam, although he ruthlessly exercised temporal power towards Islamic ends. He used his influence as a Muslim scholar to precipitate a Pan-Arab revolution under the mantle of Pan-Islamism, whose precepts he helped to fashion over decades of political involvement in Sudan. It is important to keep in mind that for Al-Tourabi Islam and Arab were identical terms of reference and that for him the African personality referred to a ‘transition to Arab identity’.
Although a Black African, Al-Tourabi was highly regarded in the Arab world. He was one of the few African descendants to achieve such status. He was sociable and always available to the Western media. It was his pulling together of the international Islamic movement by providing haven, arranging meetings, organizing networks, mastering global intelligence, that earned him credentials as an implacable enemy of Pan-Africans. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, urbane and articulate, he it was who said ‘we will Islamize (Black) America and Arabize Africa’. In this strategy he was light years ahead of African descendants and Africans in general. To him we owe responsibility to a certain indifference, even hostility, to Black Africa by elements in the leadership of the north American Afro-Islamic Diaspora, fulfilling the Arab adage of ‘using a Black against a Black’. This Diaspora was a special target of Al-Turabi’s attention and yet few there know of his role and scope of his attention.
Reactions from the African Union Commission
In an advertorial entitled ‘Stabilizing Africa’s security’ which appeared in ChinAfrica journal of May 2016, the AUC informs of its Peace and Security Architecture, being ‘an action framework for peace and security’. The AUC ascribes foreign terrorist fighters, al-Qaeda and Islamic State affiliated groups as responsible for spreading terror in Africa. The AU makes the connection between terrorism, violence and organized crime, including mercenaries, which have impacted the peace, security, stability and development of the continent. There is the 1999 OAU Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism, the 2002 Plan of Action and the 2004 Protocol to the OAU Convention. Also The African Center for the Study and Research on Terrorism has been established.
This institutional and legal approach to the issue of terror in Africa is expected to translate into capacity building, improvement of the anti-terrorist legal framework, as well as the promotion of better institutional interaction, with more co-ordination at national and regional levels. Also we are told an early warning capacity has been developed. Other initiatives relate to the prohibition of payment of ransom to terrorist groups, the development of an African Anti-terrorism Model Law, the appointment of an AUC Special Representative for Counter-terrorism and provisions for information sharing. Various AUC missions are in operation such as the AUC Mission to Somalia. Given that terrorism operates in the shadowy world of intelligence it is difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of this African peace and security architecture.
Africa’s bureaucratic response to terror was also influenced by its colonial history, where its freedom fighters were labeled ‘terrorists’. Countries in west and eastern Africa who have experienced terror attacks are more prepared to name terrorism than those in the southern cone, where Islamic inspired terror was last experienced in the Western Cape of South Africa in the late 1990s. Of late the efforts of the Nigerian government in concert with other states have made some inroads against the externally driven Islamic terrorist organization Boko Haram. The United Nations has a number of missions to handle armed conflict in Africa and the ever present French, who with some involvement of United States of Africa Command (AFRICOM), are increasingly engaged in counter-terror operations in Francophone Africa, in Libya and elsewhere, ostensibly to enforce peace and security.
In the 1990s terror attacks were episodic and limited to defined local contexts. This was so for Algeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Uganda. Today, a quarter of a century later, the security scenario in Africa has changed with internal conflicts being replaced by terrorism. With full blown war in Syria, Yemen and Libya, more than half a dozen sub-Saharan countries are now in low-intensity war. In some such as Mali the state is seriously eroded, with the emergence of Boko Haram in north-eastern Nigeria and the spread from Somalia of the influence of Al Shabaab into Kenya and Uganda.
With the decolonization of Africa the conventional wars of liberation have more or less come to an end, only leaving the Western Sahara outstanding. Apart from Burundi, South Sudan and the eastern DRC, since January 2016 over ten African countries, including Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast, have experienced terror attacks. These attacks follow a new pattern. The attackers, without a local base or support and with no clear local goals – come from elsewhere, kill indiscriminately and disappear. The synchronization of these attacks and their targets appear rather to be connected with events taking place outside of Africa, in Europe or the Middle East.
Africa hosts several terrorists groups, all of which are affiliated or influenced by either Sudan or al-Qaeda. The response to externally influenced terrorism in Africa is seen to come principally from France and its NATO allies, who are elaborating what some call an ‘African security architecture’. This development is ominous as it is outside the control of the AUC. Terrorism in Africa is growing political teeth and financial muscle, in the face of ‘political cowardice’ and the intimidating tactics of the terrorists. All of the terrorist actions impact innocents and result in the displacement of thousands of African men, but mainly women and children.
Nigeria, in recent times, has shown that with determination ‘push back’ can be achieved in the fight against terrorism. But to achieve this Nigeria was dependent on western support, which was delayed. The paper stated that Sudan, in Africa, is the birthplace of the contemporary global wave of terrorism, supported by countries in the Middle East and the west. Africa is effected as ‘collateral damage’. Those destabilizing Africa are aided and abetted by empire building interests in the developed world, which see Africa as a soft target ripe for re-colonization.
K. Annan, Africa and the global security architecture, p.24 Southern Times, Windhoek/Harare, 1 May 2016
M.Schomerus. www.smallarmssurvey The Lord’s Resistance Army in Sudan: a history and overview, Working Paper of the Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment Project, Geneva, Switzerland, 2007
B.F. Bankie, Dr Hassan al Tourabi (1932-2016), p.64 L’Homme d’ Afrique, Rabat, Morocco, April 2016
African Union, Stabilizing Africa’s security, p 36 ChinAfrica, Beijing, China, May 2016
T.A. Ali, Terrorism tops African Summit Agenda: lip service or strategic move ? Pambazuka News, Fahamu.org 7 February 2016
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