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Can West African Forces Defeat Terrorist Threats?

FILE: (From L) Prime Minister of Cote d'Ivoire Patrick Achi, President of Togo Faure Gnassingbe, President of Benin Patrice Talon, and President of Ghana Nana Akufo-Addo, in Accra, Ghana, on November 22, 2022
FILE: (From L) Prime Minister of Cote d'Ivoire Patrick Achi, President of Togo Faure Gnassingbe, President of Benin Patrice Talon, and President of Ghana Nana Akufo-Addo, in Accra, Ghana, on November 22, 2022

Analysts say the risk of jihadists activities on West Africa’s coastal states is alarming, warning that failure to pay attention to the socio-economic and geopolitical drivers of terrorism in the region could hamper efforts by regional leaders to address the menace.

The Accra Initiative member countries - Ghana, Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali, and Niger - met on Tuesday in Accra to discuss terrorism and its spread into West Africa.

Ghana’s president Nana Akufo Addo told his colleagues that ‘’today, the terrorist groups emboldened by their apparent success in the region are seeking new operational grounds."

‘’West Africa continues to suffer the effects of the scourge of terrorism and violent extremism spreading across the region.’’

The leaders discussed how to prevent a spillover of terrorism from the Sahelian regions to the coastal states of West Africa, as European forces retreat from the region, luring states such as Mali and the Central African Republic for example to strengthen their military cooperation with Russia.

Adib Saani, an Accra-based analyst told VOA that regrettably, jihadists seem to be winning compared to 5 or 6 years ago when they attacked Grand-Bassam, a resort town near Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

‘’They (jihadists) have gained control of large swaths of land in Mali, Burkina Faso, and in other parts of the subregion... the literals which hitherto appeared immune from the jihadist threat is also very much under threat lately,’’ he said.

‘’There's been a number of attacks in Benin, Togo," Saani added. "There has been some cities in Ghana, which is one of the very few countries today that hasn't had any terrorist attack in it. But we cannot let our guard down.’’

Levinia Addae-Mensah, deputy executive director of the West African Network for Peace Building (WANEP) in Accra told VOA that terrorist activities are no longer a threat in the region, but ‘’a clear situation in coastal states.’’

‘’We’ve seen established cells operating in (West Africa’s) coastal states. Our analysis shows that there’s the possibility of the frontline shifting westward towards Senegal. And so, the threat is real in terms of the entire region,’’ she said.

‘’We need to look at coordinated responses to deal with these threats because of the complexities involved.... by bringing together multiplicity of stakeholders to harness the multiplicity of capacities required to ensure effective responses,’’ she said adding that ‘’it’s imperative to focus on prevention while we deal with the immediate threats.’’

WANEP’s Addae-Mensah said locals want their leaders to protect them, and to a large extent their livelihoods in the face of rising insecurity.

‘’The bottom-line is concerns for their livelihoods, and the ability to ensure human security. Of course, parts of it is threatened by acts of terrorism, and violent extremism. And so, folks are concerned about how states can be primary duty bearers in terms of their security.’’

While commending the Accra Initiative members with a mission to forestall the movement of terrorism into coastal states, Sani said the West African leaders must draw lessons from past initiatives like Operation Barkhane, and MINUSMA, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali.

‘’A lot of the areas where terrorists thrive are ungoverned spaces. And in as much as we're concerned about putting in place mechanisms, including border closures, they must be careful because a lot of people within these border communities rely on their borders as a means of livelihood, and survival,’’ he said.

Analyst Saani echoed what many other observers have noted, saying ‘’They [the Accra Initiative members] must pay attention to the human insecurities, issues of joblessness, and marginalization. That is what would make the Accra Initiative standout from other initiatives which have mainly been militarized in nature.’’

This article has been updated to include Mali and Niger as members of the Accra Initiative member countries.