One of the most significant problems in Africa today is the issue of conflict resolution and insecurity. This was referred to as ‘Silencing the Guns’ on the continent which ties in well with the theme of the past Aswan Forum in Egypt tagged “The Africa We Want.”
In terms of the gains of the Aswan Forum, one takeaway was the sideline meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and the Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, about the security situation in Africa. Both leaders agreed to synergise and combat the menace of terrorists. Already, Nigeria has shown commitment in fighting the scourge in the West African sub-region by providing huge funds for the multinational ECOWAS standby force. Such intervention may appear to be a significant plank of the solution but it is largely hollow and ineffective. Bandits seem unstoppable as they carry out their agenda of violence and terror.
Conflicts in Africa can be very expensive in terms of economic loss among other shortfalls in the polity. It is estimated that the African continent loses about $18 billion annually to conflicts. From statistics, conflicts have displaced about 65.5 million people globally, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Africa is losing its youth and innocent to conflicts. Right now, the situations in South Sudan, Somalia, and many other parts of Africa do not present a happy picture. Libya is also in turmoil. There is the issue of forced migration as a lot of Africans are leaving their countries because of such tension.
Part of the reasons for the persistence of the hostility is that a lot of African countries do not have the institutional capacity to prevent conflicts that flare up in different places. There is a rise in the number of non-state actors or terror groups and the franchise they are initiating and leaving behind in the world, including Africa. We have seen Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Shabab in East Africa, and the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) in the West African sub-region.
The now undeniable crisis is beyond the capacity of any government built on accustomed and regimented thought process, with its debilitating baggage of sectarian interests. The quality of security on the African continent has been exposed to ridicule in the wake of the alarming rate at which non-state actors are spreading from one country to another. The reasons are not far-fetched. There is virtually no government presence in many rural communities; there are no comprehensive health care centres; people are not uplifted; in some places, there are no roads, and government officials hardly visit those places to share the feelings of the people, among other factors. The local population is neglected as non-state actors and terrorist groups take advantage of the situation to radicalise and recruit youths to perpetuate banditry and barbarous acts against the soul of Africa.
What this has shown, beyond producing inverted results, is that the spiral of violence is blind, and government intervention so far has not been able to put an effective handle to the problem. Many African countries have inadequate numbers of security forces and insufficient weaponry to successfully check insurgency. For instance, records indicate that Nigeria has only about 150,000 soldiers who are engaged in various joint task forces in almost all the thirty-six states of the federation, carrying out policing duties. Equally worthy of mention is the fact that the required number of personnel to man the various border posts within neighbouring countries is lacking.
No doubt, weak border control has led to porous territorial boundaries. This is evident in the National Security Plan for 2020 released by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) which revealed that Nigeria is located on the periphery of some ungoverned spaces in neighbouring countries, particularly in the Sahelian region where drug trafficking, organised crime, terrorism, challenges to democratic governance and piracy, hold sway. Some of these challenges are also prevalent in some West African countries.
The issue of herdsmen and farmers’ clashes evident in Nigeria and Mali, for instance, is recorded as having the highest number of deaths compared with Boko Haram in some of the sub-regional countries that have had encounters with herdsmen and cattle rustling.
Agents of death such as terrorists, herdsmen and bandits move unhindered especially around the Lake Chad Basin which consists of mostly West African countries. There are also unchecked movements across boundaries as they transverse the borders of Central Africa Republic, Southern Sudan, Sudan and Libya. Such porous borders aid arms proliferation, insurgency, among other crimes.
It is very disheartening and discouraging for Africa to be facing security challenges and it appears there are no concrete mitigation measures put in place to ensure that these emerging threats are checked. That is why drawing attention to the peace and security architecture in Africa is very critical. But there are certain factors that are lacking especially in terms of coordination including collaboration on the implementation of coherent and cogent regional strategies for stabilisation and recovery.
Africa cannot develop in the absence of peace and security. The Pan-African dream and vision cannot be achieved in the absence of integration and unity. Our consciousness has to be reawakened in terms of the need to act collectively to develop mechanisms to protect the continent against conflicts.
There is a need for African leaders to concentrate on how to resolve conflicts and prevent them from happening in the future. Steps should be taken to strengthen capacities of African governments and states to develop resilience and mechanisms for conflict resolution. The African Union Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) must be localised and decentralised to regional and country levels so as to develop architecture for prevention. De-radicalisation and counter-violence extremism should be some of the major ingredients of the security plan.
African leaders should learn from what happened in other countries, for instance, Pakistan and Afghanistan. These two countries have been able to put in place international collaborative efforts towards addressing terrorism and have drastically reduced the number of terror organizations in their individual countries to very manageable levels.
Arab countries in Africa should emulate what has been put in place in the West African sub-region so that they too can checkmate the infiltration of elements of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Arab-Maghreb axis. The Lake Chad Basin multinational joint task force should combine efforts with the G5 of the Sahel countries instead of operating in silos. These will help in building strong partnerships and creating the synergy that are required in countering terrorism.
Moses is a publisher, researcher, and Biographer based in Lagos