The African Union is encouraging localised solutions including voluntary surrender and amnesty to tame the scourge of violent extremism across the continent, signaling adoption of cheaper security approaches to a perennial problem.
The suggestions emerged from an October meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC), but whose details were publicised this week. And the continental organ responsible for peace and stability says that will require better governance including total rejection of coups and better polls, as well as organised funded programmes on amnesty for those who surrender.
The AUPSC met on October 27 and said this week it was deeply concerned by the growing threat to peace and security “by the spread of terrorism and violent extremism throughout the continent”, which it says is undermining AU efforts to Silence the Guns in Africa by 2030.
The Council said member states should focus on the “root causes and all factors that facilitate its growth and spread and, in this regard, stresses the need to prioritise political solutions alongside military and security interventions.”
Those interventions include “national reconciliation and cohesion including through dialogue and negotiations to facilitate voluntary surrender and rehabilitation of terrorists and extremists.”
The proposed alternative to military means is not new. But the Council is coming from a situation of poor funding as well as lack of long-term measures to improve areas where military missions neutralised extremist threats.
It also comes from the basis that violent extremism cases have risen considerably in the recent years.
The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP)’s special Terrorism Tracker blames the Islamic State and its affiliates as well as Al Shabaab, a faction allied to Al Qaeda, for most of the deaths as well as the millions of people displaced from their homes.
But the increase in terrorism in the Sahel, where deaths rose by over 2,000 percent in the past 15 years, is also directly linked to political instability. The political situation in the Sahel compounds this increase, with six coup attempts since 2021, of which four were successful.
The underlying drivers are complex and systemic including poor water utilisation, lack of food, ethnic polarisation, strong population growth, external interventions, geopolitical competition, pastoralist conflict, the growth of transnational Salafi-Islam ideology and weak governments.
The AU wants a new entity body to be known as the African Union Counter Terrorism Centre, formed from the Africa Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism, to develop standards under which AU member states can work to develop national reconciliation and amnesty programmes for those who return from terror. Those standards will be tabled to the AU Commission after which the Council will endorse.
The African Union will not abandon force. Instead, it wants members to mobilise resources under a Special Fund for combating terrorism and violent extremism. The Fund was first mooted in 2016 but has received low-key support especially since most foreign missions on the continent are externally financed. This Fund will be both for preventing and combating violent extremism, the AUPSC dispatch said.
One area of focus will be tackling violent extremism as other transboundary crimes like poaching and drug trafficking and this could see intelligence agencies working closer like the police do, the Council suggests.
This week in Nouakchott, Mauritania, the African Union Commission in collaboration with the Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa gathered intelligence chiefs from countries that have faced the biggest scourge of violent extremism on the continent.
They were Kenya, Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sudan, South Sudan, Tanzania and Togo. They form the Nouakchott and Djibouti processes, 2017 AU programmes on the Sahel and Horn of Africa violent extremism.
A dispatch from the meeting on November 7 recommended countries to sign cooperation arrangements on sharing intelligence and information on violent extremism and other transboundary crimes. But they, too, proposed for better funding for intelligence agencies.