Under the theme « Combatting terrorism today: considerations, action and coordination » a symposium was held on 19 and 20 November 2018, in Abidjan. It was at the inaugural ceremony of the forthcoming opening of the International Anti-Terrorism Academy (AILCT), the result of privileged relationships between France and Côte d’Ivoire. AILCT hopes to be a place of sharing experiences and prospective to serve Africa, with the aim of developing the skills required by the recurrence and the propagation of the threats.
Above all, the project focuses around training, which is divided into three major axes that complete each other: the strategic level embodied by a research institute, a legal / judiciary section, and operational and tactical obligations. The analysis of its stated objectives and formal intentions offer a wide range of possibilities for AILCT. Indeed, in western Africa, the configuration of terrorism and its territorial stronghold read as the blend of many factors.
However, the ideology variable remains the common denominator that structures and motivates extremists but also the civilians in the waiting room. Indeed, the symposium may have brought to light the latent temporal groups. In short, these are people momentarily inactive but who lean towards Djihad, without yet exercising it.
What are the issues?
Insofar, as the Academy aspires to prevention as much as to treatment, it could not evade the question of the future of the countries not yet affected, such as those of the Gulf of Guinea. That question proves all the more essential since, from the believers point of view, religious observance leading to extremism does not automatically arise either from the religious faith or from its transgression, or from the region States’ laws.
The propaganda pushing to fanaticism is spreading, in total impunity, under the disguise of religious associations, places of prayers, selective bookstores and charity organizations. No African government is dealing with such a risk, probably because of its inability to measure it. Worried analysts would rather evoke indolence, the neglect to face the complexities of a Middle East perceived as far away, complicated and dangerous … Most of them ignore or will discover too late, that the enemy is already from within.
The transnational nature of the terrorist threat is the basis of the AILCT doctrinal approach. It is important, from a pragmatic point of view, to make the decision-makers, especially the security sector actors, more aware of the fact that the spread of jihadism remains underestimated, despite its – albeit still understated – impact on the economic and social life. In this respect, the establishment of specialized institutions makes it possible to identify the global stakes of anti-terrorism. That will be thanks to the gradual implementation of a collaborative and cooperative framework, that ultimately leads to building a security and diplomatic architecture that mitigate, if not prevent, the shocks of asymmetric warfare.
The overall regional context.
Since 2012, the Sahel, particularly northern Mali is beset by a multilayered crisis aggravated by the intrusion of armed groups claiming Islam as a moral guide and a sword. They have promoted stratagems and language, articulated in a project of puritanical domination, in order to establish, on Earth, the sole and definitive Truth, under the authority of a Vicar of God. However, the objective goes much beyond the mere reproduction of fantasy in its historical background where it would make sense. In reality, it also aims at conquering and converting, under duress, because all that is necessary to subdue and to subjugate the unbeliever, including by mass terror.
The impulse, the time span and the continuously expanding territorial space reinforce each other. Rather than declining, the enemy carries on, metamorphoses and develops metastases throughout the West African region and beyond. The reshuffle of Islamist groups, in recent years, has displaced the center of gravity, following a process of imitation effects, followed by an endogenous recuperation, through the use of calls to ethnic identity, paranoia around a Western conspiracy, and even pronunciations of messianic eschatology, waiting impatiently for the end of this world. Today, the ECOWAS region is moving towards the unification of previously dispersed entities, of which the main ones remain Boko Haram and its schisms, the Group of support to Islam and Muslims (Gsim) and the Islamic State in the Great Sahara (Eigs).
In this tense and stressful environment, the role of the Academy is an institutional and structural response that can maintain the terrorist threat to an acceptable level and contain its spread, both demographic and geographic. For this purpose, it intends to provide, to conventional actors, the fundamentals of a regulation under the triple seals of learning, justice and legal matters as well as defense issues. At least, these are the priorities that the Abidjan symposium has identified.
The many challenges.
Although inaugurated on 18 October 2018 by the French Minister of Foreign Affairs and his Ivorian counterpart for defense, for time being, AILCT is only an idea and the Abidjan meeting offers a rather promising image. With its construction cost estimated at 20 million Euros, the campus should spread over a few kilometers on the Atlantic coast, in the city of Jacqueville. That is a city where mostly Christian and Animists citizens represent the majority of the population. Was this the ideal environment for an in vivo study of the jihadist entity?
Another obstacle has emerged during the debate, between the temptation to tell the whole truth and the weight of the politically correct. Often victims of ‘’holy violence’’, governments representatives, came to warn against stigmatization, even Islamophobia. A few of them have even suggested the elimination, from the authorized vocabulary, of the words « jihadism » and « Islamism ». Thanks to the courage, on the part of the representative of the Ivorian Ministry of Defense, researcher Jean Jacques Konadjé, the desire to conform the language to the confessional susceptibility, was quickly thwarted.
It reveals, nevertheless, the sum of the misunderstandings that await the Academy, the trainers and the students in Sub Saharan Africa. A region that still hesitates to name the evil as it is and, in doing so, is postponing the time of the response.
In connection to that AILCT response, the progressive mutation of the G 5 Sahel, established in 2014, could serve as an example. Following its forthcoming Summit, on 5 and 6 December in Nouakchott, the parliamentarians of that organization are to meet on 12/ 13 December in Paris with their France colleagues. Congressmen discussing military spending may constitute major step forwards to democratic governance in the region. Moreover, that may be followed by future discussion on issues such as troupes’ deployments, armaments purchase and military leadership. Developments that are probably the mark of the G 5 Sahel new Secretariat, the Nigerien Maman Sambo Sidikou.
The AILCT should be welcome and seen as a new and additional preventive effort by Abidjan and Paris to prevent the strengthening of terrorism in a coastal region already on the radars screens of extremist groups. At centre4s we see this new institution as complementary to the G 5 Sahel and its able Secretariat, thus deserving international support.
Ahmedou Ould Abdallah Président centre4s
Written by Lassina Diarra researcher, spécialiste terrorisme dans le Sahel Sahara, for centre4s