Radicalisation and terrorism in Africa

June 25, 2016

Several East, West and North African countries have made a strong contribution to restoring a sense of dignity to Africa’s counter-radicalisation policies with Nigeria’s President Buhari recently emphasised that “de-radicalisation” should be key pillar in fighting terror in West Africa.This was a breath of fresh air after the divisive tones of his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan that did very little to stop bombing in Northern Nigeria. It will help allow Nigerials to feel a sense of pride in the country’s doubted counter-terrorism successes.But, as Buhari streamlines federal, state and territory agencies to discuss Nigeria’s approach to countering violent extremism, one would hope that he also promotes a fresh look at the best available research on what works and what doesn’t.President Buhari need to remember that in passing, disaffection in the Muslim community with the previous Nigerian government use of the terms “radical” and “extremism” and the fact that country’s muslim communities perceive Nigeria counter-terrorism policies as tinged with marginalisation and oppression.As I have come to learn over the years, radicalisation and terrorism are two different phenomena politically, legally, psychologically and morally. While a terrorist is by definition radicalised, the mere fact of being radicalised does not explain the transition to terrorism a choice for violence.In most scenarios across Africa, for example there are many “radicals” in coastal Kenya which is a cause for each individual who becomes a terrorist.

A policy that screens radicals for terrorists is not workable or reliable, nor scientifically defensible. It will always record significant failures.Herein lies a policy implication for Kenya. Why is it staking so much on counter-radicalisation in the Kenyan coast where the state has been flushing out indoctrinated youths who are being radicalised by terror organisations? My view is that preventing someone from becoming radicalised in the first place is the most effective defence against terrorism. Counter-radicalisation is only one part of very distinct areas of policy to combat terrorism. It is probably not the most effective by a long shot. Other areas of policy that need appropriate Kenyan government recognition and debate include intelligence, research, legislation, legal system, law enforcement and combating terrorist financing.Recent Buhari’s statement that counter-radicalisation work is the best defence against terrorism begs the question of what policies, apart from that one, can be effective. The Nigerian government has invested heavily in some of them especially intelligence but not in most of them, such as the training of police investigators and court prosecutors for counter-terrorism cases.Internal evaluation has found Nigerian policy on terrorist financing found a number of shortcomings. Not least of these was the lack of engagement by police forces with nationally available data to launch investigations of terrorist financing.

In the equally important area of legislation, Nigeria’s government’s approach has been consistently criticised by a range of professional associations, community leaders, experts among others. There has been a scathing indictment of Nigerian government that has all too often simply refused to address important concerns, or those of a well-meaning legal fraternity.Has Kenyan government ever evaluated the success of its counter-radicalisation program in the coastal region relative to other counter-terrorism measures? I highly doubt as there has never been a study conducted on the subject. As an alternative narrative, the Kenyan government may want to consider an assessment that goes like this. The best way of preventing terrorism by new recruits is to capture and convict known terrorists. Failure to “capture and convict”, whether in coastal or mainland, is a gift to terrorist recruiters in East Africa’s largest economy.Until African security agencies can demonstrate more success in capturing and convicting terrorists, new recruits to terrorism in East, West and Northern African countries will increase in number. The region needs a powerful and sustained public campaign around its counter-terrorism successes more than it needs morally troubling and unscientific public discourse about youth radicalisation.

Contador Harrison