A top U.S. military commander says African countries dealing with violent extremism need to enact good governance, a stronger rule of law and inclusion of marginalized communities if they want to promote stability.
Africa has seen an increase in terror groups operating across the continent in recent years. Al-Shabab in East Africa, al-Qaida and Islamic State affiliates expanding in the Sahel, and Boko Haram around the Lake Chad Basin are among the most prominent.
The head of the U.S. military’s Special Operations Command Africa, Rear Admiral Jamie Sands, said on April 3 that African countries need better governance and greater cooperation if they are to stop the threat of terrorism.
“No nation can solve this challenge or this problem alone,” he said. “Partnerships are key. Prevention of extremism through governance reforms and progress is an easier path than fighting established violent extremists through kinetic activity. Values matter. Transparency, accountability and inclusion are key as we move forward. International investment is critical, and this investment must be paired with security, good governance and aid.”
Terrorist activity has displaced at least 33 million people continent-wide and contributed to political instability in countries like Mali, Burkina Faso and Somalia.
Sands said violent extremism erodes the relations between a government and its citizens.
“The lack of security combined with, in some regions, a perception of disadvantagement that takes place between the government and the population, really form to create an environment where the population loses faith in the government and either decides deliberately to overthrow the government through a coup or, as we saw in some – in one country, Burkina Faso, we think it was a mutiny that turned into a coup,” he said.
In January 2022, Burkina Faso’s military removed the president and suspended the constitution. Military officers said rising extremist violence and the deterioration of security forced them to seize power from the civilian-led government.
Militant groups have especially thrived in neglected border areas, where governments have little presence and communities on both sides of the border fight for whatever resources are available in the area.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says 40 percent of violent events and deaths occur within 100 kilometers of a border between two African countries.
Simiyu Werunga, head of the Geneva Center for Africa Security, said the lack of cooperation between African governments is a key driver of terrorism on the continent.
“What we lack in Africa is serious mechanism government-to-government to deal with these issues and deal with it for good,” he said. “In West Africa, we have the Sahel region. The Sahel has its own grouping, and ECOWAS has its own grouping, but they don’t seem to be working together. This gives these organizations space to create themselves and counter what governments are doing by creating more splinter groups to spread the chaos and make it difficult for governments to deal with them.”
Sands said the U.S. government will help mend broken relations between governments and communities, and encourage good governance as the best way of defeating terrorism.