It is time that leaders of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, stopped pussy-footing over the current bleak security situation and the prospects of the region becoming the world’s most fertile ground for Islamic terrorist networks.
These networks, such as Al Qaeda, Jama’at Nasr al Islam wal Muslimin, JNIM, armed herdsmen and the Islamic State are always on the lookout for culturally Islamic regions with a lot of ungoverned spaces and existing armed rivalries or rebellions against political authorities. The West Africa sub-region possesses all these tantalising factors to attract the presence of these terror networks.
They are already here. Nigeria, Mali, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger have been hotbeds of terrorism for the past eleven years, mainly because local Islamists and rebels got affiliated with these international terror networks to cause massive disruption of the livelihoods of people, death, destruction and untold human misery.
According to the World Watch Monitor, Boko Haram alone, within eleven years, has killed more people than Al Qaeda and Islamic State combined, with about 30,000 people, especially military casualties, lost. About 2.3 million displaced people remain as refugees, while the Armed Conflicts Location and Event Data Project, ACLED, reported another 4,776 deaths elsewhere in the Sahel in 2018/2019 alone. Deaths from herdsmen terror has remained largely undocumented.
The presidents of Nigeria and Ghana, Buhari and Nana Akufo-Addo respectively, have on different occasions called for a united regional front against terrorism. This issue also tangentially engaged the attention of ECOWAS leaders during their December 2019 meeting in Abuja.
We believe that the danger posed by these terror networks is now beyond the scope of the Multi-National Joint Task Force, MNJTF, earlier cobbled together by the Lake Chad Basin countries such as Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. After initial successes, the Force’s clout appears to have dissipated as more Islamists troop in.
What we need to stamp out Islamic terror in West Africa is a broad-based Economic Community of West Africa Monitoring Group, ECOMOG, kind of arrangement fully supported by the world’s military powers such as the USA, UK, EU, Russia and China in terms of finance, weaponry, intelligence and diplomatic leverage against nations which sponsor these terror networks.
The time to act is now because these battle-tested fighters who have been driven out of the Middle East and Afghanistan are moving massively into the African Sahel.
The industrialised world has a strategic self-interest in ensuring that these evil forces are rooted out. If the terrorists succeed in establishing political control in West Africa, many countries will be destabilised and there will be migrations of a scale which will diminish that of Iraq and Syria.
ECOWAS cannot go it alone.