Counter-Terrorism In Africa: The 'New Terrorism' Phenomenon

The word terrorism has become very endemic in the fabric of society to mean any act or acts which instill fear and destroys a nation, citizens or facilities to gain political, or socio-economic advantage domestically or internationally by non-state actors or otherwise (state actors).

Counter-terrorism will therefore mean any measures, strategies or policies aimed to deter, defeat and respond vigorously to terrorist attacks against a nation, citizens or facilities Internationally or domestically either by Land, Sea or Air, or efforts to deter, preempt, apprehend and prosecute, or assist other governments in same vein to prosecute individuals who perpetrate or plan to perpetrate acts regarded as a potential threats to nation security.

Globally the fight against terrorism as declared by former US President George W. Bush 'war on terror' after the 9/11 attacks posit 'Us' as against 'Them' which makes it state-centric and therefore militarized. Even though the word terrorism do not have universally accepted definition, it dates back in the seventh to the nineth century during the era of the Sacarii of Judea and the Zealots. Also, Jewish terrorist groups were active during the first-century Roman occupation of the Middle-East. The Sacarii, who obtained their name from their favorite weapon, the Sica meaning 'short dagger' used to murder those they deemed traitors.

The Zealots, on the other hand, targeted Romans and Greeks and, like the terrorists of today who usually seek media attention, they killed in broad day light in front of witnesses sending clear message to perceived traitors. Similarly, the Assyrians described as the world's fiercest and most violent people before the common era between c. 305 and c. 431, conquered people with material assets and large populations through large military formations of chariots and Calvary. So clearly, terrorism today is an old concept with modern twist. Now, how have we been able to counter this threat which has become common like the internet usage? Has the militry-centric approach as witnessed in Timbuktu northern Mali by the French, or in Afghan by the United States of America, or in Sudan by the joint force (AMISOM) put together by the Africa Union?.

Many of these offensive counter measures or strategies have yielded minimal and temporal results because state actors have approached the level of operations by the terrorists group with narrow lenses. The activities of the French military in Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu all in the northern part of Mali is a classical example of a failed military offensive approach to countering terrorism in its modern terms.

Their actions rather strengthened the groups like Al Shabaab to embark on a campaign of asymmetric violence which claimed even more lives. Scholars like Alexander Spencer and Stephen Emerson, have argued for a less military -centric counter -terrorism policy focused on the symptoms (armed terrorist groups) but rather give more considerations to the underlying structural conditions that fuels terrorism in the first place.

What is 'new terrorism' which has been necessitated by state-centric militarized offensive measures like what is currently happening at Bawku in the Upper East region? In the first place, new terrorist organizations are far flatter than the previous hierarchical approach, like the Peru's 'Sendero Luminoso' or Shinning Path terrorist movement akin to Al Qaeda, is a loosely braided network of cells and associates spread over many countries characterised by relatively flat decision-making regions. These cells are each compartmentalized and semi-autonomous with central leadership providing ideological inspiration and general guidelines for action.

With this, operational issues are left to the individual compartments and coordination occurs at the level of various cluster of groups. Even more sophisticated approach of the 'new terrorism' is the advent of information technology which provides a mechanism for leaders to coordinate these disparate cells resulting in an even more diffused organisation. In a clandestine conundrum, a traditional (militarized) approach to counter-terrorism such as eliminating the head leadership for example, the top leadership of Al Qaeda or Boko Haram or AQIM or Ansar Dine is exercise in futility, and of limited use because the terrorist is not just prepared to 'get killed' but he wants to 'get killed'.

This new event is more complicated with the deep rooted cultural-religious dimension of terrorism. This indication situates that, a more contemporary (human security) approach is the surest way through addressing the structural deficiencies within the political and socioeconomic basket. Also, multidimensional and interdisciplinary approach employing the 3D (Defence, Diplomacy and Development) strategy with effective peace journalism is key to winning the fight, and not 'Us' against 'them'. Ahimsa!.


Sadiq Adu-Twum, DDiv.
Security Analyst|Conflict Resolution Expert|Media and Communications Lecturer.

[email protected]