Tana at MSC 2022 – Rethinking Responses: Terrorism, Violent Extremism and Trans-organised Crimes in Africa

14 March, 2022

The 58th Munich Security Conference (MSC) was held from 18 – 20 February 2022, at its usual venue in Munich, the Hotel Bayerischer. With the focus of high-level participation, the conference was held in a reduced format with fewer guests, fewer media representatives, and smaller delegations have traveled to Munich. The annual conference is one of the leading platforms for international security policy, and this year the discussions centred around terrorism, violent extremism, and trans-organized crime that includes the element of human security approaches to dealing with these threatening phenomena.

The Tana Forum Secretariat organised a side event on 19 February to discuss the 2022 theme, namely “Rethinking Responses: Terrorism, Violent Extremism, and Trans-Organised Crimes in Africa”. This annual side event at the MSC is an opportunity for the Forum to contribute an African perspective to global discussions and set the tone for deliberations at the Forum.

The spread of violent extremism, terrorist organisations and trans-organised crimes and the significant rise globally in acts of terrorism directly undermine the maintenance of international peace and security. The collective impacts of terrorism in Africa are severe and with devastating adverse effects on all spheres of human endeavor. In Africa, terrorism has, thus, become a menace to the well-being of the people, the economy and the socio-political spheres wreaking havoc and stalling development. The approaches to rethinking and addressing terrorism must be such that “solution(s) must be as political as they are military”, incorporating a human security element that focuses on people’s well-being. With this event, the Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa seeks to provoke an engaging and critical discussion around terrorism, violent extremism and trans-organised crimes and aims to create a space where ideas could be exchanged and deliberated upon in a dialog context.

Core Take Away:

  • In an opening remark, it was remarked that the Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa had built a reputation for frank and candid exchanges on some of the most pressing issues facing the African continent. The attendees commended the collaborative effort of the Tana Forum and the Munich Security Conference for the deliberative discussion held as a side event.
  • It was noted that Africa had suffered tremendously from the growing presence of terrorist groups, violent extremism and trans-organised crimes. There was a need, therefore, for a deeper understanding of the new hotspots of these issues, and the development of a joint assessment of its drivers is imperative.
  • Participants have a shared understanding that addressing terrorism, violent extremism and trans-organised crimes requires an understanding, defining the nature and genesis of terrorist organisations and their agenda, what grievances they tap into to construct their ideological underpinning and a mapping of their networks.
  • Participants also eluded that context matters and the need to avoid the temptation of using a global template of solutions to localised issues. However, there was the need to share experiences at the national, sub-regional, and global levels to ensure a concerted effort in the fight against terrorism, violent extremism, and trans-organised crimes.
  • While some participants instead focused on the concrete tools terrorist groups develop to tighten their grip over people and territories, others put the root causes for their dominance into the spotlight. These include the contestation of nation-states due to their inadequate responses to structural problems.
  • There was agreement among most speakers that underlying grievances are core drivers of radicalisation. However, other participants alluded that singling out underdevelopment as the driver of radicalisation is insufficient.
  • The connection between terrorism, violent extremism and transnational organised crimes featured prominently in the debate. While different opinions were expressed, the consensus among participants was that, to some extent, terrorism had become a thriving business. Therefore, curtailing terrorist finances needed to be one of the critical strategies in any counter terrorism approach.
  • Participants also agreed that development should also be at the centre stage of fighting terrorism. Development here means one that goes beyond the provision of infrastructures and is anchored and connected to helping people meet their life-long aspirations of well-being.
  • While there were differing opinions, there was a shared understanding among the participants that continued terrorist activity impeded developmental progress. However, rooting out terrorist networks, at least in the short term, also comes at a price for development, as people lose their livelihoods. It is, therefore, imperative to find practical political solutions that work rather than resorting entirely to a militarised approach to fighting terrorism.
  • While some participants aligned with addressing root causes, others proffered a solution that relied heavily on building and strengthening institutions and regulations, including enhanced financial forensic “follow-the-money” to target terrorist financing.
  • The debate on the role of continental organisations (eg. Africa Union, etc) was heavily polarised on their respective roles in fighting terrorism, violent extremism and trans-organised crimes. Some participants were unsure how regional organisations could take on more responsibilities when their member states were deeply divided, internally and amongst each other. Some participants argued that institutional paralysis within the Africa Union and the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) were borne not from a dearth of policy frameworks to address terrorism but the inability to implement existing mechanisms and frameworks to respond to the challenges of terrorism. Some strongly argued that institutions such as the AU and the RECs are as strong as the members want them to be.
  • Regarding the above, some participants favoured tapping into political responses at the national, sub-regional levels to ensure effectiveness. Again others posited that there is no need to re-invent the wheel. Instead, we need to strengthen what already exists in terms of our institutions.
  • RECs seem plagued by multiple interests, narratives, and power politics that work against their very existence. Identifying and addressing these contestations were important in fighting the menace of terrorism, violent extremism and trans-organized crimes.
  • Developing African-led responses to terrorism, violent extremism and trans-organised crimes require a political response that taps into national, sub-regional efforts through a concerted effort that relied on human security perspective.
  • The above deliberations demonstrate the importance of the Tana Forum, which fosters frank and candid discussions on pertinent issues that affect not just Africa but those that are of global significance.