Special Reports

The new ECOWAS Counter-Terrorism Strategy and its implications for West Africa


West African leaders have vowed to leave no stone unturned in their fight against terrorism. On 27 and 28 February 2013 this vow was embodied in the Political Declaration on a Common Position Against Terrorism, which included a Counter-Terrorism Strategy and Implementation Plan, adopted by the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) at its 42nd ordinary session in Yamoussoukro, Cote d'Ivoire. The Strategy is the result of an inclusive process that began in 2009 and has involved national, regional and international experts, civil society and media organisations. The contribution of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in the development of the Strategy highlights the important role of civil society collaboration with regional mechanisms like ECOWAS.

The principal purpose of the Declaration and Strategy is to prevent and eradicate terrorism and related criminal acts in West Africa, with a view to creating conditions conducive to sound economic development and ensuring the wellbeing of all ECOWAS citizens. The plans also seek to give effect to regional, continental and international counter-terrorism instruments and to provide a common operational framework for action.

At a time of rising transnational criminal activities and terrorism in West Africa, the Declaration was hailed as a historic achievement in ECOWAS's efforts to combat terrorism. Military coups, internecine conflicts, mercenary activities and authoritarian regimes have exposed West Africans to different incarnations of terrorism. The recent intensification of terrorist attacks in the region, particularly following the escalation of the Niger-Delta conflict in 2006 and the resurgence of Boko Haram in 2009, as well as the occupation of northern Mali by terrorist groups in 2012, have alarmed not only West African countries but also the broader international community. These developments have exposed the fragility of West African states and the profound threat that terrorism poses to peace, stability, development and territorial integrity.

A key lesson brought home by these contemporary manifestations of terrorism has been their transnational nature, whereby an attack may be planned in country A and executed in country B, and materials for the attack may have come from countries C, D, E, etc. In addition, terrorist groups in the region have tended to form alliances with al-Qaeda and likeminded groups, as well as with transnational criminal networks such as drug traffickers, arms smugglers and cigarette traffickers.

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