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U.S. Lawmakers on 'Critical Vulnerabilities' of Terrorism in Africa

VOA
FILE - A Somali soldier stands guard next to the site where al-Shabab militants carried out a suicide attack against a military intelligence base in Mogadishu, June 21, 2015..
FILE - A Somali soldier stands guard next to the site where al-Shabab militants carried out a suicide attack against a military intelligence base in Mogadishu, June 21, 2015..

WASHINGTON—U.S. lawmakers examining the threat that terrorism poses in Africa expressed concern Tuesday that the United States may be overlooking human rights and governance abuses by leaders in the region who provide assistance on counterterrorism issues.

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield told a panel of the senators at a hearing convened by the Foreign Relations Committee that countries in the region have critical vulnerabilities and capacities’ gap that must be addressed.

Thomas-Greenfield said that terror groups are recruiting foot soldiers simply by offering money. To counter that, she said that governments must "use every available resource to offer educational and vocational opportunities" to counteract the groups.

Counterterrorism and human rights

The United States is focused on helping countries provide those opportunities, but Senator Ben Cardin, a ranking member of the committee, expressed concerns that Washington is giving countries a free pass for human rights abuses or poor governance as long as they are useful counterterrorism partners.

"In Ethiopia for example, they just had parliamentary elections and not a single opposition leader was elected and security forces there have killed hundreds of protesters; in Chad dozens of military officers were arrested because they wouldn’t vote for the president; in Somalia there are reports they are using children for spies; in Nigeria and Kenya there have been extra judicial killings by the military. Yet I don’t see a response by America," Cardin asked.

Thomas-Greenfield responded that each of the arguments mentioned above was met by a strong condemnation by the U.S. government but at the same time the U.S. is committed to firmly working with their partners to address efforts to defeat terrorism.

"We can’t draw a line and say we can’t work with you on terrorism because of human rights violation but we reinforce that they must respect human rights and civil liberties," she said.

Another concern came from Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey. While Nigerian people face daunting governance and corruption issues, he said, the U.S. is planning to sell the military 29 super Tucano attack aircraft to supposedly fight Boko Haram.

Yet, he adds the Nigerian military has a long standing history of human rights abuses including under the current administration. Just last month, he says, “Amnesty International accused the Nigerian government of killing hundreds of members of the Shia minority sect in December.”

Thomas-Greenfield responded the U.S. aid is not moving away from fighting corruption. She recalled that last year Washington turned down a Nigerian request for Cobra attack helicopters because “we were concerned about their ability to use those and not have an impact on their communities.”

However she said the approach has to be multi-faceted. "We have to do security but we also have to do the capacity building, the development assistance, etc."

Democratic governance as counter terror strategy

Other witnesses such as Christopher Fomunyoh, Senior Associate and Regional Director for Central and West Africa, National Democratic Institute made the case for why democracy and good governance should be a central component of any counterterrorism and stabilization strategy in sub-Saharan Africa.

Fomunyoh says while the principal motivation of “today's terrorists in sub-Saharan Africa is deeply rooted in a pattern of religious beliefs… governance failures have exacerbated the impact of this phenomenon and created an enabling environment in which extremism thrives.”

For example, he pointed out “when a state collapses, as was the case with Somalia prior to the emergence of Al-Shabaab, or allows for huge swaths of ungovernable spaces, as was the case in Northern Mali, or fails to fulfill its basic purpose of providing citizens with access to a meaningful life, liberty, and property, as in northeastern Nigeria, the social contract between the state and the citizenry is broken. Discontent with governments that are viewed as illegitimate or ineffective is a fertile ground for recruitment.”

Therefore, Fomunyoh says “any counterterrorism strategy for Africa should be grounded in the consolidation of democracy and good governance." He said autocratic regimes should not get a pass from the international community solely because they are good partners in the fight against terrorism.

Better coordination

For U.S. projects trying to improve the capacity of governments in the region, there are also concerns over coordination.

Senator Chris Coons told VOA that he’s confident there will be a better coordination between agencies in the coming years to better track the massive programs trying to improve live in the region.

"We spent billions of dollars in public health programming mostly through USAID and in development work, in training, equipping and supporting African militaries through the department of defense and peacekeeping missions through our department of state and I am optimistic we’ll do a better job of coordinating our partnership with African countries in the fight against terrorism," he said.

Economic impact

As countries grapple with how to confront terrorism,  attacks are already having a dramatic impact on their economies. Abdoulaye Mar Dieye - Assistant Administrator and Director, Regional Bureau for Africa, United Nations Development Program says while Africa’s Gross Domestic Product has increased by 5% in the past 15 years, violent extremism threatens that growth.

“Tunisia’s GDP growth has been cut from 3% to 1%. Chad’s contracted 1% in 2015 from a 5% growth in 2014. Countries like Nigeria and Kenya have seen a reduction of 25% of tourism following terrorists’ attacks,” Dieye said.

The UNDP estimates that about 33,000 people have died since 2011 as victims of violent extremism and 6 million are currently internally displaced in Africa.

 


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