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Navigating the Complex Response to Extremism

Dialogue program on counter-terrorism in West Africa

For such a complex problem as violent extremism, there is no simple solution. This became clear during a three day exchange between West African terrorist experts, representatives from the UN and other relevant think thanks in New York. It takes comprehensive responses, starting at very different levels of state and society, to tackle this problem. The experts also agreed that exclusively relying on military security approaches to terrorism does not provide long-term solutions.

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West Africa is considered one of the areas of the world where the risk of terrorism could increase in the years to come. Countries in which peace is fragile after long-lasting civil wars -such as in the Ivory Coast- offer an attractive terrain for terrorist groups. The same is true for areas characterized by tensions between different religions or any other form of conflict, as well as by poverty. Representatives of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) confirmed furthermore during the talks that social injustices create an even more fertile breeding ground for violent extremism than poverty. According to a terrorism researcher from Columbia University, who met with the West African experts, the changes we are experiencing to the global order today are fueling the spread of terrorist groups. Enhanced cooperation and strategic partnerships in the fight against terrorism are therefore more important today than ever, as many experts agree.

The following challenges about counter-terrorism were identified during the talks with representatives of various UN organizations and think tanks in New York:

  • Terrorist groups are constantly changing, tracking the latest trends and developments requires extensive resources.
  • Co-operation in the field of counter-terrorism and prevention requires a high degree of coordination among various UN agencies that have local actors on the ground. Regional organizations have the necessary knowledge and access, but not always the appropriate means. Sometimes competition arises between different actors in the field, which is not conductive to the actual goal.
  • Not all member states always fulfill their commitments in the area of terrorism prevention. However, it is clear that prevention is the most efficient way to stop violent extremism in its early stages.
Together with the West African experts from the network of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, recommendations were formulated for the fight against terrorism in West Africa, some of which are outlined below:

  • The most effective strategy is to tackle the root of the problem: in peaceful, economically prosperous and tolerant societies, violent extremism has no chance of gaining a foothold.
  • The “whole-of-society approach” has been mentioned several times- which implies that at all levels of society and the state, it is necessary to tackle the problem of successfully counteracting the spread of terrorist groups. Some examples include activities to strengthen the rule of law, intensive involvement of civil society and functional cooperation with religious, media and social media representatives.
  • Development and security efforts can complement each other, but it is necessary to separate them clearly.
  • Activities that promote social cohesion meant to act against extremism do not necessarily have to be equipped with a security policy component. The promotion of social cohesion alone can have a high preventative effect.
  • Raising awareness for the problem must also happen at the local level and in schools.
  • The experts were particularly unanimous on one point: approaches that focus exclusively on military security, offer no medium or long-term solutions.
Of course, where these medium- and long-term solutions are to be found and what they might look like could not be exhaustively addressed within the framework of this dialogue program. However, it became clear that in order to prevent the spread of extremism and terrorism, many different actors, from the village school to high-ranking UN staff, must work together to develop and implement comprehensive approaches. The insight gained and contacts made from this dialogue program about the work of the United Nations in the field of counter-terrorism are an important resource for the work of all participants on the ground.

More information on the dialogue program

From 13. to 16. May 2018 the following individuals participated in the „Violent Extremism as a threat to Global Security and Development: Counter strategies for Western Africa“ dialogue program launched by KAS New York in cooperation with the Sub-Saharan African Regional Security Dialogue KAS program (see more under "On Topic"):

  • Col. (ER) Babacar Diouf: Special Advisor to the General Director of the Senior Level Centre for Defense and Security Studies (CHEDS) in Dakar (Senegel) and Director of its research department. The CHEDS organizes the Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security in Africa, the most important security policy conference in Africa (see link under “On Topic”);
  • Col. Koffi Daniel Konan: UN Officer in the Logistics Division of the General Staff of the Republican Forces in Côte d'Ivoire (FRCI), responsible for the preparation of soldiers for international missions;
  • Dr. Botiagne Marc Essis: Head of the Department of Political Science at the Institut Universitaire d’Abidjan, editor of “Ivorian Review of Governance and Strategic Studies (RIGES);
  • Tinko Weibezahl: Director of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation’s (KAS) Security Policy Dialogue Program in Sub-Saharan Africa, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.
  • In addition to the dialogue, there was also a discussion in the KAS office on “Partners in Security Building in West Africa- UN, EU and the G5 Forces” in which various experts from the United Nations field participated.

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    Andrea Ellen Ostheimer

    Andrea Ostheimer

    Director KAS Genf Office +41 79 318 9841


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