As we enter another year, many political observers are still very pessimistic about any possibility of political stability in many parts of the African continent. The sad reality is that Africa has now replaced the Middle East and Asia to become a grand theatre of violent extremism and terrorism.
In fact, the Sahel region has made Africa to be the only continent on earth which boasts of a “belt of instability” that spans from the Atlantic coast (Mauritania) to the Indian Ocean (Somalia). The region is replete with many ungoverned spaces, poverty, youth unemployment, corruption, poor governance and a host of other local grievances that make conflict to be inevitable. Terrorist groups linked to ISIS and Al Qaeda manipulate these anomalies to radicalise and recruit many youths to their ranks and go on to cause untold suffering to local populations.
The Sahel region is not the only one afflicted by violent extremism and political conflict. The Southern African region is also grappling with violent extremism in Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Even though the SADC regional bloc is engaged in Mozambique through the SAMIM operation, the road towards stability is still rocky and foggy as violent extremist groups have a tendency to strategically withdraw from their activities once under pressure and later re-strategise and re-mobilise once mission troops pull out then continue a cycle of terror against the local populations.
However, the SADC Mission has to be applauded for having reached some milestones. The mission has recaptured some villages, dislodged terrorists from their bases, seized weapons and warfare materials. They have created and secured environment for a safer passage of humanitarian support. Gradually, the confidence shown on SADCSAMIM forces have led to slow return of internally displaced persons to return to their normal lives. However, the Filipe Nyusi administration must understand that the crisis in Mozambique cannot be resolved through military means alone but should be coupled with economic and social inclusion of many marginalised groups in the region.
There should be deliberate policies tailor-made to create job opportunities for the people of Cabo Delgado, which is rich in gas deposits. The robust policies of economic and social inclusion have a huge potential to help in curbing radicalisation and recruitment of many frustrated and unemployed youth in the region. Perhaps it is the DRC which needs not to be ignored by the regional bloc.
The recent spate of suicide bombings in cities such as Beni, which were claimed by the radical extremist group Alliance for Democratic Forces which is linked to Islamic State in the Central African Province, is a grave security concern. These acts of violent extremism add another layer of conflict in Southern Congo where more than 120 armed groups operate with impunity. This instability calls for the need for vigilance to avoid further escalation. Beside violent extremism from terrorist groups, there are security concerns about the rising tide in military coups in the continent. It is not an understatement that military coups are a serious security problem in Africa.
There were two military coups in a space of 10 months in Mali, President Alpha Conde was overthrown by General Doumbuya in Guinea, the military detained civilian leaders in North Sudan and General Mahamat Deby seized power in Chad by suspending the Constitution and dissolving Parliament following the death of his father Idris Deby in the battlefield. All these military takeovers took place in 2021.
This is very worrisome because military coups have been on a decline over the years. Between 1960 and 2000 coups and coup attempts averaged four per year and the trend drastically fell between 2000 and 2019 when they averaged two per year. Part of the reason for the decline was because this was a period of growth in calls for democratic reforms and constitutionalism. The trend has regressed since 2019 as Africa has experienced a return to military coups. Some security analysts reason that the militarisation of politics in the continent is influenced by a mix of external drivers which include the increasing and diversive number of international actors who are active in Africa prioritising their own selfish interests and internal factors that range from public frustration against corruption, insecurity and poor governance.
The meddling in the constitution to extend terms in office as displaced by Alpha Conde of Guinea in 2020 is an example of poor governance that led to public frustration that gave the military confidence to overthrow the government. Lack of decisive action by regional blocs and international actors are also an incentive for the military to take over power.
Insecurity in Africa needs some radical reforms across many states. There is a need for security sector reforms especially for those countries emerging from conflict. Security sector reform can go a long way in preventing the militarisation of politics and politicisation of the military. Such reforms should include complete restructuring of the militaries police and other security related agencies to be accountable to the democratically elected civilian government not the other way round. Furthermore, those entrusted with power should strive to strengthen democratic institutions of governance anchored on transparency, accountability and most importantly, adherence to the rule of law. Nothing short of these minimum reforms and violent conflict will continue to ravage the poor continent of Africa for many years to come.