India and Africa’s bilateral relations are deeply rooted in history. India’s approach to Africa lies in ‘Kampala Principles’, enunciated by PM Narender Modi during his visit to Africa in 2018. India’s engagement rests on the ‘African Priorities’ envisioned by the people of Africa. The first-ever India-Africa Defence Ministers (IADD) conclave was held in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, alongside DefExpo on 06 Feb 2020 and the ‘Lucknow Declaration’ document was signed. Based on this declaration and consultations with stakeholders, it was decided to hold IADD every two years sidelines of the DefExpo. The IADD will reconnoitre new areas of convergence for mutual understanding, including capacity building, training, cyber-security, maritime security and counter-terrorism.[i]
IADD was held on 18 Oct 2022 at Gandhinagar in Gujrat, and this year’s theme was ‘Adopting Strategy for Synergising and Strengthening Defence and Security Cooperation’. In his keynote address, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh stressed on the cooperation between India and African countries to deal effectively with the challenges emerging from conflict, terrorism and violent extremism. India remains united with Africa in its endeavours for peace, security, stability, growth and prosperity. India will strengthen its capabilities to combat terrorism effectively and efficiently in addition to other things. India and Africa share a robust partnership based on the cooperative framework of ‘SAGAR’ (Security and Growth for All in the Region), drawing upon the ancient ethos of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (The World is One Family). [ii]
Peace, security and development are interrelated. Security is essential for growth in any area. The ‘Gandhinagar Declaration’ was adopted as a concluding document. It recommends boosting collaboration in the field of training. About fifty African countries, together with 20 Defence Ministers, seven CDS/Service Chiefs and eight Permanent Secretaries, participated in the Dialogue. This proves that a high priority is given to India-Africa engagement in defence and security. [iii]
Terrorism in Africa.
Terrorism in Africa is thriving and posing a severe threat to international peace and security. Terrorists and violent extremists, including Da’esh, Al Qaida and their various affiliates, are taking advantage of the volatility and conflict in the region to upsurge their terror activities to make their presence felt. They are escalating terror attacks across the continent. Their irrational, terror-ridden violence has killed thousands of people and wounded many others who suffer from the comprehensive impact of terrorism on their lives and livelihoods. Over the last two years, some of the most violent affiliates of Da’esh have stretched over the period, established their presence in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger and Southward into the Gulf of Guinea. [iv] Terrorists and ‘Extremely Violent Groups’ are taking advantage of the fluid situation and even indulging in human trafficking, thus throwing back many countries after emerging from the conflicts.
Meanwhile, terrorists, non-state actors, and criminals very often pursue their agendas and indulge in smuggling, trafficking, extortion and other illegal methods to extract public funds and indulge in illicit businesses. They often impersonate security personnel. And as digital tools spread hate and disinformation, these actors exploit the technology to create a communal divide.
Today’s world is highly connected through emerging technology, so the problem of terrorism in Africa is not only for the people of Africa but for the whole world. This poses a challenge to all of us. Therefore, countering terrorism requires a robust collaboration of the world community.
The rise of terrorism in Africa is connected to situations in Afghanistan and West Asia. The US left Afghanistan in Aug 2021, and the Taliban Government took over the country’s reign, allegedly with Pakistan’s help. The Afghanistan-Pakistan region has the potential to provide a safe haven for terrorist organisations. They can easily survive and thrive there.
To understand the genesis of modern terrorism in Africa, we need to go back to the history of when the USSR invaded Afghanistan in the 1970s. The West, led by the US, perceived the threat of the USSR and therefore organised local warlords in Afghanistan to fight against USSR. Pakistan supported the mujahedin with money and weapons supplied by the ‘West led by the US’. Pakistan smartly diverted these funds to support terrorism in various parts of the world, especially against India.
The USSR left Afghanistan in 1989, leaving behind a weak Government, and very soon, the country was engulfed in a civil war. The mercenaries and volunteers who had come to Afghanistan to wage a holy war against USSR were divided into three parts after the war with USSR was over. Some mercenaries stayed back in Afghanistan and formed part of Al-Qaida, and some went back to their countries and joined Islamic fundamentalist terrorist organisations. And the balance travelled to the West as refugees to spread terrorism subsequently.
ISIS came into prominence after 2011 when Al-Qaida was defeated. Both ISIS and Al-Qaida came under pressure in West Asia due to hot pursuit by the western forces led by the US in 2019. Both these terrorist organisations found their safe haven in Africa. This caused a continuous upsurge in violent activities against civilians by terrorist organisations in the countries such as Mali, Nigeria, Somalia and Mozambique. In Africa, in 2015, there were 381 terrorist attacks, killing 1394 people. In 2020, there were 7108 attacks, and 12,519 people died. [v] In June 2021, the commander of the US forces in Africa, General Stephan Townsend, observed that there was a persistent spread of terrorism in Africa. In Aug 2021, the US secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, said that the State Department had added five African Jihadis to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT). Terrorism inspired by radical Islam plagues Africa.
After suffering substantial tactical and territorial losses in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as Da’esh, headed toward Africa, where it gave enormous importance to its terror activities in Africa, and started various branches all over Africa and entered into areas previously disturbed by conflict and other areas which safe from terror and violence. The increase in ISIL-affiliated African terrorist organisations has demonstrated capabilities to carry out deadly and synchronised terror attacks. They successfully seized strategic territories, recruited supporters, used anti-Government propaganda, and recruited child soldiers. Except for attacks carried out by the Islamic State-Sinai Province and the Islamic State in Somalia (ISS), the recurrence rate of ISIL attacks and the ensuing casualties’ crossways to the continent suggest that African countries are facing an unparalleled threat of terrorism. [vi]
Counter-terrorism collaboration between India and Africa.
“We are very conscious of the expanding threats posed by radicalism, fundamentalism, and terrorism to African societies. These have been the subject of our contemporary cooperation agenda.” – Dr S Jaishankar, Minster of External Affairs, India, 17 May 2022. Maintaining peace and security has always been the top priority for India and Africa. In consort with other African countries and under the UN Peacekeeping Charter, India endures partaking in virtually every peacekeeping and anti-piracy operation in numerous countries of Africa. Both sides wished to counter the menace of terrorism and reinforce the prevailing UNO modalities against terrorism. Presently, India is cooperating with many African countries in countering terrorism.
India’s involvement in Africa ranges from setting up Defence Colleges and other related establishments to deploying training teams, hosting India-Africa Field Training Exercises (AFINDEX) and helping African nations boost defence capabilities. The countries could further exploit all these in countering terrorism.
It is reiterated that Africa is not uniform or standardised, and therefore terrorism in Africa could be divided into four groups:
- Ideology-based terrorism, which propagates radical Wahhabi Islam.
- Economic-based terrorism is rooted in alienation, deprivation and structural issues like underdevelopment, poverty and lack of adequate economic opportunities.
- Mercenary terrorism is used by terror entrepreneurs who exploit popular discontent/grievances to construct profitable enterprises by blending narcotics, smuggling, kidnappings and arms trade.
- Political terrorism is used by groups such as Nigeria’s Boko Haram to challenge the ruling dispensation and present itself as a potential alternative.
What makes the Islamic groups significant is the use of radical Islam as a binding ideology, which makes them part of the global jihadi network. India can be viewed as part of the Western camp; hence could become their enemy. India needs to be concerned as it increasingly moves towards and into Africa. It shouldn’t happen that the next phase of terrorism originates in Africa. The West, led by the US, already feared this. Policymakers should keep the following in mind while dealing with terrorism in Africa.
- India must increase its intelligence.
- Increase developmental cooperation with Africa.
- Forging comprehensive counter-terror cooperation with the AU and bolstering countries’ counter-insurgency capacities.
- There is a requirement to lay a greater emphasis on research on Africa.
- The French and US initiatives against terror in Africa should be noted, and India needs to focus on Africa. It could also consider cooperating with countries like US and France.
- Only the security-centric approach has severe limitations, demonstrated best by the US example. India must have a multi-pronged strategy to forge partnerships to deal with terrorism in Africa, including a parallel focus on soft power, development, etc.
India has expanded its relations with Africa since the 1990s. India is trying to shift its energy dependence from the middle eastern region to Africa. The US, France, Germany, China and Russia are increasing their presence in Africa. The magnitude and well-being of India’s US$3.5 trillion economy have made our country a force to be reckoned with in world affairs. It has already beaten the U K’s economy and looks set to overtake Germany by 2028, as per International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Together with its economic muscle, India is also contending diplomatically. Its steady position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, pushback against COVID-19 discernment and straightforward approach to climate and trade issues reverberate robustly with many countries of the ‘Global South’.
India has historically cherished a warm relationship with Africa, given the common struggle against colonialism, the non-aligned movement and shared socio-economic and demographic challenges. Geopolitically, India’s longing for a more just world order echoes with most African nations. These countries have become disheartened with the western liberal order. As a leading member of the BRICS bloc, India has been up-front in its yearning for greater representation in multifaceted bodies. This extends to the United Nations (UN) Security Council, where India has been an influential voice and has pushed for a permanent seat while expressing support for Africa’s Ezulwini Consensus.
Terrorism is one of the significant threats that Africa is facing, and it severely impacts the security and stability of African countries. India should help African countries to enhance their counter-terrorism capacities, help to build common security concepts, and help to identify symptoms and root causes of terrorism. Lastly, India must take initiatives to leverage the role of UNO agencies such as CTC, CTED, UNOCT, etc. help in tackling the problem of terrorism.
[vi] CIVIL SOCIETY PERSPECTIVES: ISIL TRENDS AND DEVELOPMENTS IN AFRICA, UNSC Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (UNCTED), April 2022.