Combating Spread of Terrorism in Africa ‘Not a Concern for African States Alone, Challenge Belongs to All of Us’, Secretary-General Tells Security Council

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks, delivered by United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, to the Security Council high-level debate on “Counter-terrorism in Africa:  An imperative for peace, security and development”, in New York today:

Let me begin by conveying greetings from Secretary-General António Guterres, on whose behalf I will be delivering these remarks today.  I would like to thank the Ghanaian Presidency for convening this debate on such an urgent issue.  Terrorism is a major threat to international peace and security.  And nowhere has this threat been felt more keenly than in Africa.

Terrorists and violent extremists, including Da’esh, Al-Qaida and their affiliates, have exploited instability and conflict to increase their activities and intensify attacks across the continent.  Their senseless, terror-fuelled violence has killed and wounded thousands.  And many more continue to suffer from the broader impact of terrorism on their lives and on their livelihoods.  Women and girls in particular bear the brunt of insecurity and inequality.  Some terrorist groups have a misogynistic worldview that denies women and girls their fundamental rights.

The situation in the Sahel and West Africa is particularly urgent, with some of the most violent affiliates of Da’esh operating in the region.  In the last two years, these groups have expanded across large areas of the Sahel, increasing their presence in Mali while penetrating further into Burkina Faso and Niger.  They have also expanded southward into countries of the Gulf of Guinea that have so far largely avoided terrorist attacks or have recently emerged from armed conflict.

Terrorist and violent extremist groups aggravate instability and human suffering.  And they can plunge a country emerging from war back into the depths of conflict.  Climate disruptions make matters worse, inducing intercommunal tensions and food insecurity that are exploited by terrorists and other criminal groups.  And digital tools make spreading hate and disinformation easier than ever.

In many instances, it can be difficult to differentiate terrorists, non-State armed groups and criminal networks.  These groups often pursue different agendas and strategies, fuelled by smuggling, human trafficking and other methods of illicit financing.  Some have morphed into insurgencies — occupying territories and posing as alternatives to State authority.

In today’s hyper-connected world, the spread of terrorism in Africa is not a concern for African Member States alone.  The challenge belongs to all of us.  Countering international terrorism requires effective multilateral responses.  Such responses need to address terrorism together with concurrent and converging threats.  These include:  the worsening climate emergency; armed conflict; poverty and inequality; lawless cyberspace; and the uneven recovery from COVID-19.

The New Agenda for Peace, envisaged as part of the Secretary-General’s report on Our Common Agenda, will embrace this holistic and comprehensive approach.  In a context of increasing polarization, with heightened divisions stemming from the war in Ukraine, the New Agenda for Peace will propose ways to address new and emerging risks and revitalize our collective peace and security system.

Allow me to suggest a few ideas for the consideration of this Council to advance counter-terrorism efforts in Africa.  First, prevention remains our best response to terrorism, violent extremism and other threats to peace and security.  We must address the instability and conflict that can lead to terrorism in the first place, as well as the conditions exploited by terrorists in pursuit of their agendas.

If terrorist and extremist views too often find a welcome home with deeply dissatisfied, marginalized and desperate people, it is up to us to help formulate responses that address those conditions.  Fostering conflict-sensitive approaches and integrating relevant policies across the United Nations entities is essential.

Time and again, purely military and law enforcement responses have not only proven their limits — they also have been counterproductive.  We must strike a better balance and ensure coherence and complementarity between preventive and militarized responses.  There can be no sustainable development without peace, and there certainly will be no peace without sustainable development.  The 2030 Agenda [for Sustainable Development] and the African Union’s Agenda 2063 are therefore crucial preventive tools.

Second, everyone needs to be included.  Addressing the many drivers of terrorism requires a “whole-of-society” approaches that are community-based and gender-sensitive.  Counter-terrorism strategies have a better chance of addressing the needs and concerns of society as a whole when they capture and reflect a wide array of voices, including civil society, minorities, young people and the private sector.

There are complex links between terrorism, patriarchy and gender-based violence.  Counter-terrorism policies are often therefore strengthened by the meaningful participation and leadership of women and girls.  Engaging all sectors of society requires sustained political commitment across Government departments, and partnerships with civil society, local communities, the private sector and much more.

Third, countering terrorism can never be an excuse for violating human rights or international law.  Abuse committed under the guise of countering terrorism and violent extremism can only set us backSuccessful counter‑terrorism policies, like all policies, must uphold the rule of law and respect international law, including human rights law.

The Secretary-General’s Call [to Action] for Human Rights places human rights at the centre of the work of the United Nations system — from humanitarian action to peace and security to sustainable development.  This is why, in the face of deteriorating security and humanitarian situations in the Sahel region, the Secretary-General has called for renewed efforts to promote State institutions and constitutional order.  I would like to reiterate his call.  We look forward to the recommendations of the Independent High-Level Panel on Security and Development in the Sahel, for strengthening international coordination in order to effectively address the multidimensional crisis in the region.

Fourth, regional organizations have a critical role to play.  The challenges posed by terrorist and violent extremist groups can only be met through approaches that are adapted to local contexts.  There are numerous regional initiatives that exist to counter terrorism in Africa, from the Multinational Joint Task Force in the Lake Chad Basin to the joint force of the Group of Five for the Sahel, the Accra Initiative and the Nouakchott Process.

These regional arrangements require full support and durable commitment from the international community.  I welcome the United Nations-African Union Technical Working Group on Preventing Violent Extremism and Countering Terrorism, which aims to increase coordination and synergies between our two organizations.

I also reiterate our appeal to the Security Council to ensure predictable funding for African Union operations authorized by this Council, including to counter terrorism.  As requested by this Council, we are preparing a joint progress report on the financing of African Union peace operations, which is due in April 2023.  We must put in place an innovative architecture that supports African peace operations in an effective and sustainable manner.

I also wish to take this opportunity to commend the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the current and past Chairs, for their efforts to tackle farmer-herders’ conflicts through protocols on transhumance and free movement of people and goods.

The only lasting solution to the underlying drivers of conflict is through sustainable development that leaves no one behind.  This leads to my fifth and final point:  preventing and countering terrorism and violent extremism requires resources.  The magnitude of the problem calls for bold investments.  Addressing these interlinked obstacles — from economic deprivation to organized crime and governance challenges — requires sustained and predictable funding, at scale.

In concluding, I welcome the upcoming summit on counter-terrorism in Africa, organized jointly by the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism and Nigeria in October 2023.  This will be an opportunity to consider ways to strengthen United Nations support to counter-terrorism efforts across the continent.

I am confident that today’s debate will offer useful insights for this summit, bringing us closer to the solutions we need to address the threat of terrorism in Africa, and help to build peaceful, stable communities and societies across the continent.

For information media. Not an official record.