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To: Faure Gnassingbé, Chairperson of
ECOWAS and President of the Republic of Togo

From: Aliya Diawara

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Date: November 30, 2017

Subject: Collective Response to the rise
violent extremism in the Sahel and West African region


Executive summary:

The purpose of
this memorandum is to address regional insecurity, most specifically the rise
of violent extremism, in the Sahel and greater West African region by proposing
recommendations that would strengthen the regional economic body ECOWAS’
response to this growing threat. Violent extremism has been on the rise for the
past seven years, nonetheless a strong and cohesive regional response has been
lacking. Fundamental extremism in West Africa should be one the main priorities
of international as well as regional institutions, as its negative implications
are multiple and pervasive. Because of the porosity of borders in the region
and the spillover effects of the Libya and the Malian crisis, terrorist groups
like Ansarul Islam, AQIM and Boko Haram are now entrenched in a number of
countries in West Africa, such as in Northern Burkina Faso and Nigeria.  In order to combat but also prevent the rise
of violent extremism, it is important to create an organized synergy of forces
that would be apt to deal with such a widespread and scattered phenomenon.

Because of the current international focus and interest in addressing the rise
of extremism in the Sahel and greater West African region (with endeavors such
as the G-5 Sahel for instance) it is important for a regional institution like
ECOWAS to assess its performance when it comes to regional security but also to
look for new and improved ways to solve that crisis in a sustainable manner, so
as to be an active player in countering violent extremism. While ECOWAS has
made some progress in formulating a strategy to respond to religious fundamentalism
in the region, much more could and should be done. ECOWAS should be the driving
force in this effort and heavily collaborate with the G-5 Sahel initiative and
other multilateral endeavors. Thus, this memorandum will present four ways in
which ECOWAS could improve its response and engagement to combating violent


1- My first
recommendation would be strengthening and building better institutions and
governance of ECOWAS member states. Regional insecurity in the region and to a
large extent transnational organized crime such as terrorism, have a direct
correlation with state governance and institutions, or lack thereof. The rise
of violent extremism in the Sahel region and in Nigeria resulted from both
internal and regional factors. The Malian crisis for instance was not only a
consequence of the Libyan debacle but was also heightened by the state’s weak
political institutions. A large number of ECOWA’S member states have unstable
government; their legitimacy is often questionable, a situation that is often exacerbated
by precarious economic situations. Good practices of governance and democracy
are crucial to the prevention of conflicts and violence, and should be
integrated to the effort to fight terrorism. ECOWAS’ protocol on Democracy and
Governance (2001), created to supplement the protocol on Mechanism for Conflict
Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security (1999) is a great
first step, and ECOWAS’ recent involvement in the political crisis in Guinée
Conakry and Burkina Faso is also promising. Nonetheless, my recommendation
would be to reinforce the member states’ commitment to good governance and
democratic practice by introducing political standards that would apply to all members.

ECOWAS recently decided to create permanent offices in all of the 15 member
countries, and this would be a great way to promote these standards of
governance and democratic practice. Although these permanent offices will
require a heavy financial and human capital investment, they are already part
of ECOWAS’ agenda and budget and should serve as a way to build political
cohesion. ECOWAS’ headquarters in Abuja, and its future permanent offices in
the other member states should be used to promote and support political change
in the region. Member States should also have a stronger incentive to abide to
ECOWAS’ 2001 protocol on Governance and Democracy, possible sanctions similar
to the ones implemented at the African Union should be explored.

2- My second
recommendation would be to adopt a collective approach to the fight against
terrorism by both strengthening ECOWAS’ response to terrorism as an entity but
also by expanding cooperation with other multilateral and bilateral institutions.

Unfortunately, ECOWAS’ engagement and response to extremism in the region has
been underwhelming so far. It is crucial first for ECOWAS to form a united
block against this growing threat but also to work with institutions like the
United Nations and the European Union, but also with enterprises like the G-5
Sahel. Because not all member states are affected by violent extremism or
because they are not all affected in the same way, formulating a cohesive and
strategic response to violent extremism can prove to be challenging.  As you must be aware recent efforts were made
by ECOWAS to institutionalize its fight against terrorism, for instance with
the establishment of the Political Declaration on a Common Position Against
Terrorism Strategy, however more tangible actions need to be taken.  ECOWAS first needs to create and harmonize a
regional legislation against terrorism, this could be achieved through the
current Mediation and Security Council (MSC), which is comprised of head of
states, minister of foreign affairs and ambassadors, and that was set up to
make important decisions regarding peace and security matters. It would be
judicious to use the MSC in order to create an anti terrorist legislation that
would be adopted by all state members. 
Moreover it would also be necessary for ECOWAS standby force to receive
some sort of counter insurgency training, the Nigerian army is already
receiving training in countering violent extremism through its cooperation with
a number of international partners. It would be great to leverage this
opportunity and work more closely with the Nigerian army to determine if there
would be a possibility to extend that training to ECOWAS’ standby force,
especially since Nigerian troops usually constitute more than 50% of ECOWAS
standby force. Another important aspect of forming a cohesive response to
violent extremism is greater and more strategic cooperation with international
and regional actors. ECOWAS’ response to the current terrorist threats largely
resulted from international pressures coming from the EU and most particularly
France.  Although, ECOWAS should be at
the forefront of the efforts to combat terrorism, the EU, the UN, France with
the G-5 Sahel and to some extent even the African Union have overshadowed
ECOWAS’ importance and prerogative on the matter. It is important for ECOWAS
not to be alienated from the international effort to combat terrorism in the
region. ECOWAS should strive to build a deeper and more meaningful cooperation
with international cooperators, and this could once again be achieved through
the Mediation and Security Council’s initiative.  It is also extremely important for the MSC to
start a political dialogue regarding security and engage with countries in Northern
Africa such as Algeria. Without a strong collaboration and information sharing
arrangements with countries in Northern Africa, a comprehensive anti terrorist strategy
will not be found. 

3- My third recommendation is for ECOWAS to
build a sustainable and social approach to fighting terrorism in the region. In
order to really solve the rise of violent extremism in the Sahel as well as in
the Lake Basin region, it is crucial to address the root causes of this crisis
so as to prevent and not only respond to such menaces. An effort should be made
to understand why so many young people, and especially young men are so easily
persuaded into joining these extremist groups. A lot of the root causes of this
crisis are of socio economic nature: unemployment, lack of education,  lack of infrastructure…. While these are
challenges that can’t be tackled by ECOWAS on its own, ECOWAS still has a role
to play when it comes to addressing the social origins of violent extremism in
the region. In fact, ECOWAS’ Political Declaration on a Common Position Against
Terrorism strategy does take into account the social factors contributing to
the radicalization of youth.  What ECOWAS
could do with a long-term vision, is encouraging and pushing its members to be
more invested in the development of ” risky zones” of some of the affected
countries, like in Northern Mali and Northern Burkina Faso. ECOWAS should push
its members to strive to offer the basic needs and services (such as better
roads, education…) to the populations that inhabit these hot spots. It should
also encourage its members to build a reconciliation process with the
marginalized populations of the countries affected by violent extremism. In
most of these countries, like it is the case in Mali and Burkina Faso,
radicalization usually affects a segment of the population that is often ostracized
and that is not represented at the highest societal spheres. Thus, ECOWAS
should encourage states like Mali, Burkina and Nigeria to be more inclusive
when it comes to ethnic pluralism, this could be achieved through media and social
media to raise awareness on the issue, and most particularly among youth.

ECOWAS should also work with affected countries to give a platform and engage
in a dialogue with these marginalized groups. These targeted groups should be
involved in the deradicalization process, another effective strategy would be
to push some member states to integrate members of marginalized ethnic group
into national security forces so as to rebuild trust between the state and
these groups.  Another step that should be taken on the social front is
establishing a relationship with civil society and most particularly religious
leaders. ECOWAS should work towards regulating religious discourse and
educating the population so as to counter radicalization amongst the youth.

ECOWAS should push member countries to adopt a strategy that does not further
alienate the Muslim community but rather works with them, for instance by being
more supportive of the Islamic community, being involved in the training of
Imam and religious figures and providing greater support and recognition to
Islamic schools. For example, a workshop on combating radicalization and violent
extremism could be given to religious leaders.

4- My
final recommendation would be to strengthen border control by adopting a better
information collection and pooling system but also harmonizing security
cooperation between countries in the Sahel.  One of the reasons why
violent extremism has been difficult to contain is because of the porosity of
borders in the region. Transnational crimes are prevalent in the region, and
the illicit traffic of weapons, people, and drugs all act in favor of violent
extremist groups. While ECOWAS’ core mission is to promote economic integration
and greater freedom of movement within the region, it can do so without
neglecting and endangering the region’s security.  ECOWAS should
strengthen the West African Pooling Information System, that was financially
supported by the EU and Interpol but that has failed to provide results so far.

Thus ECOWAS should make the West African Pooling Information System a priority
and leverage international interest and support toward combating violent
extremism to find funding that could be allocated to information pooling and
sharing projects in the region. Cooperation between national security forces
should also be reinforced in strategic zones, for instance ECOWAS should push
Burkina Faso and Mali security forces to work more closely together.

 Furthermore, a long term goal would be to have ECOWAS’ standby forces
present in risk areas, this is an option that should be explored, conjunctly
with the G5 Sahel and other international partners.


it comes to combating violent extremism in West Africa, regional cooperation is
paramount to finding an effective and sustainable way to combat this
phenomenon. Thus, ECOWAS has the responsibility to step up as a regional entity
and be committed and engaged in the fight against violent extremism. There are four
ways in which ECOWAS could improve its anti terrorism strategy: First by
promoting better governance and democratic practices within the region; second
by adopting a collective and united approach to the fight against violent
extremism but also by fostering better collaboration with other international
institutions; third by pushing its member states to address the social roots of
violent extremism and radicalization; and finally by establishing a better
regional security information system and encouraging member states to develop
better and more efficient relationships and collaboration when it comes to
security matters. While these recommendations are challenging to achieve, they
are not impossible to attain, especially in light of the current international
atmosphere. The international community’s attention has shifted towards finding
ways to combat the surge of violent extremism, and the Sahel and greater West
African region, because it is also related to the migration crisis, has raised
international concern. Thus, ECOWAS now has the opportunity to take advantage
of the international climate and ask for material and financial support, as
funding is often ECOWAS’ main obstacle, but also technical cooperation
(military training for instance) and support. I believe that with a strategic
vision and a genuine commitment ECOWAS has the potential to efficiently make a
difference when it comes to eradicating violent extremism in the region.







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