Former President Jerry John Rawlings has called on African leaders to focus on job creation and creating sustainable economies to prevent their country’s youth from being brainwashed by terrorists.
According to the former military leader, Africa is experiencing the largest population boom in the world and establishing a resilient economy is one of the ways to prevent the many jobless youth from being radicalized by extremists.
Former President Rawlings speaking at an international symposium on the theme: “Prospects for Security in the Sahel-Saharan Strip: What Efficient Strategy?” in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso said: “Terrorism is a major distraction for African governments. Covering more than 20% of all the land mass on earth, the African continent has more than half of the world’s natural minerals and resources. If Africa were to unite and make good use of her resources properly, she would have the 7th largest economy in the world with a GDP of $2.39 trillion.
“Instead of focusing on how we can build our continent by making the utmost use of our natural resources; how we can fight against the pillaging of these resources; or how to provide better healthcare, education, roads; or build a resilient economy; we are forced to be preoccupied with this phenomenon of terror on the continent.
“We are having to shift our attention to defence and security, much to the detriment of socio-economic development. This inevitably leaves Africa at a disadvantage with her growing numbers. We must strive to tackle this problem of terror once and for all so as to focus our attention back on national and regional development. Without that, our governments will forever have split vision.
Below is the former President Rawlings’ full address
Remarks by: H. E. Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings
At the: International Symposium of Ouagadougou
On the Theme: Prospects for Security in the Sahel-Saharan Strip: What Efficient Strategy?
Organised by the: Centre of Strategic Studies in Defence and Security
5th September 2017
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
The Chairman of the Organising Committee,
Colonel Denise Barry, Executive Director of CSSDS,
Prof. Mvomo ELA Wulson,
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is an honour to be invited to make a few remarks at this international symposium on security in Africa. The theme “Prospects for Security in the Sahel-Saharan Strip: What Efficient Strategy?” is apt in these times. We face threats of peace on all fronts daily, both here in Africa and around the rest of the world. Every day, the news is replete with stories of one attack or another on innocent civilians, and devastation to cities and countries, as a result of extremism, terrorism and organized crime.
Just last month, the world was shocked to hear about a car which ploughed into people, human beings, on the Las Ramblas strip in Barcelona in a terrorist attack killing 13 people. Then there was the terrorist attack, yes, it was a terrorist attack, in Charlottesville, where white supremacists’ clashes left one woman dead. You in Burkina Faso have had your fair share with the latest incident taking place only a few weeks ago.
Various terrorist groups—white supremacists, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabab, the Taliban, and closer to home, Boko Haram—have slowly come to cast a shadow over the world.
And their threats are not far removed from us, they are right here at our doorstep and we cannot ignore them any longer. And that is all the more reason why we need symposiums like this to address security concerns in the Sahel-Sahara strip and devise innovative strategies to deal with instability in the region. In this year alone, we have witnessed terrorist attacks by Al-Shabab in the port city of Baware, in southern Somalia; Maiduguri, Nigeria, has seen many attacks by Boko Haram; there was the Palm Sunday twin bombings in April and the Minya attack in May, both in Egypt and allegedly carried out by ISIS; and an attack on a military post in Mali by an Al-Qaeda linked group.
The terror activities on the continent have grown rapidly with an increase in not only the number of terror attacks occurring, but also the count of countries affected by such activity. In January of last year, this country was faced with the biggest nightmare of having to deal with a terrorist attack at the Cappuccino restaurant and at the Splendid Hotel here in Ouagadougou. All in all, 30 people were killed and 176 taken hostage. Five weeks ago, this city again had to endure another painful experience when an attack was mounted on a Turkish restaurant and a hotel, killing 18 and injuring 25. We cannot also forget the terrorist activities that occurred in Côte d’Ivoire just last year, when gunmen opened fire near the L’Etoile du Sud Hotel, which was full of expatriates, nor the attack on the Ambassador Hotel in Mogadishu.
The implications of these activities must not be underestimated. That is why it is commendable for the establishment of institutions such as the G5 Sahel as well as the Centre of Strategic Studies in Defence and Security (CSSDS), which must be hailed as a progressive think-tank for its effort to address this global concern, and prioritize this region.
Terrorism is a major distraction for African governments. Covering more than 20% of all the land mass on earth, the African continent has more than half of the world’s natural minerals and resources. If Africa were to unite and make good use of her resources properly, she would have the 7th largest economy in the world with a GDP of $2.39 trillion. Instead of focusing on how we can build our continent by making the utmost use of our natural resources; how we can fight against the pillaging of these resources; or how to provide better healthcare, education, roads; or build a resilient economy; we are forced to be preoccupied with this phenomenon of terror on the continent. We are having to shift our attention to defence and security, much to the detriment of socio-economic development. This inevitably leaves Africa at a disadvantage with her growing numbers. We must strive to tackle this problem of terror once and for all so as to focus our attention back on national and regional development. Without that, our governments will forever have split vision.
According to the BBC, in 30 years Nigeria’s population would have doubled in size with about 60% of people being under 25 years. It is expected to become the third most populous country in the world, behind India and China. This sensation is not limited to Nigeria alone but is around all of Africa too. According to the United Nations, Africa is currently home to a whopping 1.2 billion people and this is projected to double by 2050, contributing a massive 54% of the global demography in the 21stCentury. By the year 2100, Africa is expected to contribute 82% of the total population growth in the world.
Africa is experiencing the largest population boom in the world and this demographic trend towards the younger generation- with the median age being just 19.7 years old can be a great springboard for a young and vibrant workforce to drive economic growth and bring in development. We have, however, to see this as a cause for concern.
Many of our youth are leaving their homes in search of greener pastures abroad, and making treacherous journeys across the Sahel-Sahara strip through the Mediterranean, joining other migrants to reach Europe. Thousands of people mainly from countries like Mali, Niger, Somalia, Eritrea and Nigeria risk their lives in an effort to reach the islands of Greece or Italy, the gateways to Europe. They pay thousands of dollars to migrant smugglers only to find themselves on overcrowded dinghies, with many of them capsizing, leading to scores of deaths. According to data from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), over 123,000 migrants entered Europe by sea in 2017.
Unfortunately, those who do not attempt to join this mass migration are easy prey for radicalization by extremists. Extremism today exists in many forms across the globe and people fall victim to radicalization through situational, strategic and ideological means. Unemployment and poverty are key factors in the recruitment of terrorists. Many youths have idle hands and consequently, are easily lured by extremists to fight their cause.
In today’s era, technological advancements have made it easy for cross-border communication. Our children communicate on social media with fanatics and extremists from the comfort of their home all the time and we are not even aware of this. They end up indoctrinated before we know it. In August of 2015, Ghana was shocked to hear of graduate students who had left the country to join ISIS, claiming to leave the “corrupt system of Ghana which has democracy first on its list”. Other countries like Senegal and Nigeria have also had to grapple with many of their youth leaving the country and joining terror organizations. So far, many of these incidents have been the outflow of recruits to join terrorist organizations abroad, yet the major worry is the prospect of a terror group in these countries which could serve as a breeding ground for recruiting young people.
Having a youthful population makes it easier to recruit terrorists, and so we need to focus more of our attention on using our resources for the creation of opportunities and jobs for these youths. Establishing a resilient economy is even more urgent now, so we can ensure our continent will be secure and safe from infiltration by extremists.
Africa is being prevented from focusing on this developmental agenda due to disagreements and fights which have nothing to do with her. The United States of America and Europe are locked in an ideological and geo-political fight with the Arab and Moslem worlds, and this fight has translated into terrorism, which Africa has no business in. By the end of World War I, 2 million Africans had sacrificed their lives for Europe. This was tough on Africans because European powers requisitioned their labour and resources through conscription. More than any other European nation, France made heavy use of African soldiers. Notably among these were Senegalese riflemen who fought in taking the German colony of Togo and again in the battle of Gallipoli.
Again, in World War II, African colonies were called upon to provide manpower to fight a war which was not theirs. The Royal Air Force (RAF) recruited 10,000 West Africans from the British colonies of Gold Coast (now Ghana), Nigeria, Sierra Leone and the Gambia. Africa was left torn.
I am referring to these historical events because it is important we remember our history and take action based on that. This fight against terrorism was not instigated by Africa, yet, once again, Africa has been dragged in to bear part of the brunt. We must wake up and realize that history is repeating itself. We must rise up and kick terrorism, and those invested in it, out of the region because it does not belong here.
While it is commendable that the international community support the fight against terror, home-grown solutions must be considered. The home-grown approaches as seeking reconciliation among the different protagonists and identifiable interests can resolve some of these insecurity. Pursuing aggressive democratisation, like promoting political and economic inclusion in a country’s discourse, and rejecting political and economic exclusion, in many cases solves the problems of poverty and encourage social climbers in the national political hierarchy to eschew the options of armed struggle. Rigorous fight against corruption institutionalised in a country is a bulwark of security.
Thank you for your attention, and may God bless us all.