UNITED NATIONS — World leaders meeting at the United Nations have been calling for a coordinated response to terrorist attacks in Africa following the deaths of at least 67 people in an attack by Somali militants in Kenya.
The attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall put African terrorism back into the world spotlight. U.S. President Barack Obama said he is working with African leaders to dismantle terror networks while Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said the fight must be united.
“We maintain that terror anywhere in the world is terror on all of us. And, we call on global leaders to come together and fight terror,” said Jonathan.
Nigeria is currently engaged in a fight with terrorists from a group called Boko Haram. Some are believed to have trained with al-Shabab, the al-Qaida affiliate that claimed responsibility for the attack in Kenya. In Africa, terrorism remains largely based on local dynamics, according to Africa analyst Jason Mosley.
“This is not a signal that Africa has become the new battleground for international terrorism, but rather that international organizations like al-Qaida have found traction for their ideology and methodologies among militant groups with local agendas,” said Mosley.
West African troops, supported by French airpower, helped drive back al-Qaida affiliated militia in Mali early this year, but that has not stopped terrorism in the Sahel, says Senegal’s President Macky Sall.
“The gunmen in Mali are scattered, but the terrorist threat to the Sahel is not over. Only through ongoing coordinated action will we be able to address Africa’s emerging security challenges,” said Sall.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says there are many such challenges.
“Terrorist acts and transnational organized crime, including arms and drug trafficking, threaten stability. We must particularly beware the evolution and appeal of radicalism and violent ideology among the region’s youth,” said Ban.
Recent elections in Mali may have created a base on which to confront terror. Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore called the election of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita an encouraging sign in a dangerous region.
“The Sahel has become a hideout for drug traffickers and terrorists whose destabilizing influences are a real threat to regional security, even as the international stabilization force and presidential elections in Mali have helped restore some order,” said Compaore.
However, with ungoverned areas existing throughout the Sahel, democratic governance in Mali may defuse the terror threat but not eliminate it, said Sarah Margon of Human Rights Watch.
“If Mali does move forward and restore its democracy in a genuine way, Mali may sort of have been able to keep at bay the worst elements. But there are a number of neighboring countries that may be at greater risk in light of a strengthening al-Qaida affiliate in the region,” explained Margon.
Al-Shabab’s spread from Somalia to Kenya shows how mobile the threats are. Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku says his country is receiving broad international support.
“Terrorism is a global problem, and we welcome international intelligence sharing since it is consistent with the tackling of the problem,” said Lenku.
U.N. Secretary General Ban says he trusts those responsible for the Kenyan attack will be brought to justice.