Collaborating to Fight Terror in East Africa
Tough, fiery words accompanied by weak actions won’t work.
Uganda’s soldiers have seen war and peacekeeping in all its forms and on many terrains. We delivered defeat to the once-potent Lord’s Resistance Army, of Joseph Kony infamy. These days the LRA is in tatters, most of its leadership dead or in custody. That fight prepared us for the next one: the spread of global terrorism to our region.
This fight began in 1998, when al Qaeda introduced East Africa to its breed of terrorism with the gruesome attacks on the American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Since then, we have battled varying forms and perpetrators of this evil. In recent years the chief perpetrator has been al-Shabaab, the Somalia-based terrorist group with ties to al Qaeda.
A joint mission of African Union troops has been operating in Somalia since 2007. We confronted a situation that much of the world had written off as hopeless—much of Somalia was under al-Shabaab’s control. But our forces have made tremendous gains toward restoring security, routing al-Shabaab from most areas that it previously occupied.
But al-Shabaab’s terror persists elsewhere in the region—as we saw most recently with the horrific attack in Kenya at Garissa University College on April 2, when 147 students were murdered in cold blood.
We in the region—with the support of our global allies, including the U.S.—must redouble our efforts to combat al-Shabaab and others of similar creed. The militaries and the political leaders of the African continent have a responsibility to their people, who deserve to live in security, free from this hateful, senseless terror. The threat will not dissipate on its own.
To succeed against the terrorists, however, we must choose our approach carefully. Looking at the war on terror across the globe, we have seen what works and what does not. Brute force alone isn’t going to do the job. Nor will antagonizing and alienating our Muslim countrymen.
We need to up the ante with an African security and counterterrorism architecture that mandates the creation of a regional-security support mechanism for armed forces and security agencies. It would borrow from the successes Uganda has had with its counterterrorism efforts, where strategies are organized and actions are coordinated. Such an arrangement would include developing—in consultation and partnership with regional and international experts—uniform, best-practice training programs to be provided to forces across East Africa. A standardized, integrated approach is required to fight terrorism, with everyone studying from the same script so that knowledge, skills and experience can be shared between forces.
The goal would be to establish a base for coordinated tactics among militaries, security officials, border control and financial authorities. This would allow rapid responses to immediate threats and establish solid lines of intelligence-sharing. It would also encourage the development of systems to trace suspected terrorists and their affiliates, supporters and finances across borders.
The fight against terror cannot be tackled by any one country or military alone—no matter how powerful. All nations in the region must work in consort, too. Uncoordinated efforts will be ineffective.
Fortunately, East Africa is home to a strong coalition of the willing, including Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti. Political leaders in our neighborhood don’t shy away from the fight. We are a community of nations that have proven unflinching and vehemently intolerant of terrorism. There is a genuine understanding of what is at stake: It is all of our shared future, security and well- being that we’re working to safeguard, together. It is time to turn that willingness into organized and cohesive action.
Lt. Col. Ankunda is Uganda’s spokesman for Defense and the armed forces.