East Africa’s vulnerability to terrorism is the highest of all regions in sub-Saharan Africa. This vulnerability stems from the region’s geographical positioning, continuing conflicts in the area, and the absence of state structures in some countries. Almost all nations in this region have been targeted by terrorists at some point or another.
The rise of terrorism in East Africa is directly tied to poverty, social injustice, poor security at borders, including poorly patrolled coasts on the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, and the easy acquisition of weapons.
East African countries have limited financial resources and trained personnel to counter terrorists’ activities. Endemic corruption is yet another cause of radicalism. Low pay for security officers breeds temptation to accept money from extremists in return for support.
In the wake of this status quo, what counter-terrorism measures are being undertaken by these nations?
Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania have put in place legal safeguards in the form of anti-terrorism bills that uphold the right of these countries to swiftly punish terrorists once apprehended via measures such as freezing accounts and seizing property and funds.
These countries have also taken to improving border security in the region with the intensification of patrols along the Kenya-Somalia border for instance. The goal of this measure is to decrease the number of illegal immigrants who can enter these countries.
Burundi deployed six battalions to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in 2015. Ethiopia is keen on regional security issues and frequently collaborates with other governments to undertake training that focuses on capacity building.
The Eastern Africa Fusion and Liaison Unit, whose pursuit is to engage all East African countries in the fight against terrorism, is a commendable initiative. Other counter-terrorism efforts include programs that seek to build regional intelligence, strengthen military capabilities, address the aforementioned conditions contributing to the spread of terrorism, and counter the spread of extremist ideologies.
Regional bodies such as the African Union (AU) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) are also aiding in counter-terrorism measures. The AU has built a database to facilitate the sharing of intelligence and other terrorism-related information and to standardize domestic legal frameworks with international counter-terrorism frameworks. IGAD initiatives as far as
IGAD initiatives include enhancing judicial measures, working to promote greater inter-agency coordination on counter-terrorism, providing training. and sharing information on best practices and promoting strategic cooperation.
International actors such as the UN, U.S., and the E.U. are other parties who continue to support countries in the region in their fight against terrorism.
The U.S. has aided efforts by AMISOM in their fight against al-Shabaab, helping develop the country’s security sector. The U.S. also funds the Partnership for Regional East Africa Counterterrorism program, that seeks to bolster East Africa’s capability to counter terrorism by working closely with military and civilian actors in the region.