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Fatima Harrak: To address Africa’s security issues, treat disease not symptoms

Author  :  BAI LE     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2017-12-25

Fatima Harrak is a historian and political scientist with degrees from the Institut d'Etudes Politiques (IEP) in Paris and the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). She is a research professor of the University Mohamed V Institute of African Studies (IAS) where she served as director from 2003 to 2008. She is an active member of the pan-African Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), Dakar, which she served as vice-president then president from 2009 to 2015. Harrak has been visiting scholar at a number of African, European and US universities and authored numerous books and studies on themes of Islamic reform in North and West Africa, African women in the transmission of Islamic learning, trans-Saharan slavery and Africa in the world.

It was at the seventh World Socialism Forum hosted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences that I met Fatima Harrak, who was invited as a guest of the forum. At that time, she had just delivered a keynote speech at the international symposium on “China’s Constructive Participation in African Peace and Security” a couples of days ago. “There are only a few days for my trip to China this time, and I feel that there is so much to learn from the conferences. The speeches of the scholars are quite excellent and I’m looking forward to hearing more of their opinions,” she said to me during the interval of the forum. Her eyes emanated infinite thirst for knowledge when she spoke. Her diligence and the zeal for learning impressed me.

Several months after our last meeting, I contacted Fatima Harrak and conducted an exclusive interview on her about the past and present of African security. When talking about the vulnerable peace and security situation in Africa as well as pervasive political instability and violent strife in some regions, she seemed laden with anxiety. She stressed the need to treat not only the symptoms of Africa’s security problems but more importantly, their root causes. Her deep concern with this “hopeful continent” is palpable.

CSST: Last December, China announced its 10 plans for cooperation with Africa at the Johannesburg Summit of the FOCAC, and the plan for peace and security was among them. China also actively participates in UN peacekeeping operations in Africa. At the same time, China stresses and supports the leading roles of the African Union and the African sub-regional organizations. In your opinion, what does security cooperation mean for China and Africa? What is its significance for China-Africa relations?

Fatima Harrak: The 10 major programs announced by the President of the People’s Republic of China in December 2015 at the Johannesburg Summit and the sixth Ministerial Conference at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation illustrate the dominant principle of peaceful development advocated by China.

These programs relate to industrialization, agricultural modernization, infrastructure, financial services, green development, the facilitation of trade and investment, reducing poverty and improving the welfare of the population, public health, exchanges between people, and peace and security.

This classification of fields of cooperation reflects China’s doctrine, which asserts that security is reached and consolidated through development.

Unlike the “hard power” discourse of Western powers, which prioritizes military maneuvers, arms sales, installation of military bases, and training of security forces ahead of all cooperation programs, China links its cooperation policy with Africa to a range of principles developed in its recent history that give precedence to “soft power” over military power.

Indeed, China’s assistance might be invaluable for overcoming security challenges. China believes that poverty is a source of instability and that development is the solution to all problems, so supporting the economic emergence of the African continent is a contribution to its security.

This does not mean that security issues are absent from China-Africa cooperation agenda, but Chinese action and discourse are so far still defined and guided by two principles of Chinese foreign policy: non-interference and respect for sovereignty and security through development.

The first principle means that African problems require African solutions, and the second principle refers to the fact that treating the symptoms of security issues must be accompanied by the treatment of the root causes.

Given the pervasive instability and violent civil strife in some African regions, which the international community cannot stop—Somalia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)—and with the expansion of the terrorist phenomenon in others regions of the continent—North and West Africa, the Sahara and the Sahel—China in Africa is now in a dilemma: In other words, won’t the destabilizing events and the security threats that Africa is experiencing have an impact on the nature of China-Africa cooperation in the fields of peace and security?

CSST: From the perspective of social history, religion and politics, what do you think are the main reasons that terrorism prevails in the African continent?

Fatima Harrak: Let us first of all attempt a definition of terrorism and look into its various root causes.

Neither the international community nor scholars could decide on one single definition of terrorism. However, all agree that violent acts against civilian populations by state and non-state actors, irrespective of political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic and religious motives, are not acceptable. All agree also that there are two types of terrorism, the domestic and the international/transnational.

The underlying causes of terrorism, the national and international brands, are always traced back to domestic grievances or circumstances. Both internal and external factors contribute to a state becoming vulnerable to terrorism.

Internal factors comprise: (1) A closed political system. By delaying democratic reforms and failing to bridge the divide between those in power and the ordinary citizens, a number of countries in Africa have given extremist movements the much needed foothold. (2) A weak or failed state that has poor control over its territories and its borders. (3) Radical nationalist, separatist or ethnic movements. (4) Conflict over natural resources between regions or ethnic groups. (5) Economic circumstances, such as poverty, unemployment and the growing gap between the elite and the overwhelming majority, which create a breeding ground for alienation and radicalization. (6) Religion when combined with poor socioeconomic conditions and marginalization.

The external factors include: (1) Globalization which favors trans-nationalization of domestic terrorism through internet and free movement of people. (2) Geopolitics and alliances. In the aftermath of 9/11, governments’ alignment with the United States of America in the so-called war against terrorism was a further motivation for terrorist organizations. (3) Internationalization of domestic conflicts.

CSST: Talking about Africa specifically, what is the special historical feature of terrorism in Africa?

Fatima Harrak: Although 9/11 had devastating consequences on the spread of transnational terrorism, resort to terrorism as a strategy has a long history in Africa. At the heart of this situation is the condition of the African state and its weaknesses, rooted in the structural legacies of colonialism and neocolonial practices.

While the notion of constructing a sustainable state apparatus featured to a degree in the independence struggle, the phenomena of juridical sovereignty as well as the rise of “shadow states” and a host of other pathologies were exacerbated by the clientelist practices of the neocolonial state, the appropriation of the state for personal gain in addition to the devastating impact of structural adjustment policies.

A turning point in the African security situation was reached with the massive failure of the international community to stem the tide of instability, destruction and genocide in such countries as Somalia, Rwanda, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). These “new wars”, said to be motivated by “greed and grievance”, were dealt with through a range of policy prescriptions that included external intervention on humanitarian grounds.

The “liberal peace”, however, has not succeeded in strengthening the African state, as this is well illustrated in the cases of the DRC and Sudan, where terrorist campaigns against civilians and non-combatant forces is a normality.

CSST: Today, some extremists have taken advantage of Islam for terrorist schemes, which makes some people mistakenly equate terrorism with Islam. How do you view this?

Fatima Harrak: To baldly pose these claims is to reveal the parochialisms that frame debates on Islam and Muslims, that inform certain politics of belonging and difference and that bolster the state policies that flow therefrom.

To reveal these parochialisms illuminates how the arguments artificially reduce the debate on ISIS to an unhelpful zero-sum game of Islamic/unIslamic. The label of “Islam(ic)” in the case of ISIS might be better appreciated as the “hidden transcript” of the dominated and the oppressed.

The false debate about the relation between Islam and terrorism is framed by two fundamental attitudes: First, an Orientalist attitude which justifies the enduring hostility in the West towards Islam and runs the risk of pushing Islam out of history. Second, the rehabilitation of the concept of “just war” and its legitimation as a means of fighting an “uncivilized war” .

For instance, suppose instead of asking whether terrorism is Islamic, we were to say that ISIS is as much Islamic as it is a product of broken promises at the end of the British and French mandates. ISIS is as much Islamic as it is a product of the American interventions in Iraq. ISIS’s brutality is as Islamic as the Ku Klux Klan’s lynching of black Americans was Christian. Both Islam and Christianity have been used to justify violent brutality.

In the wake of the US invasions, the humiliations of Abu Ghraib, or the trauma of torture, the invisible Iraqi men become visible. Suffering from domination, humiliation, and/or trauma—or co-opting others’ suffering and discontent—their invocation of Islam offers the language by which they can now transform their hidden, grumbling dissatisfaction about the status quo into an explosively subversive public transcript. But by transforming their hidden suffering into a ferociously successful public one, ISIS has become the oppressor. In the case of ISIS, though, the violence retorts the violence that preceded it. The history of ISIS is a history of political violence. And some of it was the West’s own violence!

Since 2001 a new urge to moralize the use of violence as an instrument of state policy has appeared in liberal democracies. The American idea of a War against Terror, and the European notion of confronting a global terrorist threat, have together merged with a discourse on humanitarian military action. The political/moral “responsibility to protect” is no longer to be confined to one’s own citizens. Renewed interest among academics in “just war” theory, the tradition that seeks to humanize war through law, reflects this development.

I question the assumption that there is an essential difference between war (civilized violence) and terrorism (barbaric violence). In fact their similarity appears clearly if we set intentions aside—such as the deliberate or accidental killing of “innocents”—and focus instead on three main facts: (a) modern war strategies and technologies are uniquely destructive, (b) armed hostilities increasingly occupy a single space of violence in which war and peace are not clearly demarcated, and (c) the law of war does not provide a set of “civilizing” rules but a language for legal/moral argument in which the use of punitive violence is itself a central semantic element.

CSST: North Africa is a severely afflicted area by terrorist events. Apart from Syria and Iraq, Libya seems to have become another target of terrorist attacks.

Fatima Harrak: Yes. Though Syria and Iraq are the main theaters of trans-national terrorism, another country has started to play the same role since 2011: Libya. Since the fall of the Gadhafi regime and the destruction of the Libyan state through NATO military intervention—legitimized by the R2P principle—this country has been in constant disorder, fueled by the West’s inability to implement a peace settlement.

Terrorist threat in North Africa and the Sahel region today is thus largely the result of the destruction of the Libyan state by NATO forces. The dismantlement of the structure of governance in Libya has turned this country into a no-man’s land where terrorists, arms dealers and traffickers of all sorts roam uncontrolled.

The absence of a legitimate Government since 2011, the ensuing porous borders, nonexistence of security institutions and continued proliferation of weapons have created an environment where various outlaws and criminals operate with impunity. Consequently Libya has become an operational and transit hub for local and foreign terrorist fighters and traffickers traveling between Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and the Sahara-Sahel region.

ISIS-affiliated terrorists trained in Libya have conducted attacks in Tunisia, the Algerian based al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb-(AQIM-) affiliated groups lead assaults on Algerian and Western targets both in Algeria and in the Sahara-Sahel region.

And as long as no peace settlement is reached in Libya the country will remain a foothold for terrorist operations in North Africa, Europe and Middle East, and a facilitator of human trafficking and uncontrolled arms sales.

Security in this region will be all the more fragile and threatened that ISIS is now looking for a new home as it loses ground in Syria and Iraq. Thousands of ISIS militants are already operating in Libya and this number is expected to grow considering Libya’s economic resources and its advantageous geographical location.

CSST: It was said that 300 Moroccans received military trainings in Libya last year, some of whom later returned to Morocco and waged terrorist attacks. Is this true? What is the domestic security situation in Morocco at present?

Fatima Harrak: Morocco experienced suicide bombing attacks in Casablanca in 2003 and 2007, then in Marrakech in 2011. It has since developed a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy which includes anti-terrorist legislation, reinforcement of border security, countering the financing of terrorism, building up of regional and international cooperation, and elaboration of counter-radicalization policies.

Since 2003 Morocco has enacted comprehensive counterterrorism legislation which authorizes and facilitates intelligence collection and police work. A new Penal Procedure code was passed in 2011 which allows intelligence officers to conduct investigations, question suspects, make arrests, and permit recourse to electronic tracking and telephone surveillance upon receiving consent from a Court or a judge. A primary law enforcement agency responsible for counterterrorism Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ) was created in 2015. Together with the General Directorate for Territorial Surveillance (DGST) which is in charge of securing Moroccan boarders, these two institutions shore up to security governance nationwide.

Coordination and collaboration between Morocco’s counterterrorism agencies and their international partners has been reinforced and Morocco is an active member of a number of regional task forces and forums dealing all aspects and dimensions of terrorism, including the funding of terrorist organizations. For example, recently the Moroccan parliament voted to support the Council of Europe Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure, and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime and on the Financing of Terrorism.

But Morocco’s added value to combatting terrorism is undoubtedly the strategy it has developed for countering radicalization and violent extremism. This strategy prioritizes economic and human development goals in addition to tight control of the religious sphere and messaging. In the past decade, Morocco has focused on upgrading mosques and promoting the teaching of moderate Islam. The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MEIA) has designed and developed an educational curriculum for the training of imams and the MEIA-affiliated Mohammedan League of ‘ulama (religious scholars) produces scholarly research on the nation’s Islamic values, ensures conformity in educational curricula, and conducts outreach to youth on religious and social topics. These counter-radicalization efforts have been extended since to include training imams from France, Gabon, Guinea, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, and Tunisia.

Notwithstanding this vigilance and preventive strategy the Moroccan government is concerned today about the potential return of the veteran Moroccan terrorist fighters from the conflict zones, especially that ISIS continues to call for attacks against the Moroccan monarchy and prominent Moroccan institutions and individuals.

CSST: Since 2015, the West African terrorism has spread to the Gulf of Guinea. In addition, pirate attacks and organized crime have seriously affected the West African economy. What impacts do you think these maritime security problems exert on the international sea trade of Africa?

Fatima Harrak: The Gulf of Guinea is a major thoroughfare for valuable commodities such as gold, bauxite and iron ore, as well as agricultural products. It is also the primary access route to and from major oil-producing countries—Angola and Nigeria. Its already dense traffic will further increase after the recent discoveries of offshore oil in Ghana, Ivory Coast and Liberia.

The main motive of the Guinea Gulf pirates is to steal crude oil and refined petroleum products from tankers in order to sell on the black market. The majority of the Gulf of Guinea piracy comes out of Nigeria, with a small extension into the territorial waters of neighboring Benin and Togo.

It is true that Nigeria’s navy has been relatively successful at tackling the phenomenon off its own shores, but many Nigerian pirates conduct their operations in bordering nations, which have more limited capacity for maritime law enforcement.

Pirates threaten the region’s oil and shipping industries because of what is referred to as “the oil producers’ doubled risk exposure”. This politically correct expression conceals in fact an inequitable system of resource exploitation which makes an oil producing country export its crude oil through an oil producing firm and re-import it as refined fuel through the same enterprise.

Indeed, the major oil-producing countries in the sub-region produce millions of barrels of oil a day but only a very limited amount of this is processed within the country and made available to local consumption. This means that there is a substantial shortage of fuel in the region and thus a blatant market for oil trafficking. The oil remains therefore a potential target for pirates when being exported as crude and when the refined product is re-introduced in the region.

Guinea Gulf pirates will continue to steal crude and refined petroleum products as longs as there are black markets for oil trade available and as long as resources’ management remain inequitable and governance capacity weak.

CSST: So in what way do you think these challenges posed on counter-piracy can be coped with?

Fatima Harrak: Dealing with this sort of piracy can only be done by the states themselves, in coordination with the oil companies. The intervention of the international community, in the form of naval assistance or deployment of international naval operations, can only help contain the problem, not solve it. For, to solve piracy the Gulf of Guinea states should address its root causes.

Piracy, as a criminal activity feeds on poverty, lack of opportunities, unemployment, and unfair economic and political situation. Eradicate injustice and poverty and piracy will be eradicated. Unfortunately, poverty eradication and governance reform take generations to accomplish, and policing and military counter-piracy operations can only have short-term effects.

That is why comprehensive counter-piracy strategies must comprise both long-term and short-term objectives to ensure a lasting effect. In other words there must be a co-operation between efforts at sea and those on land to build maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea.

While there is no doubt that the main responsibility for the counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Guinea lies with the Guinea Gulf nations, the weak economic and security capabilities that characterize much of the Gulf of Guinea nations will be a challenge for a comprehensive counter-piracy campaign.

West and Central African nations have, by agreeing to the Yaoundé Declaration (June 2013), taken a first collective step towards eradicating piracy in the Gulf of Guinea by willing to put their resources together; but they would benefit considerably from the appropriate and wide-ranging support of the international community.

CSST: From the perspective of national governance, in what way do you think African countries can improve their peace-keeping ability?

Fatima Harrak: For more than a decade, and especially since the end of the cold war Africa has been torn apart by extremely intense conflicts which have resulted in thousands of deaths, and the internal displacement of millions of civilians.

They took the form essentially of intrastate wars, best illustrated by civil war and genocide in Rwanda in 1994 (in 1992 Africa hosted 46.7 percent of all civil wars in the world). This trend is partly explained by internal political, economic and ideological contradictions, and partly by the lack of capacity of both the UNO and AU—and before it the OAU—for peace-keeping.

Despite the optimism at the launch of the AU, the African continent has continued to experience security and governance challenges. An “Afro-Arab spring” swept across North Africa beginning in January 2011, toppling regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. The emerging state of South Sudan, which was created in July 2011 after five decades of bitter civil war, remains fragile. Military coups took place in Madagascar in 2009, and in Mali and Guinea-Bissau in 2012, and conflicts have continued in parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Somalia, and Sudan, as well as in the Central African Republic (CAR). Peace building also remains incomplete in Liberia, Sierra Leone, C?te d’Ivoire, Guinea, Algeria, Angola, Rwanda, Burundi and Moroccan Western Sahara.

Peacekeeping operations which have been conducted in the last few years under the auspices of the United Nations, sometimes with the AU, have allowed for the establishment of peaceful processes only in very few countries (for example, Mozambique) but more often than not they have been resounding failures. The UN and AU’s approach is that of “conflict management” and this method tends to focus more on controlling the destructive consequences that emanate from a given conflict than on finding solution to the underlying issues causing the conflict. Instead, an approach of “conflict settlement” or “conflict resolution” puts more emphasis on reaching agreement between parties through negotiation and bargaining. Conflict resolution must be a more comprehensive approach based on mutual interests and problem sharing between the conflicting parties.

What is needed is a new range of flexible and adaptable instruments that can take into account the more subjective, complex and deep-rooted needs and interests that underpin these conflicts. What is needed also is a return to African value systems and traditional conflict transformation systems which can indeed be a viable means of resolving African conflicts today. For only when potential and actual conflicts in Africa are understood in their social contexts can they be solved. Values and beliefs, fears and suspicions, interests and needs, attitudes and actions, relationships and networks have to be taken duly into consideration. Origins and root causes of the conflicts need to be explored, so that a shared understanding of the past and present is developed.

The gradual erosion of these values, which used to permeate the traditional African societies, and their replacement by foreign standards, introduced systematic problems for Africans who were unable to adapt to the new system of political power. The control of political power by the elites who took over from the colonial powers is one of the factors in the continuing discord and discontent. This has led to different ethnic groups struggling for dominance in the new system of political power. To discontinue the conflict-curse in Africa there is a need for re-modeling political processes in our continent from the short-term power dominated interests towards longer-term co-operative and people centered interests.

CSST: In the attack on a hotel in Mali at the end of 2015, three Chinese citizens lost their lives. About half a year later, a Chinese UN peacekeeper was killed in a terrorist attack in Mali. These make us pay increasing attention to the safety and security issues of Chinese citizens and enterprises in Africa. Could you please talk about your opinion on the safety and security issues of Chinese citizens and enterprises in Africa?

Fatima Harrak: China has, in the past decade or so, emerged as Africa’s largest trading partner and has been keen to take on more responsibilities on the continent and in the international peacekeeping arena. China is today an important contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, with Chinese peacekeepers serving in places as diverse as the DRC, Liberia and Sudan. It is currently the largest troop contributor among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and is the second-largest contributor to the UN peacekeeping budget. Chinese peacekeepers have not only acted as security agents, they have constructed and repaired roads, cleared mines and explosives, transported tons of humanitarian and other supplies, treated patients and fought epidemics, conducted mobile patrols in their mission areas…

So, China’s security engagement in Africa is not new, but the nature and scale of recent policy developments are elevating its involvement to a new level. Beijing’s security challenges in Africa are entering a new phase by its widening economic and political interests.

In this new phase, the need to protect existing interests and expand economic advantages in Africa has required China to take on a more engaged role. While continuing to uphold its principled foreign policy, the Chinese government must face the mounting challenges posed by greater Chinese involvement in African—and global—politics.

These challenges are numerous. There is, first, the exposure to conflict, which has solicited the investment protection, as seen in the case of South Sudan.

Second, the risk of extremism and terrorism attack, and the killing of the three Chinese employees in Mali has raised the issue of insecurity as an impediment to any new projects in Africa. This has prompted China’s foreign minister to pledge to fight extremism and strengthen counterterrorism cooperation with Africa.

Third, mass Chinese migration has brought pressure for Beijing to protect its overseas nationals as in the case of the evacuation of Chinese civilians from Chad, Libya and Sudan.

Fourth, and from the African side, there is an interest and pressure—led by the African Union—to enhance security cooperation with China in areas such as counterterrorism.

There is the widening of the range of security engagements that now encompasses traditional and non-traditional threats. And, as most “non-traditional” security threats—climate change, terrorism, drug trafficking, people smuggling, cybercrime etc.—are transnational by their very nature, their efficient tackling necessitates multilateral cooperation.

China has a long experience of collaborating on security issues with the UN. It now must learn to engage with other regional actors on African security. This is all the more necessary that the AU is interested in working with external partners to advance security on the continent.

China might find it easy to collaborate with the AU and its other partners if, in compliance with its diplomatic principle of non-interference and in agreement with the AU, it requires that any cooperation on security ventures should be proposed, agreed and led by Africa.













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