Symposium on combatting terrorism in the Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea held in Lomé

December 8th, 2023

On 25 November, in Lomé, Togo, the University of Lomé held a symposium on “the Fight against terrorism in the Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea,” supportedby the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa (UNREC). Participants from Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Togo attended as did CSOs representatives (WANEP, CIVIC), academics from the region, government officials, including from the National Assembly and the Ministry of Education, representatives of the diplomatic corps based in Togo, and representatives of the United Nations Country Team in Togo.

Representatives of the diplomatic corps in Lome, Togo (ECOWAS representative second to theleft)
Symposium participants

The symposium took place at a time characterized by the proliferation of violent extremism and terrorism in Africa,  in particular in the Sahel region and extending to the northern borders of  Gulf of Guinea littoral states. Regional organizations and states in the region have adopted several instruments, including the Accra Initiative relating to the fight against terrorism in coastal countries, and the global ECOWAS agenda, in an effort to address the deteriorating security environment.

In his opening remarks, the Director of UNREC, Anselme Yabouri, described the prevailing security environment and  counterterrorism initiatives, including the Nouakchott process,  the Accra Initiative, and  the G5-Sahel.  He underscored UNREC’s role in combatting the expansion of terrorism through its support of  state arms and ammunition management efforts. He also underlined that the fight against the illicit traffic of  small arms and light weapons (SALW), and the dismantling of illegal arms supply chains used by terrorist groups, should be a top priority.

UNREC director, Anselme Yabouri, delivering opening remarks during the official ceremony (left)

Against this backdrop, symposium participants analyzed the historical development of terrorism in the region. Experts assessed the security, political and humanitarian situations in the sub-region along with challenges, opportunities and good practices in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel and Gulf of Guinea States. They also reflected upon the effectiveness of regional counterterrorism policies. Security experts from Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Togo focused on the vulnerabilities of their respective countries which had been exploited to spread violent extremism and terrorism. The illicit circulation of small arms and light weapons in the region was identified as a major factor in facilitating the expansion of terrorism. Experts also  described national legal instruments, along with governmental structures, put in place to address the growing terrorist threat.  Central to the debate, participants noted, was the need to promote and respect human rights and to protect civilians  while implementing counterterrorism  measures. 

UNREC presentation on the nexus between the proliferation of SALW and the expansion of terrorism in the Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea (right)

The establishment of a Multinational Joint Task Force aimed at countering Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin was identified by participants as a successful counterterrorism initiative. Participants also unanimously  agreed on the pivotal role played by cooperation among states in addressing  a rapidly evolving security landscape. Decentralization and fostering local development were identified by participants as crucial policies in  addressing the root causes of terrorism.  Speakers identified factors that could contribute to the emergence of violent extremism and terrorism, including poor socio-economic development, limited access to basic social services, youth unemployment, inadequate governance, and the absence of state authority in remote areas. 

Recommendations emerging from the symposium included: the establishment of a platform of research institutions to facilitate the exchange of information and analysis; the design of action-oriented research programs involving both academics and practitioners; and enhanced collaboration between academics and civil society organizations in the formulation and implementation of counterterrorism strategies.

Symposium participants