Borders, Terror and challenges for prosperity in West Africa It is another wonderful month and we are elated to be reaching you through , which has become our West Africa Insight meeting point to discuss the various issues shaping our region and the rest of Africa. In this edition we focus on two topical issues that continue to shape our region as it strives towards democratic consolidation: Borders and Terrorism.
On the one hand, we look at the nature and evolution of borders and the challenge of effectively policing them due to the lack of state capacity in the face of the escalating problem of terrorism and its cross-border implications. On the other hand, we explore the existent economic potential which these border areas hold and how, if properly managed, they can be a boost for not just individual countries but for the region as a whole.
From the origins of West African states as colonial creations to their challenging topographical nature – whether along the Atlantic coastlines or the arid Sahelian desert – managing these spaces in the post colonial era has been challenging. In this context, most of these spaces have become a threat to security and peaceful co-existence. Rather than being the basis for strong socio-economic and political interactions, they have fast become dangerous grounds for the region and her people. In the Gulf of Guinea and along the Atlantic coastline, the activities of pirates, militants, drug smugglers have become a major source of concern. The rising threat levels have led to several initiatives by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), alongside other actors. In a similar vein, the Sahelian border areas have been confronted with several security threats. In recent times the activities of terrorist organisations have created a major quagmire for the region. The activities of Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) and other such extremist organisations have further laid bare the ineffectiveness and lack of state capacity to govern borders, manifesting in gruesome acts of terror and its cross-border implications. Linked closely to this is the escalating problem of trafficking of people and drugs, which also exploits the lack of adequate and effective security along and across borders. Regional cooperation among West African states is the one way through which these challenges can be addressed. While there are ongoing efforts towards this, the current situation has made it even more urgent if the region is going to be able to harness the potential benefits of their borders.
Even as West Africa faces the task of managing its borders, it is important to point out that these areas possess huge economic potential that can impact positively on the regions and its people. This is illustrated in the article by Leena Hoffmann and Paul Melly, who examine the booming but unrecorded trade along Nigeria’s borders with Niger, Benin, Cameroon and Chad. The increasing levels of informal trade are to a large extent due to the policies of countries, which are driving many people and companies who normally should be in the formal sector into the informal sector. This situation has cost these countries and the region a huge amount of financial resources that would have accrued to the state. As resources continue to dwindle, the onus is on the countries of the region to find ways of getting hold of the revenues that result from the trade to boost their revenue resources.
As Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb and ISIL continue their contest for West Africa through the recent escalated number of attacks across the region, Terfa Hemen in his article interrogates the tactics of terrorism as used by non-state actors and asks whether they have been successful. This edition also highlights the fact that even as the Boko Haram insurgence has plagued the region, there have been voices in several quarters contradicting and denouncing the group’s messages of violent extremism. CDD senior fellow, Prof Sanni Umar explores some of these narratives to show that contrary to what many tend to say, there are many Muslims who are against the extremist views posed by a minority within Islamic circles.
It is our expectation that the array of issues in this edition will make for an engaging and encouraging read. See you soon.