An international arrest warrant has been issued forAgbéyomé Kodjo, the Togolese opposition leader who lost to incumbent president Faure Gnassingbé in Togo’s presidential election held on February 22. In a message sent to Agence France-Presse, Kodjo said he was in hiding somewhere in Togo after he had refused a summons to appear in court on July 10.
The prosecutor of Lomé’s lower court, Essolissam Poyodi, subsequently filed the arrest warrant. In a social media post, Kodjo wrote that he feared for his life and would remain in hiding. This warrant is the latest in a series of actions that have targeted Kodjo and his Patriotic Movement for Democracy and Development (MPDD) party. On April 21, sixteen party members were arrested and sentenced to four months in prison for “flagrant offenses, rebellion and complicity in rebellion.” Kodjo, who won 19.46 percent of the vote compared with 70.78 percent for Gnassingbé, accused the authorities of widespread election fraud.
Gnassingbé assumed power in 2005 following the death of his father
Kodjo himself was arrested and detained on April 21 and held for four days over similar accusations of encouraging revolt. In March, Togo’s National Assembly voted to lift Kodjo’s parliamentary immunity following a petition by Poyodi, accusing Kodjo of “assaulting state security” due to his repeated criticisms of the February election. President Gnassingbé assumed power in 2005 following the death of his father, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, with the backing of the military, and has retained his family’s hold on the country ever since.
The most recent presidential election did not have any independent election observers present, after Togo’s national election commission revoked the main independent observer group’s accreditation just days before the vote. Catholic Church observers were also prevented from monitoring the election. This, combined with Togo’s history of failing to hold free elections, incited Kodjo and other opposition parties to reject the official results of the February election.
Last month, Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire jointly conducted Operation Comoé along their borders. They captured thirty-eight suspected terrorists, killed eight, and dismantled training camps. The operation reflects growing concern in these and other West African coastal states about a spillover of violent extremism and the need to prevent attacks from being staged in their territories.
But the spread of attacks isn’t the only problem terrorism brings, and these operations shouldn’t be the only way countries address it. They need to also focus on the factors that allow these groups to function. Extremists are increasingly tapping into a terrorist economy, using Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Togo as sources or transit zones of funding and logistics.
Motorcycles are valuable to extremists because of their robustness and mobility through difficult terrain
Institute for Security Studies (ISS) research shows that livestock stolen in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger is sold in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, and Ghana at below-market prices. The profits are ploughed back through the networks of accomplice dealers. Various accounts point to terrorists being among the armed groups funded by this illicit trade. They use the income to buy arms, fuel, motorcycles, and food.
Motorcycles are valuable to extremists because of their robustness and mobility through difficult terrain. They are also easy to maintain, light on fuel, and can carry more than one person for combat and combat support operations.
The terrorist economy affects West Africa’s coastal states.
Many motorcycles found in Niger’s Tillabéry region are trafficked from Nigeria through the Togolese border town of Cinkassé and Burkina Faso’s Boucle du Mouhoun Region. Some are also trafficked from Togo to Burkina Faso, and a few are trafficked further to Niger.
Both Tillabéry and Boucle du Mouhoun are hot spots for violent extremism. Although groups may not be directly involved in trafficking, they gain access to goods through vendors or criminal entrepreneurs who organize their procurement.
Evidence is also emerging of extremists sourcing materials to make explosives from Ghana. Ghanaian officials say fertilizer, a key ingredient for improvised explosive devices, is smuggled in sizable quantities to Burkina Faso. Police frequently arrest smugglers and seize consignments in northern border towns such as Hamile, Kulungugu, and Namori.
In July 2019, Upper West Region minister Dr. Hafiz Bin Salih said Ghana had lost US$12 million to fertilizer smuggling from Ghana to neighboring countries the previous year. Although terrorist groups may not be directly involved in the smuggling, an apparent rise in availability of the material in Burkina Faso means increased access and affordability.
Also, a 2018 counter-terrorism operation in Ouagadougou’s Rayongo neighborhood led to the seizure of an electric cord for making improvised explosive devices which was traced to northern Ghana. This suggests the involvement of trafficking networks from Ghana’s north where artisanal and small-scale mining is a long-standing economic activity.
Interviewees told the ISS that the northern Ghanaian town of Dollar Power has many West African illegal miners, including Ivorian former rebels and Burkinabe nationals, and is known for armed robbery. In eastern Burkina Faso, gold from some mining sites controlled by violent extremist groups is purchased by buyers from Benin and Togo. This may be providing valuable funding to terror groups, although the scale is unclear.
Leaders of coastal states are preoccupied with preventing a southward spread of attacks. This informed the February 2017 meeting of the presidents of Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Togo in Accra. They had called for an extraordinary Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) summit on terrorism, and launched the Accra Initiative in September that year.
Attacks in southern Burkina Faso, close to the borders with Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Togo, have deepened concerns among counter-terrorism officials. At an ECOWAS extraordinary session held on September 14, 2019, in Ouagadougou, leaders also decried the spread of terrorism in the region, although there was no specific reference to coastal states.
Extremists use Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Togo as sources or transit zones for funding and logistics
Burkinabe officials have often alerted their coastal counterparts to suspected extremists crossing into their northern territories to avoid arrest. Such alerts followed the March 2019 Otapuana operation in southern Burkina Faso. In Ghana, extremists hide or rest in the north, counter-terrorism officials told the ISS, a situation that elicits complaints from Burkina Faso about the country’s commitment to countering terrorism.
Coastal states acknowledge the importance of addressing the root causes of violent extremism, including governance and developmental deficits. Extremists could exploit the lack of basic services, such as roads, health and education facilities, and socio-economic opportunities, to penetrate and implant themselves in communities. The 2020–2024 ECOWAS Priority Action Plan outlines steps to tackle these shortcomings.
But capacity to address the vulnerabilities that enable terror groups to source and move funds and logistics remains limited. These vulnerabilities include weak border surveillance and security; porous borders; and strong communal, family, and socio-economic ties. The content of cross-border trade transactions is largely untracked, as border officials do not have sufficient capacity and the necessary technology.
To prevent violent extremism, the various dimensions of the problem must be understood, particularly terrorists’ covert dealings. This will enable officials to strike a much-needed balance between counter-terrorism operations and breaking the funding and logistics supply chains used by violent extremists.
Border officials lack the capacity and technology to track cross-border trade transactions
West Africa’s coastal states must also address the weaknesses that allow these groups to operate. Capacity is needed to track trade consignments between countries, beef up border control and surveillance, enhance intelligence gathering and analysis, and garner the support of people living in border areas. This could help identify extremists who may be exploiting cross-border ties.
The disruption of supply chains could set the stage for more terrorist attacks. Violence could be used to protect hideouts, secure supply routes, or attack border posts that extremists believe are impediments to their supply of materials. This means that, to avoid generating community resentment, strategies aimed at disruption must be balanced with preserving the livelihoods of individuals and communities who rely on cross-border trade.
Sampson Kwarkye is a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies’ regional office for West Africa, the Sahel, and the Lake Chad Basin.
This article was originally published by ISS Today.
Human Rights Watch has reported that over 2,500 schools in Burkina Faso have been forced to close in response to escalating numbers of terrorist attacks, holding back around 350,000 primary school-aged children from receiving an education. Since 2017, the country’s Ministry of Education found that at least 222 education workers have been deliberately targeted and made “victims of terrorist attacks”.
The report documented 126 attacks and threats of violence against educators, learners, and schools, more than half of which occurred in 2019 alone. This added security concern compounds the risks posed to Burkinabe children, who are set to return to school in nine days following countrywide closures put in place on March 14.
Armed Islamist groups have targeted schools in opposition to the teaching of French and other forms of Western-based education.
Joint Military Operation
The marked negative impact that terrorism has had on Burkina Faso’s schools reaffirms the importance of a joint military operation with Côte d’Ivoire, dubbed Operation Comoé, which recently reported a successful raid on a jihadist base in the border town of Alidougou in southern Burkina Faso.
Togolese doctors are set to begin a series of tests to assess the efficacy of traditional herbal medicine for the treatment of patients with COVID-19. Professor Majesté Ihou Wateba, dean of the University of Lome’s Faculty of Health Sciences, cautioned that these remedies won’t cure the disease or kill the virus, but they might help to strengthen the immune system by helping the body to produce antibodies that will fight the virus. Clinical trials are set to begin over the coming days.
A Caution Against Wild Claims
Togo’s approach is more measured than that taken by Madagascar, where President Andry Rajoelina has touted Covid-Organics herbal tea—which contains the dried leaved of sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua)—as not only a treatment but also a cure for the disease. The drink quickly grew in popularity and attracted interest from several other African nations.
The World Health Organization issued a warning not long after Raojelina’s announcement, urging vigilance when using traditional medicine but still recognizing the potential of traditional remedies as viable treatments.