The US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who is visiting the region, praised the work of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) for stabilising the region.
Tillerson, in his speech on US – Africa relations: titled a ‘New Framework’ at George Mason University in Fairfax, hailed troops from the five African countries, including Uganda, for stabilizsing areas under attack from al-Shabaab.
He pledged to work with the African Union leadership to combat terrorism in East Africa by backing regional and multilateral efforts.
“I look forward to meeting with AU Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat on my upcoming trip to explore more ways in which we can work together to counter terrorism on the continent,” he stated.
AMISOM includes troops from five African countries, stabilising areas under attack from al-Shabaab and permitting much needed aid to reach the Somali people.
Uganda, the first country to deploy troops in 2007, contributes the largest share of more than 6,000 peacekeepers.
Last year, US supported more than 27,000 African peacekeepers from over 20 African countries.
Tillerson observed that with the deployments, more African countries were taking ownership of their future.
Globally, Africa makes up about 50% of peacekeeping forces, compared to about 20% a decade ago, he stated.
The US diplomat said the US would partner with the Regional East Africa Counterterrorism (PREACT) to intensify the fight against terror, according to a statement sent to New Vision by the US-Kampala embassy.
Since 2016, the United States has contributed more than $140m to help partners prevent terrorist safe havens and the recruitment through these partnerships, Tillerson said.
However, even with growing support, not all countries in the Great Lakes region of Africa have laws to address terrorism, Uganda Police authorities have revealed.
According to the Strategic Policing plan 2015/16-2019/20, this challenge directly affects regional efforts to combat terrorism, especially when a terrorist act is committed in a country that lacks relevant laws and an effective legal frame work for combating the vice.
“These efforts are also hampered by continued support given to terrorists by some countries within and outside of Africa, differing levels of Counter Terrorism (CT) training and awareness within the great lakes countries and the varied threats to individual countries, which in part determines their strategic priorities,” excerpts from Strategic Policing Plan read.
Tillerson will be making his first official visit to Sub-Saharan Africa, a region that has suffered gruesome terrorist attacks in recent years.
This August will mark 20 years since hundreds of lives were lost in the US-embassy attacks in Nairobi and Dar- es- Salaam.
“Since that day, thousands more have died at the hands of terrorists in different parts of Africa. Terrorist attacks rose from less than 300 in 2009, to more than 1,500 in each of the years 2015, 2016, and 2017,” the diplomat noted.
Tillerson said there is need to work towards finding long-term diplomatic solutions to conflicts that cause so much human suffering.
“Until we do, the United States, as the world’s largest provider of humanitarian assistance, will continue to stand with those most vulnerable,” he added.
While explaining in response to the growing threat, Tillerson said the US sanctioned seven ISIS-affiliated groups, including ISIS-West Africa and ISIS-Somalia and their leaders in an effort to cut off the resources that these groups use to carry out attacks.
He noted that terrorism knows no borders, stressing that in the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin, Boko Haram, ISIS-West Africa, al-Qaida in the Maghreb and other groups are adaptable, they’re resilient, and capable of launching attacks throughout the area.
Tillerson said regional cooperation is crucial to disrupting such attacks and denying them the capability to plan and carry them out in the future.
The Multinational Joint Task Force – created by Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Benin, and Cameroon – along with the Group of Five Sahel nations, or the G5 – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger – are pooling expertise and resources top fight to neutralize terrorist groups in the area.
Their work is also instrumental in achieving African-led solutions to terrorism and instability. Last October, US committed up to $60m towards the G5’s counterterrorism efforts – to enable them train and equip members of the Joint Force and counter terrorist propaganda throughout these communities.
The Uganda Police Force (UPF) Strategic Policing Plan 2015/16-2019/20 indicates that the force (UPF) created a specialised directorate of CT to fight terrorism as a major threat to national, regional and international peace and security.
Uganda has suffered devastating human cost of terrorism in terms of lives lost and those injured with permanent disabilities.
On July 11 2010, more than 76 people were killed and more than 70 injured in suicide bomb attacks by Alshaabab Islamic militants during the 2010 World Cup final match at Lugogo Rugby Club and the Ethiopian village in Kababalaga, Makindye division.
Since then, Uganda has had more than 15 terrorist threats, which police and sister security agencies have neutralized.
Within the region, Kenya has experienced terrorist attacks more than any of the East African Countries. Since, 2011, Kenya has suffered more than 36 terrorist attacks that have claimed atleast 456 lives and left more 575 injured.
Government (Uganda) has tackled the problem of terrorism through legal, society, security and regional cooperation’s approaches.
In 2002, Uganda also enacted “The anti- Terrorism Act, 2002,” to provide for an effective legal framework for combating terrorism acts in the country.
Subsequently, government established the Joint Anti-Terrorism (JAT) Task Force, an interagency unit that coordinates all security actions on terrorism in the country. The JAT is constituted by representatives from all security agencies, and it reports to a security committee chaired the Inspector general of Police (IGP), and comprised of leaders of all security agencies.
At the regional level, the East African Community Inter-Forces cooperation and Partnership, EAPCCO, Interpol, the Northern Corridor, do coordinate tracking of terrorist groups.
The forces supported by governments of each country share information and intelligence for prevention of terrorist activities in the region.
This collaboration and partnership with Kenya and Tanzania led to the arrest and prosecution of suspects in July 2010 Kampala terrorist attacks.