RIYADH, Asharq Al-Awsat—With recurring news coverage of Ansar Dine, Boko Haram, Al-Shaba’ab, and countless other militant groups, the continent of Africa now finds itself on the front-line of the global fight against terrorism. As a result, the African Union (AU) is facing an unprecedented challenge.
Francisco Madeira is the AU special envoy for counter-terrorism cooperation. He joined the Mozambique diplomatic service in 1975, acting as ambassador to several African countries from 1984-1989. Over the following two decades he held various portfolios in the Mozambique government including minister for parliamentary affairs and then minister for diplomatic affairs. Madeira also has a strong background in conflict mediation, successfully participating in the Rome General Peace Accords that ended the Mozambique civil war in 1992. Over the past decade he has also been actively involved in mediation work in the Comoros and São Tomé and Príncipe.
Asharq Al-Awsat met with Francisco Madeira in Riyadh in order to discuss the AU’s efforts to combat terrorism. Madeira gave a detailed insight into the current situation in North Africa and the likely repercussions of recent political events in the region.
Asharq Al-Awsat: In the wake of the Arab Spring that unfolded in the Middle East and North Africa, where is terrorism currently heading?
Francisco Madeira: The African countries continue to be strongly affected by terrorist acts perpetrated by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and other Al-Qaeda affiliates in Africa. Boko Haram and Al-Shaba’ab are both working in support of terrorism. I can say that the situation in the African countries continues to be extremely complicated and difficult. In addition to the terrorist groups, we have organized criminal gangs involved in drug trafficking, money laundering, and human trafficking. I am happy that the governments of Ethiopia and Kenya have succeeded in evicting the Al-Shaba’ab group—associated with Al-Qaeda—from the (Somalian) cities of Kismayo and Mogadishu. However, we still need to exert more efforts to remain in control.
Q: What about the events in northern Mali? Do you think that an alliance of armed groups is operating in the Horn of Africa?
Yes, there is an organized alliance of armed groups. We are optimistic about the intervention of the Malian army, in cooperation with the French, which recently succeeded in weakening the armed groups there. However, we need to exert more efforts to ensure that the gangs do not return and resume their activities by strengthening the Malian army and consolidating its military presence.
Q: Where do armed groups pose a danger in the Horn of Africa?
A: The armed terrorist groups do not intend to confine their activities to a specific region, whether in Morocco, Nigeria, Somalia, or even in Mali. They intend to advance to the south of the African Continent. We all know that these armed groups are exercising a silent control there in preparation to launch their terrorist activities.
Q: What is your opinion on the situation in Mali?
The political problem in Mali must be resolved. The Malian government should get the Malian house in order from the inside and unite the political forces there, so as not to give an opportunity for terrorist groups to exploit and benefit from political conflicts. I believe that sooner or later, a joint dialogue will be launched with insurgent groups to agree on spurning terrorism and dividing the state. The Malians should discuss peace and stability.
Q: Is there a reasonable chance for this to happen even after the intervention of the French forces?
Actually, the French intervention will produce the climate and conditions to allow for such a dialogue to take place early, instead of it being delayed for years.
Q: Some believe that the French intervention in Mali marks the beginning of a division and an ethnic confrontation between the Arabs and the Africans. How would you comment on this?
I do not consider the subject from this angle. I feel that the Arabs and the non-Arabs are all Africans, despite their different origins. They should co-exist regardless of their ethnic differences; the land belongs to them all. Unfortunately, the events in northern Mali were attributed to the Tuareg people or to the Africans of Arab descent who are calling for division and independence. However, the French intervention is not because of the Tuareg problem, but because there are certain African Arabs that want to impose Sharia and apply it by force against those that do not wish to see this. That is why the conflict was interpreted as an ethnic conflict. Everyone should realize that this has been the situation for a long time and prior to the French intervention. Rapprochement should be reached via a political system that brings people together and that respects everyone without a likely confrontation in the future.
Q: Do you think that the events unfolding in Mali will transform it into another Afghanistan?
Division is likely unless the political leaders there are extremely careful. Moreover, external forces may benefit from it. Everything is likely; however we hope it does not happen. The Malians would be wise to try and preserve their unity in several ways. We should not ignore the fact that what is happening in Mali is due to the situation in Libya, where a lot of weapons and explosives were uncovered and then smuggled into Mali. As long as Libya is weak, the danger will remain. Thus we should work to help Libya regain stability.
Q: Have you in the AU offered help and support towards Libya in this regard?
We are ready to extend major assistance to Libya. However, Libya has to open its hands to us and tell us that it is part of Africa.
Q: What about the fight against terrorism in Africa? What are the actual steps that member states are taking in this regard?
There is the OAU agreement to prevent and fight against terrorism that was signed and ratified in 1994.This agreement was followed by protocol annexes in 2002 and 2004. Our most recent effort was the adoption of the unified model law among African countries last year. One of its most important articles was to consider ransom money paid to release hostages as tantamount to financing terrorism, after millions in ransoms have been used to expand the activities of terrorist groups. Despite the humanitarian considerations of the families of the abducted, we succeeded in incriminating this deed and added it to our list of legislation.
Q: The recent terrorist operation in Algeria, with its perpetrators also infiltrating the borders of several African countries such as Mali, Nigeria, and Libya, has raised questions about the security of African borders and how effectively they are being controlled by states. Do you agree?
Yes, this is correct. African countries must strengthen their control over their borders. The problem is that these borders are too vast compared to the limited security resources available. What we need is to strengthen our security and military capabilities. We should also not forget that the perpetrators of the operations are Africans and non-Africans.
Q: Various sides are accusing Mauritania of hosting camps to train armed militias for other countries in the region. What is your opinion of this?
Mauritania is playing a good role in fighting terrorism. I have no idea whether such camps actually exist. These reports are still mere rumors; there is no evidence to confirm them.
Q: What do you think of the events unfolding in Egypt? To what extent will this affect stability in the Horn of Africa?
Egypt is an ancient country that has gone through various crises in its history and succeeded in overcoming them. I am confident that Egypt will overcome this stage in view of the maturity and experience that it enjoys.
Q: What is your opinion of the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt, and how the group came to power?
Muslims and the Muslim Brotherhood are part of the political landscape in Egypt; they came to power through elections. However, I believe that they will realize that elections are not sufficient to rule; elections represent a mere stepping stone to power. True governance means establishing peace and security and creating suitable conditions for this. I am certain that the Egyptians are aware of this and will apply it.
Q: Following the assassination of a prominent member of the political opposition in Tunisia, are you not concerned that a new phase is about to begin in several countries of the Arab Spring?
The price paid to achieve stability takes on various facets. Some will profit from assassinations and others will join terrorist groups. We will not be surprised if these events are imitated in other places.
Q: How would you describe the African countries relations with Iran?
We are open to establishing good relations with all UN member states and this includes Iran. Moreover, the AU did not sign the sanctions against Iran. Each country is free to determine its relations with Tehran and there is nothing to prevent the establishment of good relations. There are 54 African countries and each has its own policy; there is nothing we can do about that.
Q: But some specific states and organizations are accused of financing and supporting armed groups in certain African countries?
There are various reasons behind the instability in some African countries that are not connected to the stances of specific countries. These include poverty and the style of governance in addition to the intervention of foreign forces. Therefore, I cannot specify specific countries; for instance I cannot say Italy or France or Brazil or Guatemala.
Q: What is your position on the current events in Syria?
The current situation in Syria is dangerous and complicated. The Syrians must sit together and engage one another in dialogue in order to achieve peace and solve all their problems by themselves.
Q: Do you agree that all efforts and opportunities to hold such a dialogue have failed?
I do not see any other solution at this stage. The Syrian officials should play their role. It is a matter of time; sooner or later dialogue and negotiations will take place. Nothing can be solved except through negotiations even if the outcome is for one side to sign and surrender. The Syrian crisis should not be confined to approving military intervention and providing armed factions with weapons.