The Horn of Africa is one of the most heavily securitized regions in the world. The tiny nation of Djibouti, among others, hosts eight military bases of the global north; others, emerging and old powers strive to get a slice of the proverbial geostrategic pie, that is the Horn. The Red Sea sits between two continents, bordering six countries in Africa, and four in the Middle East, and approximately 10 percent of all global trade passes through its waters, amounting to 881 billion USD. The total GDP of the region, as well as international trade across this line, is projected to grow by three and five-fold respectively within two decades.

Given its strategic trade and military relevance, the region grapples with significant security challenges including one of the world’s well-known fights against terrorism. The threat of terrorism to the Horn of Africa can be traced back more than two decades. This regional security threat, however, garnered it attracted the attention of the international superpowers when the US was involved in the war against terrorism. Later, Al-Shabaab attacked the US embassy in Nairobi displaying the group’s capability. Somalia, where al-Shabaab is located, is at the epicenter of the threat of terrorism to the peace and security of people in the region. The group has been a close ally of the Islamic State (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda- known to operate in the Middle East and the Levant.

Since setting foot in Somalia, the US and its allies were heavily invested in counter-terrorism efforts in the Horn. In 2019, the US and Ethiopia signed a memorandum of understanding to exchange terrorist screening information. The counterterrorism efforts by the combined forces of the states in the region and external powers have been vibrant. US President Joe Biden has recently authorized the US military to redeploy hundreds of Special Operations Forces to Somalia. Countries in the Horn, particularly Ethiopia, have been significant partners of the US mission in the region, nonetheless, terrorism has been rampant on the continent.

In May 2022, the African Union convened in Malabo for an Extraordinary Summit on Terrorism and Unconstitutional Changes in Africa. It was noted during this meeting that terrorism has increased on the continent since 2021. AU Commission Chairperson Musa Faki Mahamat noted during this meeting that terrorism has continued to flourish because of the lack of inter-African solidarity with the countries fighting terrorism and failure to honor commitments. In addition, there are also helpful measures that the international community can apply in fighting terrorism in Africa and other parts of the world.

Given the increase in terrorist attacks and the proliferation of terrorist groups, the continent stands at a crossroads when it comes to the fight against terrorism. For instance, Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 48% of global deaths from terrorism. However, the international scramble for the region has made counter-terrorism efforts an uphill battle for Africa in general, and the Horn in particular. The critical question remains: shall Africans take their fight against terrorism into their own hands or remain insecure for generations?

What next in this effort?

The African Union has recommended the formation and operation of the African Standby Forces, and the provision of necessary support to the existing forces will lessen the continent’s dependence on international assistance in the fight against terrorism. The African Union must first provide an apt political leadership to coordinate cross-country communication and intelligence to enhance the collective capacity to effectively fight terrorism domestically, regionally, and as a continent.

Legal frameworks also need to be put in place to blacklist/arrest people, entities, and institutions, with links to the vast terrorist networks across the continent. Policymakers will also need to consider illicit financial flows, arms smuggling, and organized crime when laying out the general framework.

Honing in on East Africa, the Western-led approach to countering terrorism in the region focused on targeting key figures in the various movements, with the aim of weakening their network proved ineffective. This is primarily because the intervention did not include local people, who are an integral part of the fight. Although the killing of strategic leaders creates a power temporary power vacuum, terrorist cells have adapted to this strategy by organizing in loose, semi-autonomous small groups. These groups learned to operate regardless of who gets killed.

Functional coordination between African countries, agreeing to a consistent contribution in capacity: human and monetary, as well as enhanced economic interdependence would help stifle terrorism in the long run. This way, African nations can avoid exploitation by interest groups and entities that show interest in joining counter-terrorism efforts. The Horn, as it pertains to Al-Shabab and its affiliates, has to be the primary stakeholder in maintaining regional peace and security.