Counter-terrorism experts from police institutions in the region and international organizations are meeting in Kigali for a two-day workshop to deliberate on various strategies against the major security threat of the 21st century.
At least ten countries from the Eastern Africa Police Chiefs Cooperation Organisation (EAPCCO) and representatives from international organizations including Interpol, and Institute of Security Studies (ISS) are taking part in the workshop that started yesterday.
The third EAPCCO counter terrorism meeting held under the theme: “Sustaining regional cooperation to combat terrorism and violent extremism,” also brings together partners including the Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany and Canada.
Top on the agenda is enhancing partnership between counter terror departments and agencies in EAPCCO, training – field training and command post exercise – looking at the current state of terrorism and radicalization in the region, laying deradicalization strategies; and exchanging best practices in combating terrorism and violent extremism, among others.
The Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIGP) in charge of Administration and Personnel, Juvenal Marizamunda, while officiating at the opening of the meeting, said that such platforms signify the threat to peace and security posed by terrorism in the region and beyond.
“The success of counter-terrorism efforts depends upon strong commitment and concerted actions among countries,” DIGP Marizamunda said.
He added that to achieve this, it requires comprehensive approach encompassing not only security-based counter-terrorism measures but also preventive actions to address underlying conditions that drive individuals to be radicalized to join violent extremist groups.
Experts say that terrorism and extreme violent activities have increased exponentially over the last five years in the region. According to the 2016 report by the European Institute for Security Studies, more than 11, 000 fatalities were recorded in 2015 in Somalia, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan and Ethiopia.
Some of the terror groups operating in the region include Al-Shabab, ADF, FDLR composed of remnants of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, ISIS, and Al-Qaeda.
“EAPCCO countries have been working closely together through various bilateral and multilateral arrangements to prevent and combat terrorism. It is our responsibility to ensure that our region doesn’t become a safe haven or a soft target for terrorist groups,” DIGP Marizamunda said.
Francis Muhoro, the chairman of the EAPCCO Permanent Coordinating Committee (PCC), said that there are great strides in the region, either individual countries or joint efforts including deradicalisation strategies to deplete the pool so that terrorist doesn’t have the recruitment source.
“EAPCCO have been able to develop standard operating procedures in fighting counter terrorism; strengthening and capacitating directorates of criminal investigations and counter terrorism, developing CVE [countering violence extremism] strategies, and establishment of centres of excellences,” Muhoro said.
Currently, Kenya hosts the regional counter terrorism centre of excellence, and the Interpol’s hybrid as a ‘City Node’ which further provides EAPCCO countries with a pool of tools and expertise especially in three major areas of counter terrorism, cybercrime and emerging crimes.
“Terrorism has no defined physical barriers; to make the assumption that terrorism and violent extremism can only be associated with a particular country is a grave mistake. The networks are wide and borderless. We must remain vigilant, empower our people to speak out,” Muhoro said.
Canadian High Commissioner to Rwanda, Yannick Hingorani, whose country has been supporting counter terror activities in the region, pledged Canada’s continued support.
Willem Els from the Institute of Security Studies, a leading African organisation that enhances human security, said: “Cooperation is no longer a choice… it’s a necessity. Some of these terrorist groups are stronger than just a nation.”
The 3rd EAPCCO counter-terrorism workshop follows two others including the maiden one held in Seychelles in February 2014, and the second one held in Naivasha-Kenya in March last year.