Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the African regional high-level conference on counter-terrorism and the prevention of violent extremism conducive to terrorism, in Nairobi today:
I thank the Government of Kenya for helping the United Nations organize this landmark conference.
To begin, I would like to honour the tens of thousands of African victims of terrorism and to express solidarity with African countries that have suffered terrorist attacks that shock with their barbarity and disregard for human life. Kenya itself has endured numerous terrorist attacks. This year alone, terrorists murdered 21 people in the Dusit hotel complex in Nairobi, and in Wajir County, eight police officers were killed and others injured when their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device.
The threat of terrorism in Africa is spreading and destabilizing entire regions. I am greatly concerned by the situation in the Sahel and increasing risks in West Africa. Boko Haram and its splinter faction continue to terrorize local populations and attack security forces in north-east Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin despite the considerable efforts of the Multinational Joint Task Force.
In Mali, terrorist groups have launched regular attacks against local and international security forces, including the Blue Helmets serving in MINUSMA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali]. The violence has spilled over into neighbouring countries, with an alarming number of recent attacks in Burkina Faso and Niger. There is an urgent need for the international community to support Member States in this region to strengthen national capacities and resilience against terrorism.
The trauma from terrorism causes lasting damage to individuals, families and communities. In Africa, as elsewhere, terrorists continue to use sexual violence to spread fear and assert control, and children are often forced to join terrorist groups as a matter of survival. The people of Africa continue to show great courage and resilience in challenging those who seek to spread violence and hatred. From working within their families and communities to prevent the spread of radicalization and recruitment, to serving in AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia], MINUSMA, the G5 Sahel joint force, the Multinational Joint Task Force against Boko Haram and similar missions, the people of Africa are on the front line of efforts to tackle terrorism and the spread of violent extremism.
I deeply believe that African peace-enforcing and counter-terrorism operations must have strong and clear mandates by the United Nations Security Council, backed by sufficient, predictable and sustainable financial support, namely through assessed contributions. The determination of Africans to find solutions to the scourge of terrorism is clear. And the role of women is inspirational in so many ways. We have with us women from Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Tunisia and elsewhere. All over the continent women are taking matters into their own hands, engaging with local leaders, mayors, young people, children and their fellow men, to fight against exclusion, marginalization, inequality and abuse — the conditions that lead many to radicalization and conflict.
Their experiences also tell us that radicalization, terrorism and conflict cannot be resolved through enforcement alone. For terrorism to be defeated, it is essential that African counter-terrorism is holistic, well-funded, underpinned by respect for human rights and — most importantly — backed by strong political will. This is also true of operations mandated by the United Nations Security Council. We must not allow terrorism to undermine the great progress that is being made on this continent.
Africa remains a top priority for the United Nations. We share common goals, particularly on delivering Agenda 2063 — in full alignment with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — and our joint aim for an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa. In these efforts, the United Nations works closely with the African Union and many regional and subregional coordination mechanisms represented here today. We believe in African leadership to develop African solutions to African problems.
So, I am delighted to be here to demonstrate my full support for the aims of this conference. Let me outline what I hope it will achieve over the next two days. First, I would like to see the development of new and strengthened partnerships — both between African States and between Africa and the rest of the international community — to tackle the threat of terrorism and violent extremism.
There are many excellent examples of African countries working together to share counter-terrorism information, expertise and good practices, such as the innovative cross-border initiative on preventing violent extremism along the Kenya-Ethiopia border with the support of the United Nations. But, I believe that more can be done to expand these partnerships and networks and to unify this continent and the wider global South against the threat of terrorism. The transnational nature of terrorism and violent extremism underscores the vital importance of multilateral cooperation to detect, identify and disrupt violent extremism and to bring terrorists to justice.
That is why I convened the first-ever High-level Conference of Heads of Counter-Terrorism Agencies of Member States in New York, in June last year. In my Chair’s Summary to close that Conference, I promised that the United Nations would work with Member States to organize regional conferences on key thematic issues to sustain momentum and feed into the next High-level Conference in June next year. This is the third such regional conference and the only one where all Member States have been invited. This is because this conference can help to mobilize the entire international community to strengthen its political commitment and provide resources and expertise to support African counter-terrorism efforts.
Second, I hope this conference will underline the continuing need to address the drivers and enablers of violent extremism conducive to terrorism. Nothing can justify terrorism and violent extremism, but we must also acknowledge that they do not arise in a vacuum. Narratives of grievance, actual or perceived injustice, and promised empowerment become attractive wherever human rights are being violated, good governance is being ignored and aspirations are being crushed.
A study from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on the threat of violent extremism in Africa found that lack of education and poverty were factors behind radicalization. But, the final tipping point was often State violence and the abuse of power. There needs to be a renewed and sustained focus on prevention, including addressing the underlying conditions that cause young men and women to be lured by terrorism. This includes preventing conflicts, addressing fragility, strengthening State institutions and civil society, building durable peace and promoting sustainable development to tackle the poverty, inequality and lack of opportunity that feed despair.
Third, this conference is an opportunity to explore how we can put even greater emphasis on encouraging “bottom-up” local solutions to the challenges of terrorism and violent extremism in Africa. We all know there is no “one‑size‑fits‑all” approach to address the conditions conducive to terrorism. So, we need to engage affected communities and decentralize our efforts wherever possible to reflect local realities.
This means adopting comprehensive and inclusive “all-of-society” approaches to preventing and countering terrorism at the grass‑roots level. We must fully engage women, who play multiple roles in relation to violent extremism and its prevention — as victims, as those recruited and radicalized, but most importantly as influencers and leaders in prevention and agents of peace. The meaningful inclusion of women will also strengthen our own responses.
Common to each of these groups, regardless of their ideology, is the subjugation of women’s and girls’ rights. This is not a coincidence, it is foundational to their creed, and for this reason gender equality must be equally central in our response. And we must support civil society organizations to deliver tailored programmes to strengthen community resilience and turn vulnerable individuals away from violence. I am delighted to see so many civil society representatives here today, who have unique knowledge and access to their communities across Africa.
Fourth, I hope this conference considers practical ways to harness the creativity, energy and power of young people to strengthen resilience against terrorism and build more peaceful, just and inclusive societies. Three quarters of Africa’s population of over 1.3 billion are under the age of 35. Nearly half are under the age of 15. We know that in Africa — as elsewhere around the world — creating jobs and expanding opportunity for young people are major challenges. And we also know that youth unemployment not only limits personal fulfilment and drains away hope, it also undermines social cohesion and could threaten security.
We need to make a strategic investment in these young people through increased education, training and employment opportunities. Indeed, job creation for young people must be at the centre of any development strategy. As set out in the 2015 Amman Declaration on Youth, Peace and Security and Security Council resolution 2250 (2015), young Africans should also be fully involved in developing and implementing strategies and activities to prevent and counter violent extremism conducive to terrorism.
With the rise of misinformation on social media and the Internet, young people also need education and empowerment to denounce manipulative narratives, xenophobia and hate speech, which can all lead to online radicalization. I look forward to hearing youth perspectives throughout this conference and especially in tomorrow morning’s session.
Fifth, I urge this conference to exchange ideas on how we can further support the victims and survivors of terrorism, including victims of sexual violence and children exploited by terrorist groups. Victims are extremely powerful and credible messengers. Their experiences put a human face to the impact of terrorism and help to counter the distorted narratives of terrorists and violent extremists. When we listen to the voices of victims of terrorism, uphold their rights and provide them with support and justice, we are reducing the lasting damage done by terrorists. So, I am delighted that the United Nations will convene the first-ever Global Congress of Victims in New York in June next year.
Finally, I hope this conference will consider how the United Nations can enhance its counter-terrorism support to African Member States and regional and subregional organizations. When I became Secretary-General, I was determined to reform the United Nations counter-terrorism architecture to meet the growing needs of countries around the world. The establishment of the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism and the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact means we have a clear framework and solid platform for our work.
We have prioritized capacity-building projects for African countries on issues such as mitigating the threat of foreign terrorist fighters, empowering and engaging youth, countering terrorist financing and improving aviation security. I recently launched a major multi-year programme to assist Member States in countering terrorist travel, which will initially focus on the Horn of Africa and Sahel regions.
But there is more we can do, and I look forward to hearing your suggestions. Africa is increasingly the new front line in the global struggle against terrorism and violent extremism. Yesterday, I saw how a community, ravaged by violence and radicalization, can turn things around. It took commitment from community leaders, young people, local government and beyond, but it was possible. It took years, but it was possible.
Most importantly, it took political commitment. We can all learn a lot from the determination, unity and courage of the people of Kamukunji. We should aim to reproduce the wisdom of those in power who saw what was happening in the community and helped to raise them up. The United Nations was also there to help, but it was local leaders who led the way.
African States have made considerable efforts to implement the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism at national and regional levels, including through the African Union Peace and Security Architecture. It is now time for the international community to step up and provide the financial and technical resources needed to support African-owned and led counter-terrorism efforts, while fully respecting human rights, the rule of law and gender considerations.
The United Nations remains fully committed to working with all of you to address the evolving threat of terrorism and violent extremism and help build a more secure and prosperous future that all Africans deserve. I wish you a productive conference. Thank you.