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ISS Seminar Report, Addis Ababa: 10 Years after 911
Date: 21 September 2011
Venue: , Institute for Security Studies, Get House Building, Africa Avenue, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


The African Conflict Prevention Programme (ACPP-Addis Ababa) of the Institute for Security Studies has organised a public seminar to take stalk of the tragic events that resulted in the deaths of over 3,000 people and orphaned over a thousand children. As the United States remembers the 10th year of that horrendous act perpetuated by Al Qaeda, the occasion offers the opportunity to reflect on what had happened, what went wrong, what were the underlying and long-standing causes for that level of hatred leading to the terrorist attack. This half-a-day seminar is organised with the conviction that the 9/11 event, though an event that happened in the United States, must also be a concern for the rest of the world and Africa. Indeed, the world and Africa need to inquire into the origins, enabling environment, ideology, leadership, financing, tactics and significance of global terrorism. 

Ambassador Olusegun Akinsanya (Director, Institute of Security Studies, Addis Ababa Office) making the opening remarks

Accordingly, the public seminar brought together a range of participants with whom prominent speakers have shared their insights on 9/11 events, conceptual underpinnings of global terrorism, the responses by the USA, the international community and the lessons learned from the war on terror. It was then followed by two parts of lively interactive sessions. As pointed out in the opening remarks by Ambassador Olusegun Akinsanya, this is an opportune moment to recall what had happened and to appraise the present through the lenses of the past as we are still living in a world of uncertainties because of the various terrorist groups operating both within and outside Africa. The recent terrorist attack by Boko Haram in Abuja also evinces the highest level of uncertainty we continue to live in.


Mr. Matt Woods (Second Secretary, United Kingdom Embassy, Addis Ababa) making the first presentation on UK`s counter-terrorism response

The first presentation was made by Mr. Matt Woods from the British Embassy (Second Secretary, Addis Ababa) with a title, ‘UK`s counter-terrorism response in the Horn of Africa.` Mr. Woods raised two well-framed issues that inspired discussions during the interactive sessions.  , . The first relates to the strategic challenges that the government of the United Kingdom is facing ten years on after the 9/11 event. And, the second topic that his presentation has alluded to was the responses of the United Kingdom with a specific emphasis on the Horn of Africa.

The UK has continued to face various terrorist attacks both within and outside its borders. And, Mr. Woods recalled the 7/11 event in Kampala, Uganda, and the July 2005 London Underground bombings that resulted in a number of deaths and damages to property. He therefore emphasised the scale of the challenge which remains high to the present day. Those challenges notwithstanding, there are also a number of reasons that would provide grounds for optimism.

Firstly, Al Qaeda is significantly weakened now than ever because of the killings of its most prominent leaders, including Osama Bin Laden. And the amount of time it is taking for the terrorist group to obtain a substitute leader is also revealing the difficulty that the group is facing to effectively function. The second ground for optimism is the Arab Spring as the terrorist group`s narrative does not sit well in these turn of events. Finally and most importantly, Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups have utterly failed to deliver to the public anything but death. It must be disturbing for Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups when one looks at the highest rate of death tolls coming from Muslim majority countries. The presenter has therefore emphasised the fact that though the threat we face are still real, acting collectively, it can be met with success.

Looking at the responses of the UK government, Mr. Woods reiterated the fact that most of the threats that his government is facing emanate from terrorist networks that exist outside the UK such as in Yemen and Somalia, and from individuals who have British nationality as well as those whose nationality has been stripped off. The UK`s Counter-terrorism strategy is well detailed in a publicly available document published in 2009.. Responding to threats of terrorism has also its own challenges emanating from its global nature, the required efficiency, transparency, and flexibility in targeting the terrorists. Generally, as the threats are international, the responses should also be international.

The four ‘P`s approach is adopted by the UK government in that actions are directed towards Prevention of terrorist acts from materialising, Pursuing the terrorists to bring them to justice and Protecting the UK`s interest both within and abroad. As the 2012 Olympic event is fast approaching, the security is put on high alert as the event will certainly attract the attention of terrorist groups.

When it comes to the Horn of Africa, the UK government is exerting its efforts to address the underlying causes for extremism which primarily relate to exclusion and marginalisation. Therefore, tackling poverty and inequality is considered relevant to prevent elements of extremism. Capacity building is also being carried out as part of the overall counter-terrorism strategy of the UK government in the Horn of Africa.

The second presentation, entitled ‘Lessons of 9/11: How to Best Fight Terrorism`, was made by Ms. Anneli Botha, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Security Studies from the Pretoria Office. This is meant to appraise the decade old event not to criticise on what went wrong, rather to draw lessons for the future on what to do and what not to do in our counter-terrorism efforts thereby avoid similar mistakes from happening.

The primary lesson that the presenter singled out is the need to know the enemy as knowing the enemy enables us to properly frame our strategy. The United States went on war following the 9/11 attack with Afghanistan and then Iraq. Terrorism, as Ms. Botha reiterated, is a violent way of communication and it was apparently the US` military and economic might that has created the discontent. As recently reported by Al Jazeera, Al Qaeda wanted to demonstrate Huntington`s ‘Clash of Civilisations` by attacking the most powerful nation of the world and entrenching the sense of ‘us` against ‘them.`  The US on its part opted for a military strategy as a response and by doing that it was presumed to have taken Al Qaeda as a combatant/soldier rather than a criminal group.

Moreover, because of the heavy reliance on technology, information overload is making it increasingly difficult to know the enemy. It is true that Al Qaeda has evolved significantly from its organizational dynamics of the 1990s. But because of the overload in information we are made to regard anybody to be a potential enemy and according to the presenter, that would amount to shooting oneself on the foot. Therefore, it is an important lesson that we continue to revisit our methods as we are insisting on using an old method for a new enemy.

Ms. Botha has drawn emphasis on the fact that all actions have consequences just like a chase game. Even if terrorism is an international threat, responses are not similarly globalised because as there are countries doing too much, there are others which are doing too little. The presenter referred to her own home country South Africa that is not doing as expected and the recent events in Abuja must provide an important lesson that terrorists could act anytime and anywhere. Thus, as doing too much would have its own consequences, not doing enough could also create a safe haven for terrorists to operate in those places.

Ms. Botha also highlighted on very important measures that need to be taken by way of responding to terrorism. Particularly, she raised the need to address the underlying causes for extremism as has been discussed by Mr. Woods in the first presentation. Moreover, she pointed out the undesirability of regarding terrorists as soldiers or combatants as in doing that we run the risk of considering their actions as justified. Therefore, the criminal justice system, rather than the military, must be placed at the forefront in national and international responses strategy to terrorism. 

The third and final presentation was made by Ambassador Samuel Assefa which was titled ‘Implications of 9/11 on Africa.` Ambassador recalled 9/11 by describing the dire price paid through the death of so many innocents as a result of those horrendous terrorist acts.  Security was regarded as a matter for states until we saw those events that brought freelancers to be able to create state insecurity of the greatest proportion. And 9/12 followed as a Declaration of War on Terror. A new posture of the United States emerged through the speech of President Bush who expressed the nation`s unilateralism approach in the fight against terror by saying ‘I have made up my mind` without any slight attempt to explain. This was, understandably, a misconception on the part of the United States in regarding the 9/11 event an attack just on the United States and not as a global threat. When the world later on realised that terrorists are everywhere and not just in Afghanistan or Iraq, the phrase ‘war on terror` has been changed to ‘Global War on Global Terror.`

When it comes to responding to terrorism there has always been a very disturbing truism on the link between authoritarianism and stability. Most of the Western powers regarded, for instance, Egypt as a stable state under a ‘durable authoritarianism`, and Mubarak drew large amount of support from those powerful states. This connection of authoritarianism with stability is at best unclear because we are proposing to trade off security with liberty. USA has had the Patriotism Act and other legislations that limit civil liberty and due process under the guise of the fight on terror. It is, however, relevant to regard democratic values as they are global goods rather than regarding some part of the world as change-resistant. When it comes to the African continent, Ambassador Samuel pointed out Africa is regarded as not only change-resistant but also inherently hostile to democratic values and cultures. That narrative is, however, being challenged by the fall of the so called ‘durable authoritarian` regime of Mubarak as well as the other Arab Springs.

And, 9/11 emerges for some as a historical turning point, next to the fall of the Berlin wall. It marks the end of an era for democratic hope and the beginning of the Huntington era, the era of ‘us` verses ‘them`, an era of distrust to the expectations of the moral unity of the community.  However, Ambassador Samuel criticizes this emphasis that is given to the event because to consider it as a historical turning point is to give too much credit to terrorism. That, he said, is exactly what Al Qaeda would want to remember by for its acts.

The presenter then provided crucial insight on how we need to frame our counter-terrorism measures within the context of protecting and preserving the system of liberty. He warned that to dream a terrorism free society is to dream a totalitarian society. This is because to live with liberty is to be able to take risks and the whole aim of counter-terrorism should be to plan on how to mitigate those risks. Therefore, protecting the system of liberty must be put at the forefront. The 9/11 and subsequent terrorist attacks represent an attack on this system of liberty and the responses must function within the broader objective of preserving this same system that has been threatened. Therefore, we cannot protect the system through imposing limits on liberty and due process values. 

Discussions and conclusions

The presentations were then followed by very lively interactive session in which various questions were raised from the participants. Apart from important interventions, participants asked whether or not the post 9/11 counter-terrorism measures were the super powers` exercise of might to which the presenters responded by saying that the measures were collective actions of the global community. It was said that as can be observed from the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, they were led and executed by coalition forces and not as unilateral military actions. It was also asked as to whether there could have been a better approach to the post 9/11 measures for achieving the much needed success in the fight against terrorism. In response, the panellists reiterated the nature of the threat which is dynamic in nature and how the responses must continue to evolve. Ultimately there is a need to acknowledge that responding to terrorism is a continuous process. And so long as there are marginalisation and other sources of discontent, this violent form of communication remains a threat.

Participants making interventions and asking questions

Concluding Remarks

As the 21st September is the United Nations declared day of peace, Dr. Mehari, in concluding the seminar, praised that there cannot be any better day to reflect on those decade old events of terrorist attacks, the responses taken and the way forward towards a more peaceful world. By now we have broadly conceptualised terrorism, peace and security. However, he said that there are a lot of questions to be further investigated and of paramount importance are the regional implications of terrorism and counter-terrorism. Furthermore, we need to interrogate our methods and how we measure the effectiveness of this global war on terror. In other words, the implications of securitisation of every public and private space in Africa and its relevance must be questioned. As we interrogate, there is a need to examine the negative and probably long-standing marks of the War on Terror  in creating the so called the ‘Black Hole` on international law due to  Guantanamo Bay which ended up in evading oversight by judicial bodies and ‘waterboarding` which amounts to torture.  He pointed out similar concerns could be raised with regard to our continent. While a comprehensive response to terrorism need to have three pronged strategic interventions. First, prevention of violent extremism by reducing the breeding grounds of terrorism and by denying extremist groups the followers they recruit from poor communities. This, Dr Mehari, pointed out can only achieved by striking the necessary balance between soft-security such as poverty eradication and education for all and hard security which is military measures. Moreover, by way of responding to the roots of extremism, it is important to bring socio-economic development to the agenda. Dr. Mehari mentioned that now it is much cheaper to buy the services of a Somali youth for bombing an area than it was a decade ago and it is revealing the worsening of the socio-economic marginalisation, and not its improvement.

The second strategic intervention is the protection of civilians by respecting and ensuring respect of human rights and humanitarian norms. Ultimately, he explained, the basis upon which a peaceful nation is built is on human rights protective regime. Third intervention is prosecution which takes into account both deterrence and retribution. He also explained that there are divergence among states on categorizing groups and individuals as terrorists.  He noted “as terrorism is a local act with global impact, measures have to be both local and global”. Thus, fight against terrorism requires capacity building at national and regional level and collaboration at global level.

Therefore, as much as this seminar has been fruitful in raising those topical issues for discussion, there is also a further need to investigate the communality and differences between various terrorist attacks and their specific regional manifestations. Finally, whether the current North Africa uprisings and change in governments further strengthen extremism or undermines it is an important issue that must put most of us on task. Dr Mehari finally praised that this seminar has generally been successful and to a large extent this is made possible by the active participation of those present, the excellent presentations of the panellists as well as the donors who has supported the ISS to undertake this and similar events.


Institute for Security Studies
Get House Building
Africa Avenue
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Mrs. Beakal Bisrat
Phone: (+251) 11 5156320
Fax (+251) 11 5156398
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