African leaders meet in Equatorial Guinea today after a deadly bombing in Nigeria’s capital yesterday and attacks in Kenya this month highlighted the growing threat posed by Islamist militants in the region.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, South African President Jacob Zuma and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi will join dozens of other heads of state at an African Union summit in the capital, Malabo. While “Agriculture and Food Security” is the official theme of the meeting, the increasing violence will probably dominate talks.
“Radicalization, counterterrorism and security would be the things they will talk about, considering what’s happening with Nigeria and what’s happened recently in Kenya,” Alex Vines, head of the Africa Program at Chatham House in London, said by phone. “The situation in the Sahel remains important as well,” he said, referring to militants in the desert region of West Africa.
The militant group Boko Haram has wiped out entire villages and killed hundreds of people this year in northern Nigeria, the continent’s biggest oil producer. Al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda-linked Somali militia, killed more than 67 people in an attack on a mall in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, in September and claimed responsibility for more shootings at the East African nation’s coast last week in which at least 60 people died.
Boko Haram, which means “western education is a sin,” sparked international outrage in April when it abducted more than 200 schoolgirls in northeastern Nigeria and threatened to force them into marriage or sell them on markets. The U.S., the U.K. and France have offered technology and advisers to help find the girls.
The attacks in Kenya have led foreign countries to issue advisories against traveling there, denting the country’s tourism industry. President Uhuru Kenyatta said the violence this month was organized by local politicians and ruled out a terrorist attack, even after al-Shabaab said they were responsible.
African leaders already met in Paris, Pretoria and Accra, Ghana this year to discuss a strategy to combat militant groups on the continent. Kenyan Foreign Secretary Amina Mohamed on June 24 called for joint action by African nations, including increased sharing of intelligence and measures to curb the supply of weapons, to combat militants.
“It is not enough to just condemn without following it with actions aimed at stemming terrorism wherever it may be found,” Mohamed said. “A lot more commitment is needed especially resources to fight it.”
Today’s summit will be the first for Egypt’s president and Guinea Bissau’s leader, Jose Mario Vaz. Egypt was suspended in July after the military removed former President Mohamed Mursi. Vaz was elected earlier this month.
Equatoguinean President Teodoro Nguema Obiang, who has been in power since 1979 and is Africa’s longest-serving leader, first hosted the summit in 2011, when AU leaders called for an end to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s bombing campaign in Libya. The AU preferred to negotiate a transition with supporters of former leader Muammar Qaddafi, which was rebuffed by the U.S. and Britain.
“The failure to provide a united front and practical means to stabilize Libya in the post-Qaddafi era was a lost opportunity for the AU to gain credibility in Africa and on the global stage,” Charles Laurie, head of Africa research at Bath, England-based risk consultancy Maplecroft, said in e-mailed response to questions.
An influx of weapons and war-hardened fighters from Libya after Qaddafi’s death in 2012 fueled a rebel invasion in Mali that was halted by French air strikes last year.
The AU summit will be held in a 580 million-euro ($791 million) resort built for the 2011 summit that can be reached by a six-lane highway that bypasses Malabo. Advocacy groups including Human Rights Watch have accused Obiang of enriching the ruling elite, while neglecting the population of 700,000.