Let’s talk about terrorist attack in Grand Bassam, Côte d’Ivoire for a second. Specifically,what Ghana and other African countries should learn or do.
For those who don’t know, 16 people died yesterday while at Grand Bassam in Côte d’Ivoire. It’s a popular resort beach a few hours from the capital Abidjan.
In Ghana, Grand Bassam could easily be Ada or Labadi beach. In Dakar, it could be Goree Island or any of the many popular beaches.
But none of this is new. Same script, different cast. The terrorists (Al-Qaeda group in this case) have stayed consistent with their current strategy.
What’s the strategy?
To attack expat/tourist sites – hotels, resorts, malls. They did so in Burkina Faso and Mali, previously in Tunisia and Kenya, now Côte d’Ivoire.
The strategy might be slightly different in each country (location for instance), but the motive is largely the same: to draw/gain attention, press, primarily for political grievances.
Why expat/tourist sites?
Terrorists seek out international press – not local. Hitting such sites means more countries are involved.
For example, Côte d’Ivoire attack victims apparently include nationals of: Germany, France, Cameroon, Mali Burkina Faso.
One attack, 6 countries already affected (not counting the injured).
Essentially terrorists are becoming increasingly strategic with their attacks. One attack affects thousands directly especially when more countries are involved.
Local and international media carry those stories. So their objective of press coverage, spreading fear and panic is easily achieved with this strategy.
Another element is that the terrorists seem to ride off of existing press. Burkina Faso recently had a civilian uprising prior to attack. Mali has been in the news since Gaddafi demise, with a lot of coverage regarding its UN heritage sites. And Côte d’Ivoire’s been getting lots of positive press especially since October 2015 presidential election. The country recently overtook Nigeria as preferred investment destination in the sub-region.
So – if the trends are clear,motives generally consistent…what are African governments doing to prevent/combat/prepare for attacks? The terrorists are being strategic – and to a degree coordinated – how are we doing the same?
When the last Paris attack happened, the UK started disseminating information on what to do if in midst of terror attack. The UK information was not just to security outfits, but also to CIVILIANS.
West Africa has had 3 terrorist attacks recently (not counting Nigeria). I don’t know about you, but in Ghana, beyond news headlines & short lived security discussions, I’ve seen no concrete info after or on attacks, much more what to do in the event of one.
What are we doing? How do we evacuate hotels/places of work if an attack happens. Exit routes out of Accra city? A national or regional early warning system or strategy for terrorism prone sites like hotels, resorts, etc? A plan maybe?
Belgium and France coordinated closely after the last attack and other EU nations were on high alert and restricted travel. Do we have similar in the subregion?
The United States probably has the most comprehensive security intelligence in West Africa – any intelligence sharing deals with African governments?
At the end of the day, information, vigilance & preparedness is what will save lives.Burkina Faso & Côte d’Ivoite are Ghana neighbors – in case you haven’t noticed, it’s inching closer. Too close. Senegal is another country which should be on high alert.
Ghana has many expat spots, tourist sites, a very diverse international community. Also has marginalized communities terrorists can prey on or recruit (yes, regardless of our “peace” which we herald so much. Life is not rosy for everyone).
What can be done? I won’t even go far:
What is the word for “terrorist” in Twi? Ewe? Dagbani? Dante? Ga? Etc?
Does the average Ghanaian know that “Al-Qaeda” is not just a popular dance but actually represents something terrifying and dangerous? Will they break out in dance when someone shouts “Al-Qaeda” or will they make a break for it and run?
Have Ghanaians followed the other terrorist attacks closely – or been informed enough – to understand key elements? Like the fact that shouting/praying “in Jesus name” might not be best when confronted as the terrorists have taken to targeting Christians in many attacks?
Will people, kids especially, know to run AWAY from sound of gunfire — or will they think it’s leftover knockouts from Christmas?
The point of this post is this:
– The danger is not as far away as we think
– We are nowhere as prepared as we shd be
– Getting attacked has little to do with internal peace or relations between religious groups (as a 2012 presidential candidate alluded to when I asked him a question about regional security).
That said, there are things we can begin doing. Like sensitizing people, coming up with local language to describe terror events, warn people, etc.
We can also take regional events like Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Burkina Faso attacks seriously – not simply “pray for X” events.
We also need to separate protocol from convenience.Like why are there so many motorcades – civilian and military – these days?
When a real emergency happens – how will we know the difference?Terror spreads fast when there is lack of information and order.
Each attack that happens elsewhere shouldn’t just be an occasion to “thank God, it’s not us. It should also be a “what would we do if”. Simulation and strategizing around different scenarios is key.
We’re in an election year – the lens of the international press will turn to us, we already have a large expat community.
How prepared is Ghana? What will we do – not just for expats – but also for those of us we won’t be evacuated at all cost?