Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director



Aswan Forum II session: Terrorism in the Shadow of the Pandemic

 1 March 2021


Ladies and gentlemen, 

It is my honour to be here today to participate in the second Aswan Forum, which is quickly evolving into a valuable platform to discuss and promote peace, security and development in and for Africa. 

The pandemic continues to cast a heavy shadow over our world, and our aspirations for peace and prosperity in Africa and beyond.

Our prospects of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals are in very real danger in this Decade of Action. 

The era of COVID-19 has brought forth new challenges, and compounded existing ones. It will require more than business as usual to rise up and meet them.

Under the dark cloud of the pandemic, terrorism has found a haven to survive, and in some cases, thrive. Heightened vulnerabilities, as well as new tools and technologies, are being exploited by this familiar enemy.  

Physical terrorist attacks have continued to take place, while the Internet is being used to spread violent narratives, and recruit and incite others to commit terrorist attacks.

The danger of new and emerging forms of terrorism looms larger than ever, as we find ourselves at greater risk of bioterrorism and cyberattacks against critical infrastructure. 

The terrorist threat has been further inflamed through linkages with organized crime, as recognized by the UN Security Council.

Terrorists benefit from cooperation with organized crime, including through financial support, as well as provision of weapons, training, and safe havens.  

Corruption further facilitates terrorist financing, and endemic corruption leaves countries more vulnerable to terrorism.

Africa’s wealth is being drained away through illicit financial flows, even as the poor and the marginalized are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis. 

The global pandemic has had a debilitating economic and social impact, and Africa has been hit hardest. Poverty rates continue to climb far beyond the acceptable, with the pandemic threatening to push 40 million more Africans into extreme poverty.

Children are deprived of their right to learn, with over 200 million affected by school closures. Women and girls face greater obstacles to livelihood and heightened risks of violence and exploitation.  

Growing disparities and desperate conditions leave victims exposed and give rise to the fears and frustrations that help terrorists to increase their numbers, especially among youth. Such conducive conditions enable terrorists to inflict still more suffering, leaving still more people at risk.

In this way, the vicious cycle of terrorism, organized crime, corruption, poverty and inequality sustains and perpetuates itself.  

In this hour of need, we cannot let COVID-19 divert attention and resources away from Africa and the fight against terrorism.

A UN Security Council high-level debate on cooperation between the UN and the African Union last December called for greater support to Africa to combat terrorism. To do this effectively, we need to promote comprehensive development interventions coupled with robust law enforcement action to identify and disrupt links between terrorist networks and transnational organized crime. 

At the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, we are firmly committed to integrated, agile, and adaptive responses to assist African Member States in their fight against terrorism at this critical time.

Building on UNODC’s broad mandates dealing with organized crime, terrorism, drugs and corruption, we provide comprehensive support to strengthen Member State responses across the criminal justice chain. 

We have taken a proactive approach to overcome the limitations imposed by the pandemic. From our headquarters in Vienna and network of field offices in the region, we continue to deliver technical assistance and reinforce the capacities of national practitioners and law enforcement officers in combating and preventing terrorism.

UNODC trained over 2,000 criminal justice and law enforcement officials online during the pandemic – 720 of whom via our online Counter-Terrorism Learning Platform.

In the Sahel and North Africa, UNODC used this platform to deliver a project on countering the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes in 10 countries.

In Burkina Faso, a country that has seen an acute increase in terrorism since the start of the pandemic, UNODC has supported the development of a national strategy on anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism. Moreover, we will soon be launching a project to strengthen national capacities in collecting information from the battlefield to be used as evidence in courts. 

UNODC also supported Morocco in establishing a national task force to enhance efficient inter-agency coordination mechanisms and effective operational cooperation to counter terrorism financing.

The first line of defence against terrorism are systems that do not discriminate or marginalize. As we enhance counter-terrorism capacities, it is equally important to safeguard the rule of law. With this in mind, UNODC continues to provide legal and criminal justice assistance, to promote strong, fair, and accountable law enforcement and criminal justice systems.  

We also work with countries to improve prison management, which can help to prevent radicalization to violence, and to support effective offender reintegration.

UNODC developed the first UN comprehensive technical guide on the management of violent extremist prisoners and the prevention of radicalization to violence in prisons. More than 20 Member States in different regions are currently benefiting from UNODC projects and services supporting efforts to implement this guidance.  

In Tunisia, UNODC has focused on training for frontline prison staff, including on conducting a security risk assessment. In Uganda, UNODC has supported the development of an effective intelligence-sharing structure.

Collaborative and intelligence-led criminal-justice responses are crucial, as no one country or institution alone can effectively address terrorism and organized crime.  

To this end, UNODC programmatically supports the efforts of African Union Member States to strengthen border management through regional programmes and foster cross-border criminal justice cooperation through regional prosecution networks.

Moreover, UNODC helped to establish the Multi-Agency Task Force for the MENA region, which serves as a platform for the exchange of information on terrorism cases among law enforcement and judicial focal points. By way of this Task Force, a terrorist attack was intercepted, while a terrorist suspect was successfully extradited. 

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

As we enable countries and criminal justice institutions to cooperate to develop integrated strategies and responses to terrorism, crime and related threats, we must also make prevention a priority and advance holistic approaches promoting peace, development, and human rights.  

Individuals and communities must be empowered against terrorism and the various forms of crime and corruption that enable it. Solutions must involve all stakeholders, including the private sector and civil society, working in partnership.

People are at the heart of any effective response. This is the philosophy that must guide our efforts to prevent and combat terrorism. It is also the approach that defines UNODC’s new Strategic Vision for Africa 2030, which we launched just last week.  

The Strategic Vision is an evolution of our integrated support to Africa, adapted to the evolving needs of countries, including those resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

We aim to promote security, prosperity, and health, to preserve the wealth of the continent, and enshrine integrity and accountability.  

One of the key investment areas of our Vision is to secure Africa’s people from organized crime, terrorism and violence.

We will strive to ensure that those most vulnerable are better protected against these threats. We will pay special attention to children, women and youth, who too often find themselves victims of sexual violence and exploitation.  

As Africa seeks to benefit from the opportunities provided by new technologies, we will also work with African institutions to protect people from the threats posed by those same technologies, including cybercrime and online exploitation.


The shadow of the pandemic has enabled terrorists to regroup in Africa under the cover of its darkness. The crisis has exposed vulnerabilities that we cannot afford to ignore.

The key to victory against terrorism, crime, and corruption is to understand that they grow together, fed by inequalities, fragility, and instability. We must ensure that there is no ground for them to take root in our societies and institutions. 

Sustainability is at the core of the SDGs, as it is the focus of this Aswan Forum. It must be our priority as we build forward from COVID-19.

We must seize the opportunity to foster societies resilient to threats, including terrorism, and to get back on track to achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union’s Agenda 2063. 

Thank you, and I look forward to our discussion.