In the past years, the threat of terrorism has significantly increased in Southern Africa with terrorist groups seeking to exploit vulnerabilities in the region. Challenges related to the movement of foreign terrorist fighters, terrorism financing and recruitment networks have further complicated matters and related efforts to contain the threat.
The Allied Democratic Forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a group in Mozambique have demonstrated their ability to travel, fund activities and carry out attacks. These groups have more than 1,800 fighters under their command and pose a significant threat to Southern Africa.
The activities of these groups have also recently affected the security of Malawi. As such, the country responded by scaling up efforts to prevent and counter terrorism and on 3 October 2023, launched its national counter-terrorism strategy. During the event, the Minister of Homeland Security, Hon. Dr. Ken Zikhale Ng’oma, stressed that “terrorist elements from the region, including Cabo Delgado, put Malawi at risk.”
He further underlined that “the strategy recognizes that our government cannot tackle this threat alone. Cooperation between national agencies and civil society are crucial in these efforts.” He also noted that prevention is more effective than a cure, and much more must be invested in these efforts. Furthermore, he highlighted that “the Ministry of Homeland Security shall work hand in hand with all agencies and civil society to implement this strategy” and thanked UNODC, the SADC Regional Counter Terrorism Centre and the ACSRT for their support.
This achievement follows two years of close partnership between the Government of Malawi, UNODC, the South African Development Community (SADC) and the African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism (ACSRT). The objective of this cooperation is to strengthen the capacity of Malawi at the policy, legislative and operational levels to effectively detect and prevent terrorist activity and to bring terrorists to justice.
This partnership has already produced results. In 2022, the Government of Malawi amended its penal code to introduce terrorist offenses for the first time.
In support of establishing a comprehensive, inclusive counter-terrorism strategy on preventing violent extremism (PVE), UNODC’s assistance included consultations on adopting whole-of-society approaches and on-going technical assistance provided by UNODC. The activities aimed to strengthen coordination and cooperation between national criminal justice and counter-terrorism practitioners, stakeholders, and civil society organizations to provide a more effective whole-of-government and whole-of-society response to terrorism through strengthened national frameworks and capacity in line with international counter-terrorism and human rights obligations, as well as normative standards.
During the first consultation meeting with civil society representatives in Blantyre, the Deputy Minister of Homeland Security Ms. Jean Muonaowauza Sendeza noted that “the Government of Malawi just recently arrested a Ugandan national on his way to Mangochi from South Africa. The man was found with a gun and an ISIS flag and investigations revealed that the man was on a mission to recruit and train youths in Mangochi on how to use the weapons” indicating evidence for existing violent extremist networks in the country.
UNODC’s support was provided through a second phase of assistance for the SADC region delivered under the framework of a United Nations Peace and Development Trust Fund (UNPDF) project. Backed by international partners, UNODC remains dedicated to sustaining its support for Malawi.