Terrorism ravaging Africa but can be defeated, France's Hollande says

Terrorism ravaging Africa but can be defeated, France's Hollande says
France's President Francois Hollande appealed to the U.N. General Assembly to launch a mission to finance and train African armies to defend themselves against terrorism of the type seen this week in a deadly siege at a Nairobi shopping mall. (Richard Drew / Associated Press)

The Islamic militant siege of a shopping mall in the Kenyan capital that has left scores dead demonstrates the grip of terrorism on Africa and the need for international action to defeat it, French President Francois Hollande told the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.

"Africa has fallen prey to terrorism and the barbaric attack in Nairobi confirms this," Hollande said, referring to the standoff between Kenyan troops and extremists of the Somali Shabab militia that began Saturday.


But as the French-led intervention to drive Muslim extremists out of Mali earlier this year showed, "victories are possible against terrorism," Hollande said.

France, fearing the militants plan to use impoverished African states as springboards for European terrorist attacks, launched airstrikes and sent in troops and armored vehicles in January to drive out the Al Qaeda-aligned gunmen.

Although numbering only a few hundred, the militants seized the northern half of Mali and imposed a harsh form of Islamic law, beating women who failed to veil themselves and smashing historic tombs, shrines and libraries as vestiges of idolatry and an offense to Islam.

The fundamentalist invaders fled the remote northern territory within weeks of the French intervention, but lingering extremists still carry out occasional suicide attacks on cities where the elected government in Bamako maintains only tenuous influence.

Hollande last year used his appearance at the General Assembly to call for concerted efforts to rescue Mali.

"Now, I would like to sound the alarm for the Central African Republic. It is a small country but one ravaged by coups d'etat and conflicts. Chaos has taken root, and the civilian populations are the victims of it," Hollande said.

He said France would convene an international conference by the end of the year to muster funding and expertise for training and equipping professional armies for vulnerable African states, so that they can ward off Mali-like invasions.

"We cannot leave them alone, faced with this terrorist threat," Hollande said in appealing to European and other countries to join his initiative to enhance Africa's defenses.

"Everywhere chaos reigns, terrorism takes root and grows," Hollande warned. "This is why the international community must assist African states to protect themselves."

The French intervention in Mali was backed by a contingent from the Economic Community of West African States, but the poorly armed troops from a region rife with instability and rebellion are not seen as capable of putting down extremist threats on their own.

"The best weapon we have is policies that support development," Hollande said, calling for a comprehensive approach to tackling Africa's security problems with parallel investment in renewable energy, healthcare and infrastructure for a continent still suffering the legacy of European colonization.

From the U.N. rostrum, Hollande congratulated Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on his electoral victory in July, pointing to the recently liberated country's new leader as a symbol of what can be done when the world's democracies unite against extremism.



Twitter: @cjwilliamslat