Leaders of West African nations discussed the setting up of a joint force to combat extremists in the region, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said Saturday. The heads of about a dozen states were meeting in Dakar, Senegal for the 49th session of the regional economic body.
“We must constantly reconcile the free movement of people and goods with security measures,” Marcel Alain de Souza of Benin, the new president of the body, said at the opening, according to the Associated Press. “The multiplication of the number of zones of terrorism in our space obliges us to share information on all activities and to coordinate and mobilize our resources.”
The decision to send a technical mission to Gambia ahead of the country’s impending December elections was also taken at the meeting. Gambia has been criticized for its recent brutal crackdown on rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. In the light of these events, the body called for a free and fair vote, and dialogue with the opposition.
The region faces an increased threat of extremism due to the presence of local terrorist outfits and major attacks by al Qaeda-linked militants in Mali, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast.
The Nigeria-based Boko Haram, which has declared its support for the Islamic State group, has also wrecked havoc in Cameroon, Niger and Chad with a wave of bombings, assassinations and abductions. The group’s ideology states that it is “haram,” or forbidden for Muslims to associate with the West and it is fighting to overthrow the current government and set up an Islamic state.
At least 30 soldiers from Niger and two from Nigeria were killed Friday in a Boko Haram attack on Niger's border with Nigeria. The Niger defense ministry reportedly said that at least 67 were wounded.
In six years, extremism promoted by the outfit has left at least 20,000 people dead while over 2.6 million have been left homeless. Boko Haram killed more people than ISIS, according to the Global Terrorism Index 2015.
The outgoing chairman of the ECOWAS, Senegalese President Macky Sall, called for resources to be combined to successfully tackle the problem of extremism. Nobel Peace Prize winner and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was chosen to replace Sall at Saturday’s meeting.