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SADC PF President speaks on terrorism and prevention of violent extremism

Honorable Roger Mancienne, the President of the SADC Parliamentary Forum, and Speaker of the National Assembly of Seychelles. Photo : Moses Magadza

The SADC Parliamentary Forum is one of 18 regional assemblies globally that come together annually under the coordination mechanism on counter terrorism and prevention of violent extremism. The speaker of the National Assembly of Seychelles, Honorable Roger Mancienne (RM), is the President of the SADC Parliamentary Forum. He led the SADC PF delegation to the Fifth Counter-Terrorism Coordination Meeting of Parliamentary Assemblies in Istanbul, Türkiye in May. In this exclusive interview with SADC PF Media and Communications Officer Dr. Moses Magadza (MM), Hon Mancienne shares his views on attending this meeting as well as on the role of Parliament in responding to terrorism.

MM: Honorable Speaker Mancienne, thank you for being available for this interview. A recurring issue during this meeting was a future without terrorism. How optimistic are you?

RM: Optimistic but realistic. It’s a big challenge. We are facing many factors that are beyond anyone’s control, but we must do what we can.

An essential goal must be to reduce the impact of terrorism which begins with stopping it spreading. These are goals we can envisage if we address them. Terrorism is preying on the disadvantaged, on poverty and poor governance. These two things are long established priorities on which little progress has been made. There have been more setbacks and regression than progress. Yet we should be able to do better.

MM: In what way was it important for the SADC PF to participate in this meeting?

RM: It is a global issue, and we cannot ignore or stay away from it. We are part of the international community, and this is an issue that reaches us all. Our members need protection. Some SADC countries are directly threatened although not as much as other regions. The thing to remember is that if we do not stop it, it will spread. Countries which arerelatively free of it today will face it tomorrow. It is like a disease. When one part of the body is attacked, the whole body is in danger. We must look into the future to see how it can get to us and do what we can to prevent that. That also means helping others to deal with it.

MM: During the meeting you said that a future without terrorism requires collaboration in ending poverty, strengthening democracy as well as bilateral and multilateral relations. What role do you envisage national parliaments playing in this regard?

RM: Parliaments have a critical role on all these issues. They go to the very core of our mission. Healthy parliamentarianism strengthens and preserves good governance. Combating corruption, which is the foundation of good governance, is a key role of parliaments. Likewise, all other aspects involved such as fair representation, fair distribution of resources and inclusivity, especially along ethnic lines where this is significant. Parliaments are a vital part of representative democracy and must address such critical issues according to their powers and functions.

MM: What, in your view, are the major triggers of terrorism, violent extremism and radicalization?

RM: I have mentioned earlier that the fertile ground is poverty, failure of governance and marginalization. But we know that religious extremism is the most potent driving force. We know this from the situations that have arisen in Africa and elsewhere. Religious forces are of course intertwined with racial and ethnic divisions. It is a complex mixture which is exploited by ambition for power. There is of course terrorism that may not be related to religion but more to nationalist or ethnic affiliation. At one extreme terrorism may be linked to injustice or persecution. We must recognize these for what they are.

MM: What role can national parliaments play in preventing radicalization of the region’s youthful population and in preventing terrorism and violent extremism?

RM: Regarding youth, the most obvious factors to address are education and economic opportunity. National parliaments have to pursue their responsibilities in keeping these at the top of national priorities. Every little bit of national resources that can be devoted to these areas is vital.

There is never enough to meet all the needs but let us at least make sure that they get their fair share. All aspects of development count of course.

Whatever can improve lives and livelihoods will help. What keeps us worried is that we may not be keeping pace with needs.

MM: You observed during the meeting that the SADC region has not experienced large-scale terrorism. Regardless, there are pockets of instability in parts of the SADC region, including parts of Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo. What can national parliaments do more at regional level to prevent escalation?

RM: Where they occur, instances of radicalism and extremism must be addressed from a local and national perspective. For sure all situations will be different in some ways although there will also be common elements. There are also connections to regional and global situations.

Radicalism and extremism do not recognize national boundaries. They are exported and imported. At regional level, parliaments must see what factors are close to our countries and muster resources to address common threats and to assist each other.

MM: Women, children, the elderly, and people living with disability are often the hardest hit segments of the population by terrorism wherever it obtains. How can parliaments best protect them?

RM: Yes, these are vulnerable groups, and least able to put up the defenses that are required. Parliaments are the best-placed to ensure inclusivity, which will help protect these groups. They all feature in one national priority or another, education, employment, social services, and so on. Parliaments can see that programs in these areas of need work and reach reasonable targets. The better the government works, the better we protect groups.

MM: The SADC PF is set to sign a memorandum of understanding on counter terrorism with the United Nations Office on counterterrorism.

How does SADC region stand to benefit from this collaboration?

RM: The United Nations is still the best placed institution to ensure a global and collectively beneficial response to such problems. SADC PF must link up with the global effort. It is about coordinating action and making sure that we take care of our region the best way we can.

MM: It has been said that there is no agreement on what constitutes terrorism. What does this do to the global response to terrorism?

RM: Well, we must recognize that one man’s terrorist may be another man’s hero. We can disagree about the causes and about the motivation.

There are dividing lines in all societies and in between societies. Terrorist groups fall outside the reach of established governments. Often there is no established government that reaches the areas where terrorism has a base and from which they can reach into the social structure. Unfortunately, there is little cooperation on a global level and the areas that are most affected are without the means to find solutions.

Development programs that could address the causes have not been enough or not successful.

MM: The second and last day of this meeting saw delegates engage in a policy dialogue on religious artifacts. How relevant was this for the SADC region and what role can SADC PF play in protecting religious sites and artifacts?

RM: Yes, this issue is relevant to the SADC region. The same elements which relate to extremist activity occur in our countries as in others. One

country might be less prone to threat than others, but the factors are there. Social change is constant in all our countries and if a situation is

under control today, it may not be so tomorrow. So, it is important to have the necessary measures in place, legal or operational, to safeguard

against the threats. It is good for our region to set the benchmarks for necessary measures, and this is what the conference was about.

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