Jeremy Hunt has warned of the growing threat posed by terrorist organisations in sub-Saharan Africa as he suggested the UK’s military involvement in the region could be increased.
The Foreign Secretary, speaking as he visited Maiduguri in the north east of Nigeria as part of a week-long trip to Africa, said the rise of the Islamic State terror group in West Africa had all the hallmarks of something which, if not “nipped in the bud”, could get “a lot worse”.
But he said it feels like the sort of situation that could be dealt with if there was “decisive action” by the government of Nigeria with the “appropriate international support”.
Boko Haram and the Islamic State in west Africa have terrorised the region for several years, but their activities came to the world’s attention when hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped in 2014.
Asked if he supported an increase in military action in the region to keep the threat at bay, Mr Hunt told reporters: “I think the crucial deciding factor is the willingness and enthusiasm of the Nigerian government and the Nigerian army to work closely with us – we would like to support and help them but they are a sovereign nation and able to want our help.
“I think our approach is potentially a very significant one because we could bring not just the British army but also Dfid (Department for International Development) and our experience in holistic solutions to these kind of situations.”
Mr Hunt added: “This is a region of Africa that is being massively destabilised by conflict, exacerbated by climate change, and as you’ve seen in East Africa with (Islamist terror group) al-Shabab and the attacks they’ve done in Nairobi these things can escalate quickly and they can get out of control.
“This is an outpost of Daesh (Islamic State), we know from Sri Lanka that they are looking to make their presence felt in different ways now that they’ve lost their territory, so if we’re going to be vigilant against terrorism then we’ve got to look very hard at what is happening here.”
The Foreign Secretary visited a World Food Programme distribution centre in the north east city on Wednesday morning and met with British military personnel stationed in the region who are working with the Nigerian army in the battle against Boko Haram.
He was due to travel to a refugee camp in Maiduguri to speak to people forced to flee their homes following terrorist attacks but it was cancelled because of heightened security concerns after two improved explosive devices (IEDs) exploded nearby.
The UK has trained more than 30,000 Nigerian troops in recent years as part of its package of security, humanitarian and development support in the African state.
Britain has invested more than £300 million in aid over five years to reach 1.5 million of the most vulnerable people in the country – with support addressing some of the root causes of the conflict.
Nothing makes you more proud than meeting @BritishArmy soldiers overseas. Today I met those working with the Nigerian military to help combat the terrorism of Boko Haram. If Africa’s most populated country is safer, so is the UK pic.twitter.com/xmdV23ntfw
— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) May 1, 2019
Mr Hunt also pledged £153 million for three major UK aid programmes to help millions of farmers across the African continent and South Asia adapt to the effects of climate change.
He spoke of the need to prevent the escalation of conflict and instability by tackling the root causes of climate change, and said Africa “cannot be left to manage this crisis alone”.
“That’s why the UK will lead efforts on climate resilience in the poorest and most vulnerable countries at this year’s UN Climate Summit, and has bid to host the vital COP26 in 2020,” he added.