Mudiaga Erhueh.

The aftermath of the terrorist attacks in France during the first week of 2015, in which seventeen people were killed introduced a new dimension to the fight against terrorism. As a result of the attacks, Paris was arguably the most powerful site to be on 11 January 2015, because around forty-four world leaders were in the same place, at the same time, for the same cause –  to peacefully say ‘no’ to terrorism. Even the French President is reported to have stated that, Paris is today the capital of the world.”

This response to the attacks with solidarity received different reactions. On one end of the spectrum, it was seen as a strong signal to all terrorists that Europe (not just France) will not give in to terrorism. On the other extreme was negative criticism to the effect that it took only seventeen innocent people to be killed in three days for world leaders to rise up against terrorism, whereas thousands of people have been killed by terrorists in different parts of Africa (especially Nigeria), yet no action.

Considering the economic, political and legal dynamics of the European Union (EU), this apparently subtle approach to tackle terrorism can be likened to a business strategy that is aimed at crushing a competitor. This article summarily analyses the solidarity response to fight terrorism by drawing an analogy from the world of business, which sheds light on the potential emergence of a new approach to tackle terrorism. It concludes with recommendations and lessons for the African continent to fight terrorism collectively.

The business analogy[1] (This assumes the absence of anti-trust laws)

In the market for cola soda drinks, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are arguably the ‘giants’ and would not shy away from crushing a competitor to their beverages. Even within their individual structures, they consciously make efforts internally to ensure that neither of their other drinks (e.g. Fanta Orange or 7-Up) rivals or overtakes their golden egg – Coke/Pepsi. Thus, it is no surprise that whenever a competitor (especially a new entrant) comes into the market, they take the necessary steps to frustrate and possibly swallow the competitor- even if it means working together e.g. by colluding.

The reason major players fight competition is generally because competitors introduce a new dynamic into the arena. Competitors have the potential to reduce existing players’ customer base, cause disruptions in strategies and ultimately make a business go bust. Central to the idea of competition is threat to profitability. Thus, generally, established businesses fight competition mainly to protect their profit margins.

Application of the analogy

Applying the above analogy, terrorists can be likened to competitors against national governments. Whereas businesses are interested in profitability, in this context, the interest of governments is stability i.e. political and economic stability as well as peace. Terrorist (as competitors) introduce a state of terror within a nation, which potentially disrupts the polity and economy leading to unattractiveness of the country to investors, poor economic productivity, chaos, etc.

Whereas some major players within a market might be able to co-exist with competitors not seen as threatening enough to their profitability, some major players are ruthless and obliterate any threat of competition. Every nation suffering the effects of terrorism has one goal – total obliteration; not co-existence.

The lessons to be learnt from the Paris attacks and the response in solidarity

With the above analogy in mind and an analysis of the response by world leaders to the Paris attacks, three important concepts can be distilled.

  1. Government as a business

In the sense that a threat by a new competitor to Pepsi is also a threat to Coke, a threat to an EU country is arguably a threat to others within the Union. The EU has shared borders[2], shared currency and a wholesome economy. Although there are different countries, a terrorist threat to one could potentially affect the others – the presence of one terrorist in Paris means that terrorist can easily move to Italy; also, one or several attacks could affect investments within the EU and could therefore affect the Euro and the overall economy of the EU. As such, any threat to stability (profitability in the business context) within the EU will not be taken lightly.

To trample competitors, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are likely to frustrate the competitor through advertisements, marketing or vertical integration. A monopoly, for instance, would most likely crush the competition. With regard to governments and terrorism, the monopolist’s strategy is the most effective.

Of all the leaders at the protest[3], six were leaders of the largest European economies, four of which are on the top ten world’s largest economies. Further, the top five European countries ranked by military power were represented at the protest. Considering the economic and political implications of ignoring terrorism within the Union, it is no surprise that the wealthiest and strongest nations within the EU came together to send a subtle, yet strong message that terrorism will not be tolerated.

  1. The importance of strong ties

Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are each other’s strongest competitor, but where there is a potential threat to either of them, they are likely to come together for a common goal – sustenance of their profits, for example, through collusion.[4] Although strictly speaking, countries do not compete with each other, there are subtle traits of competition.[5] For the purpose of this discussion, it suffices to state that where there is a common goal, differences in policies/cultures/legal systems should be shoved aside- the benefits of relationships are to be unearthed. For example, whereas France seems to be a nation where freedom of expression is most respected, countries with poor enforcement records and regard for the same right were present at the protest. Christian, Jewish and Muslim nations were also represented. This response in solidarity would not have been possible if these different nations had not forged strong ties before the attacks; especially considering the short notice the respective leaders had in respect of the protest.

  1. There is a communal view of terrorism

As stated above, a competitor to Coke is also a competitor to Pepsi, regardless of their individual interests. If PepsiCo ignores a competitor in the myopic belief that that is Coca-Cola’s problem, Pepsi is likely to be hit from an angle it never saw coming and the likelihood of recovery could be shaky.[6] In this vein, the protest was not about an attack on “France” alone. Whereas the Paris attacks triggered the response, the response was only achievable because the respective leaders saw the need to come together in unison to take a stand. It was seen as a potential problem for “us” (i.e. EU countries) and their friends came to show support. This point is buttressed by the fact that the Italian Prime Minister is reported to have said that the fight against terrorism will be won by a Europe that is political, not just economic.

The way forward

In the light of the above, it can fairly be said that a new way to fight terrorism seems to have emerged from the response to the Paris attacks- treating terrorism like competition to stability. To use this approach, however, basic structures and relationships have to be built and sustained. Although regional international organisations exist in Africa such as the African Union (AU) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), it does not appear that these economic and political ties have been strengthened practically and realistically.

For example, ECOWAS is at a high risk of being affected by Boko Haram, considering that there is just one border around the ECOWAS countries as a result of the free movement of persons between ECOWAS borders. But there seems to be no solidarity response to Nigeria’s situation because other member states (besides Niger) seem to see it as their (Nigeria’s) problem.

If real economic, political and diplomatic bonds exist, a response in solidarity may go a long way. This response will not be one just for showmanship, but one backed by potential action if the need arises. Thus, the importance of building strategic relationships and alliances cannot be over-emphasised. Terrorism by whatever means is war. Hence, it can fairly be said that if further attacks happen in France, there is a very strong chance that the other nations will intervene and show their might if France needs the support. But can this be said for Africa?

There is no guarantee that the peaceful protest will stop terrorists, but the response is arguably strong enough to deter future attacks on France or any European country. Even the response by the other leaders that are non-European indirectly reinforces the point that they are allies and are likely to receive the same support if a similar threat is perceived or experienced on their end.

Not all competitors are easily deterred or obliterated. Some survive. But in the case of countries, there must be political will (evidenced by the killing of those who carried out the attacks in Paris) on the end of the government directly affected, as well as a show of support and cooperation from its “friends” (e.g. the response by African leaders to the unrest in Burkina Faso). After all, what is the point of having allies if they cannot fulfil their worth as allies when the need arises?

The first step to this new approach is to acknowledge that there is a problem, then take collective action to send a clear message. If the desired result is not achieved, then diplomatic and political friendships will be put to test.

[1] This analogy is for illustration purposes only. So this discussion takes an over simplistic approach to the concept of competition, taking the intricacies, nuances and theories of competition for granted.

[2] This is made more prominent by the Schengen Agreement.

[3] Not including representatives of leaders e.g. the United States of America.

[4] Although, this is likely to be illegal in countries with strong competition policies.

[5] A detailed analysis of which, is beyond the scope of this discussion.

[6] This is a lesson Nokia had to learn from the disruptions caused by the entry of Apple and RIM (Blackberry manufacturer) into the mobile phone market, as it appeared that Samsung seemed to be the only company trying to fight the threat posed by Apple. Nokia is practically fighting for survival.