Regional intelligence chiefs meet in Mombasa to discuss collaboration

The conference runs from January 27 to 31.

In Summary
  • The officials are meeting to deliberate ways of strengthening cooperation and collaboration, address the shared challenges, and capitalize on the prospects for a peaceful and prosperous region.
  • Those in attendance are from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Somalia, Ethiopia, Burundi, Rwanda, Eritrea, Mozambique, Comoros, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Malawi, South Sudan, and Seychelles.
Regional intelligence chiefs meet in Mombasa to discuss collaboration
Regional intelligence chiefs meet in Mombasa to discuss collaboration

The Heads of Intelligence and Security Services from the Eastern Africa region are meeting Mombasa to discuss how they can enhance their cooperation for security and stability.

The officials are meeting to deliberate ways of strengthening cooperation and collaboration, address the shared challenges, and capitalize on the prospects for a peaceful and prosperous region.

Those in attendance are from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Somalia, Ethiopia, Burundi, Rwanda, Eritrea, Mozambique, Comoros, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Malawi, South Sudan, and Seychelles.

The conference runs from January 27 to 31 and is dubbed the “Mashariki Cooperation Conference”.

Officials said the objective of the conference is to deepen cooperation, enhance collaboration, and broaden coordination between the respective intelligence organizations in addressing common threats and harnessing available opportunities within the region.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua opened the conference and urged the participants to share assessments of the threats and opportunities that exist in the region and find ways to strengthen cooperation and collaboration to address shared challenges.

“While your mandate is mainly working at the national level, the changing landscape of security demands that we seek and enhance partnership networks beyond our borders,” he said.

“Indeed, Security is a National, Transnational and International issue that must be tackled with corresponding interventions.”

He said the meeting takes place when some countries in Eastern Africa face security challenges in armed internal conflicts and terrorism.

“This is besides transnational organised crimes including trafficking in humans, especially children, drugs, counterfeit goods, corruption and money laundering, and wildlife trophies, among others," the DP added.

"Armed conflicts are, among other issues, fueled by illegal trade in weapons across the borders.”

Gachagua said terrorism and religious extremism are taking root as radicalisation cells also grow and that as technology advances, crimes and other forms of insecurity have gone hi-tech and, therefore, more complicated.

“These and other security challenges threaten national development agendas for socio-economic transformation towards the Africa We Want, as outlined by Agenda 2063 of the African Union,” he said.

He said security concerns are a threat to Africa Rising, besides the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals, as envisaged under Agenda 2030.

He said insecurity if not strategically and decisively tackled, may derail the vision of transforming the lives of the people.

“As a region, we have all borne the brunt of insecurity when our neighbours are troubled.”

“Trouble anywhere in our region is trouble for everyone. That is why we must work together to address security threats,” he said.

He told the participants they have an opportunity to review gaps and trends in security matters from traditional spaces into Digital platforms, which have made crimes more complex.

Digital spaces, he added have become playgrounds for recruitment and Radicalisation, money laundering and trap points for homicides and other cybercrimes, sadly, as recently witnessed in Kenya.

This calls for strengthening of the capacity of officers in digital skills.

This is in addition to recruiting experts in specialised and emerging areas in technology, to be ahead of the game.

While more resources are required in the integration of Artificial Intelligence into security operations, we have no option but to invest for better outcomes.

Gachagua said with advancing technology, countries must be armed with highly innovative infrastructure for tracing, tracking and monitoring potential threats for early elimination and prevention.

He added security chiefs are advisors to key State decision-makers and that their work must inform legal and policy actions for sustainable security solutions.

“We are ready to receive guidance on the best and most productive strategies for integrating technology for enhanced security.”

Director General National Intelligence Service Noordin Haji said with the integration of the region, they have encountered a multitude of challenges that have exploited the free movement of goods and people to advance illicit activities.

“Terrorism continues to exploit vulnerabilities in our societies, while transnational organized crimes, such as human trafficking and arms trafficking, underscore the need for a unified front against criminal networks that operate seamlessly across our borders, taking advantage of gaps in our intelligence and law enforcement efforts,” he said.

He said the emergence of socio-economic threats such as the high cost of living, unemployment and food insecurity among other areas creates an unstable environment that can propel people towards criminal activity as a means to survive.

Novel challenges are also unfolding in cyberspace, Haji added.

He said while the battlefields of the past were physical, the battlefields of our time are becoming increasingly virtual.

“Our reliance on digital infrastructure creates new vulnerabilities. Cyber-attacks targeting critical infrastructure, financial systems, and even healthcare networks can cripple entire economies and cause widespread societal disruption.”

“In 2022 alone, Africa witnessed a 78% increase in cyber-attacks, with Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda emerging as prime targets,” he added.

He called for a multi-faceted regional approach including, among other issues, how to strengthen our collaboration framework, starting with the elimination of legal and bureaucratic obstacles to ensure streamlined information sharing.

This requires the implementation of standardised protocols and harmonised data protection laws, supported by secure communication platforms and strong encryption, he said.

Such measures are fundamental to achieving seamless intelligence exchange, enabling us to construct a thorough understanding of regional threats.

“Our approach should also include capacity building to equip personnel with advanced skills in critical areas like data analysis, cyber security, and forensics. Concurrently, engaging the community in security efforts turns them into proactive contributors of our collective security becoming a crucial line of defence.”

The conference comes at a time when the region is facing a myriad of challenges that continue to threaten the region's security, peace, and stability.

These challenges include terrorism and religious extremism, transnational organized crime; political, social and economic threats as well as emerging threats associated with pandemics, climate change, and cyber security among others.

According to the organizers, these threats continue to hamper the region's economic and social growth, calling upon intelligence organizations and security agencies to play a leading role in addressing them.

“Despite the challenges, the region has made significant strides to counter prevailing threats,” said an official aware of the meeting.

“For instance, through the development of effective cooperation and information-sharing platforms, several planned terrorist attacks on our region’s soil have been foiled and mitigated.” 

Some of the processes to institutionalize these initiatives include the establishment of the East African Community's Peace and Security Sector in 2006 and thereafter, the Djibouti Process on Security and Counterterrorism which laid the groundwork for coordinated action in our region.

As partners, the regions created the IGAD Cyber Security Centre and the Eastern Africa Police Chiefs Cooperation Organization (EAPCCO) to strengthen regional resilience against cyber threats and foster collaboration on cross-border crime, as well as other organized criminal activities.

In more recent years, Regional Fusion Centres (RFCs) have served as critical nerve centres for real-time threat analysis, information sharing, and joint operational planning.

These frameworks have provided a solid foundation for cooperation and collaboration but demand more than the existing frameworks to ascend to new heights of collaboration and adapt to the changing security dynamics, which makes forums like this conference immensely important.

Apart from enhancing understanding of the security challenges facing the region and identifying current and potential opportunities, the discussions from the conference are expected to culminate into a yearly Mashariki Cooperation Conference to strengthen the cooperation and collaboration frameworks to be put in place.

This is informed by a shared history, interconnected communities, and common cultures that stride the Eastern African region.

The vision of the Mashariki Cooperation Conference, according to the organizers is premised upon the recognition that our commitment to maintaining the peace and stability of the Eastern Africa region is rooted in enduring lessons and shared narratives passed down through generations.

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