Terrorism and Violent Extremism in AfricaPOE/Bridgeway Joint Symposium
Wed, 7 June, 2023 1:00pm - 2:30pm
The Program on Extremism at The George Washington University and The Bridgeway Foundation hosted a high-level, half-day conference exploring the rising threat of the Islamic State in Africa. The event coincided with the release of a report from Bridgeway that analyzed Islamic State funding networks, connected deceased Islamic State Somalia leader Bilal al Sudani to ISIS-DRC and ISIS-MOZ, and revealed the significance of the Islamic State’s influence across Africa.
This collaborative event brought together leading security and peacebuilding practitioners, policymakers, researchers, and reporters from Africa, the United States, and around the world. Together we highlighted the urgency of combating the disastrous impacts of terrorism and violent extremism emerging across multiple regions in Africa, and kindled the relationships, optimism, and efficacy that help us to better understand and curb a growing global threat.
The Bridgeway Foundation and the Program on Extremism brought in key government and civil society representatives from Uganda and the DRC to provide sorely needed local perspectives on the realities of and solutions to the conflict. Speakers included Brigadier General Dominic Twesigomwe, Head of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre for the Uganda People’s Defense Force; and Serge Tshibangu, Special Counselor to the President for the DRC. Journalist, activist, and long-time Beni, DRC, resident Sekombi Katondolo introduced the inaugural public screening of a short film that showcases interviews with former Islamic State fighters in the DRC, conversations with victims of the rebel group’s violence, and never-been-seen audio and video footage from within the rebel group’s camps and operations. The film powerfully demonstrated the group’s current goals, composition, and alignment with the Islamic State, and built empathy for the group’s victims, including combatants who were tricked or forced into joining. Representatives from Defense Intelligence Agency, the US State Department, and US Treasury also joined the conversation.
1:00 - 1:15pm | Introductory Remarks
1:15 - 2:45pm | Panel 1: Assessing the Threat
2:45 - 3:00pm | Break
3:00 - 3:45pm | Screening of The Islamic State in Central African Province
3:45 - 4:00pm | Break
4:00 - 5:30pm | Panel 2: Policy Responses and Considerations
5:30 - 7:00pm | Cocktail Reception
Dr. Lorenzo Vidino is the Director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. An expert on Islamism in Europe and North America, his research over the past 20 years has focused on the mobilization dynamics of jihadist networks in the West; governmental counter-radicalization policies; and the activities of Muslim Brotherhood-inspired organizations in the West. He is the author of several books and numerous articles, including The New Muslim Brotherhood in the West, and The Closed Circle: Joining and Leaving the Muslim Brotherhood in the West.
Laren Poole oversees the Bridgeway Foundation’s programmatic and research teams. He has investigated and published research on the expansion of the Islamic State in Central Africa (ISCAP) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Before working on interventions to curb the rise of ISCAP, he managed Bridgeway Foundation’s counter-Lord’s Resistance Army assistance project to the African Union in the Central African Republic. This highly successful program consisted of air and training assistance to the AU-RTF forces, as well as defection messaging that encouraged hundreds of combatants to leave the armed group. Laren is the co-founder of Invisible Children and the recipient of the University of California - Irvine’s Human Security Award, and the University of California - San Diego’s Visionary Leadership Award.
Panel 1: Assessing the Threat
Bulama Bukarti is the Vice President of Programs and Disarmament, Demobilization & Reintegration for The Bridgeway Foundation. For over a decade, Mr. Bukarti has researched violent extremist groups in sub-Saharan Africa, with a focus on the Lake Chad region and the Sahel. His works have been published by the Tony Blair Institute, Foreign Policy, The Independent, The Telegraph, CNN, the Council on Foreign Relations, Hudson Institute, The National, The Washington Post, and War on the Rocks. He is also a regular guest on Hausa- and English-language channels, including Voice of America, the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Al Jazeera, and France 24. Before joining Bridgeway, Mr. Bukarti was a Senior Analyst in the Extremism Policy Unit of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, and a dual-qualified lawyer in Nigeria and England/Wales. He is currently completing a PhD in Law at SOAS University of London.
Anand Arun is the Senior Intelligence Officer for Global Counterterrorism Analysis at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). In this role, he is the deputy analytic head of DIA’s Defense Counterterrorism Center, and frequently leads engagements with the Office of the Secretary of Defense Joint Staff, National Security Council, and Congress. Mr. Arun’s career spans nearly two decades in the private sector, academia, and US government supporting customers ranging from deployed military personnel to executive officials, including a tour as the President’s Daily Briefer to the Chairman and the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. During his career, he has led or overseen analysis on some of the most pressing global terrorism issues. Part-time, Mr. Arun is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Security Studies at Georgetown University, teaching a graduate course on terrorism and intelligence. He holds a MA in Security Studies from Georgetown University and a BA in Political Science from the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor.
Brigadier General Dominic Twesigomwe has been in service of the Ugandan People’s Defense Force (UPDF) since 1985 and currently serves as the Commandant of the Ugandan National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC). Throughout his storied career, he has participated in various international diplomatic forums as Uganda’s Defense Advisor and formerly served as the Director of the Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force within the UPDF. BG Twesigomwe holds a BA in Social Sciences from Makerere, and a MA in International Relations and Post Graduate Diploma in Strategic Studies from the University of Nairobi. He has received numerous academic accolades including a Certificate in Advanced Physical Security from the University of Georgia and a Diploma in Special Operations in Combating Terrorism from the University of Florida. He is also a graduate of the National Defence College and Senior Staff Command College in Karen, Kenya.
Tara Candland is the Vice President of Research and Analysis for The Bridgeway Foundation. She has almost 10 years of experience in developing and evaluating projects in conflict resolution, public health, and gender mainstreaming in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. Before joining Bridgeway, she served as director at Virunga Fund Inc., helping to secure Africa’s oldest national park, and led research teams at Crumpton Group LLC and The World Bank. Her research has appeared in Foreign Policy and the American Journal of Political Science, and she has presented her work at various national and international conferences. She holds a graduate degree from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and an undergraduate degree in International Relations from Brigham Young University.
Film Screening: The Islamic State in Central African Province
Sekombi Katondolo is the founder and executive director of Mutaani FM, the only independent radio station in the DRC which promotes uncensored news reporting “by Congolese people, for Congolese people.” Formerly a production manager at Radio Okapi in Beni, Sekombi has more than a decade of experience in international and local media and is an accomplished dancer and choreographer as well as journalist.
A short film that powerfully articulates the evolution of the ADF into the Islamic State in DRC. The film uses interviews of former IS fighters in DRC, victims of the rebel group, video footage filmed by the group, photos, and audio messages from leaders of the group to piece together the narrative. The hope of the piece is that it (1) showcases primary source media to powerfully demonstrate the group’s current goals, composition, and alignment with the Islamic State; (2) sets a tone of empathy for the victims of the group's violence, including those who have been tricked or forced into joining; and (3) and makes clear that the primary responsibility for the violence rests with the group’s leadership.
Panel 2: Policy Responses and Considerations
Serge Tshibangu is the High Representative of the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He also acts as the Special Envoy of the President charged with executing foreign diplomatic duties and engaging with armed groups operating in East Africa to persuade them to lower their arms and join various peace processes. In these roles, Mr. Tshibangu has supervised the DRC process of re-joining the AGOA Trade partnership as well as the DRC process of joining the East African Community. Mr. Tshibangu is a Senior Lecturer at several South African Universities and a visiting lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania. He holds a PhD in Petroleum Engineering and a Master of Engineering in Electrical and Information Engineering from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. He also has received several specializations in International Trade Law from the World Trade Institute at the University of Bern in Switzerland, National Security Strategy Development and Implementation from the National Defense University in the United States, as well as for Defense Strategy from the College des Hautes Etudes de Strategie et de Defense in the DRC.
Eugene Oleynikov is a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes (TFFC), where he covers ISIS financing and other illicit finance issues. Prior to joining TFFC in 2020, he spent 12 years at the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis (OIA) working to counter terrorist financing in the Persian Gulf. Mr. Oleynikov received a Master of Arts in European politics from the College of Europe in Belgium and a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and French from Seton Hall University in New Jersey. He is fluent in Russian and somewhat proficient in French.
Eric Schmitt is a senior writer covering terrorism and national security for The New York Times. Since 2007, he has reported on terrorism issues, with assignments to Pakistan, Afghanistan, North Africa, Southeast Asia among others. He is the co-author, with The Times’s Thom Shanker, of Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America’s Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda, published in 2011. Mr. Schmitt has shared three Pulitzer Prizes. In 1999, he was part of a team of New York Times reporters awarded the Pulitzer for coverage of the transfer of sensitive military technology to China. In 2009, he was a part of a team of New York Times reporters awarded the Pulitzer for coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. And in 2017, he was part of a Pulitzer team that examined how Russian President Vladimir Putin projects power openly and covertly. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.