Caption: Ceremonial band prepares to perform in the opening ceremonies of Africa’s largest intelligence conference.
By Joseph Hammond
As a red-jacketed ceremonial band played a CIA delegation visited visited an annual gathering of Africa’s top spies this past week, at a Chinese-built conference hall on the banks of the Nile river, in the humid Sudanese capital city of Khartoum.
The Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa (CISSA) is an annual gathering of the heads of Africa’s intelligence and security services as well as some Arab, European and American spies. The conference was attended by every one of Africa’s intelligence services.
Increasing political stability in Africa in a time of heightened terrorism and violent extremism across the continent was main topic of conversation. No new solutions were proposed.
“The challenge of destabilization is fundamental for Africa,” said Mahdi Ibrahim, Sudan’s onetime ambassador to the United States. “We have to be united or extremist movements can pick us off one after the other. That is what is happening right now in the Middle East where fundamentalism is being used to exploit religious, linguistic, racial and geographic differences.”
The meeting comes a week after the release of United Nations report which found some 33,000 terrorist attacks on the African continent between 2011 and 2016.
Caption: Sudanese officials prepare the conference hall for the start of the conference
CISSA began in 2004, developing out of closed doors meeting of senior African spies had held over coffee and fruit pies. However, eager to maintain the anonymity for which the world of intelligence is best known, most of those in attendance refused to speak to the media. Those willing to talk, few were willing to give their names.
Representatives of the CIA, French and Saudi intelligence services also attended the conference.The presence of the CIA is not surprising given that it has worked closely with Sudan on counter-terrorism issues. Sudan is increasingly an island of stability in the region where Libya, the Central African Republic and Egypt face serious insurgencies. The CIA even paid for part of the cost for the construction of a new headquarters for NISS – as Sudanese intelligence is known. For its part, NISS has invested in CISSA agreeing to fund the building of a new pan-African academy for intelligence operatives.
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo hailed the wide array of African and non-African voices at the conference. “Having everybody on board to strategize, to stabilize our continent,” is crucial, he said.
The CIA delegation is further evidence that U.S.-Sudanese relations are on the mend and came just before the Trump administration removed sanctions against Sudan in place since 1997.
The intergovernmental organization’s secretariat is based in Addis Abba and works to coordinate intelligence efforts among member states. The intelligence services in attendance agreed to work closer together to focus the terrorism threat. Even African nations in southern Africa – which has yet to see a major terrorist attack – are increasingly concerned about the threat posed by ISIL and Boko Haram.
“Even in Southern Africa we are beginning to look across the continent and see emerging threats. We worry that is is only a matter of time before those attacks spread south to our region,” said an intelligence official with the Southern African Development Community a regional organization often referred to as SADAC.
Mohammed Atta Al-Mola Abbas, the General Director of Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), will take over the secretaryship of CISSA for one year. Abbas was preceded in the position by the head of Rwandan intelligence. After Sudan, the chairmanship of CISSA will rotate to Namibia next year in 2018 and Nigeria in 2019 sources say.