By Jemal Oumar
Experts from Mauritania, Algeria, Morocco and the 15 countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) gathered in Dakar this week to discuss the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing.
The three-day forum, which ended on Wednesday (October 12th), was led by Swiss experts and aimed at helping participating countries to develop a joint plan to combat banking transactions that can benefit extremists.
“Switzerland is at the forefront of the fight against financial crime, and it has an effective mechanism for the prevention of money laundering and terrorism financing,” Senegalese Economy Minister Abdoulaye Diop noted. “Therefore, this forum is an opportunity for us to take advantage of that expertise and experience in the fight against such problems that are still affecting the African countries.”
The event will “boost the capacity of the participants to fight against money laundering and terrorism financing in the African continent, especially the region of West Africa and some countries of the Sahel, in which terrorism is active”, according to Ruggiero Kwaku, representative of the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO).
“The scourge called terrorism has shown its devastating effects on the African continent since the attacks of Nairobi (Kenya) and Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania) in 1998,” he added. “It is right by our doors, as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is present in the Sahara region of northern Mali.”
Previous attempts to quell money laundering have foundered on the porosity of borders in Africa, according to Ndèye Elizabeth Diaw, Assistant Director-General of the Anti-Money Laundering Intergovernmental Working Group in West Africa.
“This smooth flow along the borders has led to a major terrorist threat to the governments of West Africa,” the official said.
Maghreb states need to unite their efforts with West African countries to confront the challenge of funding terrorism in the Sahel-Saharan region, according to Swiss Ambassador to Senegal Muriel Berset Kohen.
“This training session is important, since it is being organised in the region of West Africa, where informal economy forms 40% of the gross domestic production, which alone constitutes fertile ground for money laundering,” he added.
The ambassador stressed his country’s readiness to “offer suggestions” and grant legal assistance to the countries fighting money laundering and financial crimes.
The co-operation with Switzerland will help “decrease funds reaching terrorist groups in the world and therefore reduce their ability to hit their targets”, Mauritanian economic expert Yaacoub Moustafa told Magharebia.
“Through the military hardware, SUVs and funds owned by al-Qaeda to recruit members, we can only imagine the amount of money they obtain through money laundering, not to mention the money they receive through hostage ransoms and drug gangs,” he added.
The Anti-Money Laundering Intergovernmental Working Group in West Africa annually monitors the circulation of suspicious funds worth 36,000 billion Western African CFA (55 billion euros), according to Mauritanian financial analyst Mohamed Amino.
“We count on this forum to make significant steps in the fight against money laundering, which plagued the economy of West Africa and some countries of the Maghreb,” he told Magharebia.
Mauritania has already taken steps in this area, the analyst added. A training session in late July aimed to help Mauritanian judges deal with terror funding cases.