Sudan hosts largest African intelligence conference

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Sudan once a source of instability in Northern Africa is increasingly a source of regional stability. That was one of the themes of a major intelligence conference which concluded on Friday in Khartoum.

The Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa (CISSA) is an annual gathering that began life in 2005 as a closed-door event for intelligence operatives which has grown to become the premier gathering of intelligence and security services in Africa.

Representatives from the CIA as well as French and Saudi intelligence packed the Chinese- built Friendship Palace hall in downtown Khartoum for the conference.

On Friday, Brig Gen Joseph Nzabamwita, the secretary-general of the National Intelligence and Security Services, who is also the current Chairperson of CISSA formally end his chairmanship in favor of the Sudan. During public remarks a day earlier, Nzabamwita expressed solidarity with Sudan’s efforts to have the US sanctions lifted.

This is the third time Sudan has hosted the event. Sudan remains one of the most active members in CISSA.

Sudan’s chairmanship comes as the country is increasingly seen an island of stability surrounded by conflicts in Libya and the Central African Republic.

Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir was the last to speak at the conference’s public session and noted that “Sudan will spare no effort to support our brothers the South Sudanese refugees, despite the absence of any support from the international community.”

While the United Nations believes there are roughly half a million refugees from the South, Sudan believes the number is far higher.

The Sudanese government also accuses Juba of funding rebels in Darfur and in the Nuba mountains.

“Sudanese intelligence [NISS] is one of the more innovative intelligence services in Africa, and this conference is important because it allows us to share our experiences in fighting problems like terror, an issue we face even in Southern Africa," said a member of the Angolan intelligence service who asked not to be named.

Indeed, many of the “spooks” at the conference were reluctant to speak to the media so as not to lose their cover.

For the first time, the CISSA conference included an “ideas conference” which served as a venue for senior African statesmen to share their insights on the topic of stability in the Continent.

That event was headlined by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, the former UN and Arab League envoy to Syria.

“In African countries we all suffer from the same challenges in terms of security, destabilization is a key one fundamental,” said Mahdi Ibrahim, the former Sudanese ambassador to the United States in an interview with Al Arabiya English, “Education is a very important tool and societies cannot allow extremism to hijack the religion or society or culture, and in Sudan, we use Islam itself the real religion to deradicalize. Even Europeans and Americans have come to see our deradicalization programs.”

A recent United Nations report on extremism in Africa found that 57% of former insurgents who were surveyed admitted that they understood “little to nothing of the religious texts or interpretations.” The report also found that unlike in other regions of the world, most terrorist recruitment is face to face.

“For too long Africa’s intelligence services have been focused inward on controlling internal dissent. Events like CISSA help change that, and helps in getting African intelligence agencies to improve regional cooperation in the struggle against terror,” said Joseph Siegle, the Director of Research at the African Center for Strategic Studies.

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