C-IED Strategic principles for East Africa

By Paul Amoroso, an explosive hazards specialist at Assessed Mitigation Options (AMO) consultancy


The African Union (AU), through its C-IED strategy, has acknowledged the need for regional coherence and coordinated approaches, stating that C-IED regional strategies must complement wider Member State national security strategies as well as their national security architectures and state interests. The East African Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) is developing such a regional approach. However, there are challenges in developing national and regional strategic approaches for such as the large number of key stakeholders, many of whom have multiple competing demands, limited resources, distrust in information sharing and lack of agreement on priorities.

A previous paper published in the Counter-IED Report by the author provided a framework of seven questions to be used when trying to identify optimal C-IED strategic principles for a given IED affected region. Such principles can serve as the foundation for reasoning and decision-making about how IED affected states, their regional organisations, and international organisations providing C-IED donor assistance1 can respond strategically to the threat posed by IEDs. The desired end state for such principles is that they support the development of regionally coherent C-IED enterprises2 to at least match, but ideally overmatch, the threat posed by IED threat actors.3

The application of this methodology through engagement with key stakeholders along with a baseline C-IED assessment is the subject of this article. This article is a part of a series which examine strategic regional and national approaches to C-IED based on research conducted by the author as part of an MA in Strategic Studies which examined and identified C-IED strategic principles for East Africa.


A principles-based approach to for C-IED strategy is deemed the most appropriate means to support regionally coherent C-IED for several reasons. Firstly, common strategic principles can inform national C-IED policy statements, strategies, strategic plans, and action plans within a region thus supporting regional coherence and making the development of effective regional C-IED strategies easier to achieve. Secondly, it can serve to optimize C-IED assistance donor- recipient dynamics. Thirdly, it can avoid the temptation to replicate or implement western C-IED enterprises when providing C-IED assistance.


Regions of Africa, which are blighted by instability for a combination of political, economic, social and environmental reasons are susceptible to conflict and acts of violence by criminal and various other Violent Extremist Organisation (VEO) non-state actors. According to the draft AU C-IED strategy, the growing use of IEDs is viewed as one of the greatest security challenges in Africa. IEDs are now relatively easily available to employ by those who wish to do so. It could be said ‘the genie is out of the bottle’ in terms of the knowledge needed to construct an IED and instructions on where to source dual use materials and explosive precursor chemicals. As such IEDs are likely to be an enduring part of the threats faced in fragile, fragmented and failed regions, states or localities. The best example of this in East Africa is Somalia, which has had one of the most significant and enduring IED threats globally since 2005. It is often said that IED threats do not respect borders with regional characteristics to the networks that facilitate their use. As IED use is invariably facilitated by regional and transnational networks, relatively secure and stable states bordering fragile, fragmenting and failed states can often experience IED attacks also. This is the case with Kenya, which borders Somalia to its East. Kenya is considered the second most stable State in IGAD according to the fragile state index report of 2021. In comparison to Somalia, Kenya is ranked as the 34th least stable country with a score of 89.2 with Somalia the second least stable country with a score of 110.9, only behind Yemen with a score of 111.7. This relative difference in stability between Kenya and Somalia, has not spared it from the destabilising effects of IED use within its territory which is primarily due to a spillover of the instability in Somalia. It is for this reason that a regional response to countering IEDs is needed. Col Abebe Muleneh, IGAD Security Sector Program4 director, stated that the making and use of IEDs by terrorist groups like Al-Shabaab and Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) has remained a big security challenge in the region. He spoke of the manufacture and use of IEDs by VEO like Al-Shabaab, Daesh, ADF and others that continue to represent a persistent threat in the IGAD region. This article focusses on defining strategic C-IED principles for East Africa for two reasons. Firstly the enduring IED threat in East Africa with the likelihood of an increase in their use and secondly the potential for over-extension by looking at too broad or many regions.


The research conducted involved a combination of a systematic literature review and numerous Key Informant Engagements (KIE). The literature review undertaken is best considered as a qualitative selective review. Stakeholders and influencers involved in national and regional C-IED efforts5 in East Africa, assessed as potential sources of informed insights, were engaged through a process of outreach, hereafter referred to as KIE. To effectively include stakeholders they were considered as co-researchers. This co-researcher approach framed how the KIE process was undertaken. To facilitate this, a semi- structured interview format was employed for those who agreed to be interviewed. For those who engaged but did not agree to be interviewed, a variety of means were employed to develop a co-research ethos in exchanges engaged in.

The methodology used in determining who to contact was adopted from William C Adams’ writing on conducting semi-structured interviews and how to determine who may be appropriate for such. Adams breaks them down into three general groups,6 which when applied and adapted to the context of strategic C-IED for East Africa, the three following groups of stakeholders and influencers were identified:

  • Recipients of C-IED assistance equivalent to program recipients;
  • Donors of C-IED assistance or their implementors equivalent to interested parties;
  • Decision-makers on C-IED efforts, capability, and strategy.

This third group of decision-makers refers to both decision-makers within IED affected states not in receipt of C-IED assistance as well as those who may be involved in regional organizations working to support their member states in a C-IED enterprise. The donor group was expanded to include those within the wider international community who may or may not be focused on East Africa but engaged elsewhere as well as some involved in global efforts within the UN, INTERPOL and the World Customs Organisation. It also looked to engage those beyond the traditional C-IED community, to examine if commonalities exist in responding to other security, stabilisation and development issues. This decision to expand the KIE process beyond the traditional C-IED community was based on the hypothesis that there are lots of synergies to be leveraged within counter-insurgency, CT, wider stabilisation operations, counter violent extremism, counter drugs enforcement and international organised crime initiatives. All of these involve destabilising security issues and have elements to their effective response that are common across all of them.

The methodology of evidence synthesis was used to bring the findings together in identifying strategic C-IED principles, which according to the Royal Society, refers to the process of gathering information from a range of sources and disciplines to inform debates and decisions on specific issues. Fundamental features of good evidence synthesis, regardless of the precise time frame, topic or methods in use are for the research to be inclusive, rigorous, transparent and accessible and were applied throughout this research and subsequent synthesis of C-IED strategic principles.


A lack of scholarly material on strategic C-IED was identified as part of the systematic literature review. The vast majority of the C-IED material found was related to C-IED technology and equipment and associated aspects of the C-IED military industrial complex with most material used best considered as grey literature.7 The systematic literature review did, however, identify the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), C-IED Capability Maturity Model (CMM) and Self-Assessment Tool8 as the most comprehensive document to assist national strategic C-IED enterprises. It can also be very informative in developing effective regional C-IED approaches. UNIDIR’s approach to considering a state’s response to an IED threat involves a system of linked activities that need to take place for an IED attack to be executed. This approach then considers an IED attack and breaks it down into various C-IED components which may be employed before or after an attack. Those C-IED efforts which can be employed before an IED attack are referred to as upstream components while those which can be employed after an IED attack are referred to as downstream components. This UNIDIR C-IED capability model has eight upstream and eight downstream components, depicted graphically below.

Figure 1. UNIDIR C-IED CMM upstream and downstream components. (UNIDIR 2020).

The UNIDIR C-IED CMM has proven to be very useful, with the Philippines and Thailand having had good indigenous initiatives involving upstream C-IED components including appropriate legislation, regulatory frameworks, and risk education in support of national C-IED. As of Quarter four 2023, it is also being used amongst several ECOWAS Member States. It has also provided a fresh way of looking at strategic approaches to C-IED. However, it is important to appreciate that this approach to C-IED capabilities is not exhaustive in terms of the C-IED efforts that may be invested in. This is particularly important when one acknowledges an IED threat typically evolves due to the action-reaction- counteraction cycle that plays out between IED threat actors and those engaged in a C-IED enterprise. Secondly, while the UNIDIR approach effectively captures critical C-IED efforts, the framework must not be treated as a linear process. One key aspect of this non-linearity is the need for an internal feedback loop from the downstream efforts back to the upstream steps, so these can remain best informed and remain situationally aware of the current or emerging IED threat.

This UNIDIR framework states the glue that holds together most successful national approaches to C-IED is an overarching policy that defines a ‘whole of government approach’ to preventing and mitigating the effects of IEDs. The first upstream C-IED component is national policy, legislation, and regulations. C-IED strategic principles can empower effective national policy, legislation, or regulations to support a State’s C-IED enterprise to at least match but ideally overmatch the threat posed by IEDs. Its fourth upstream component, ‘C-IED capability development,’ points toward the need for a national C-IED strategy that defines how the IED will be defeated within the context of existing or proposed government structures. All efforts which collectively make up a whole of government approach to C-IED need to be mutually supporting, coordinated and avoid duplication of effort and wasting limited resources. This can be considered avoiding C-IED efforts being siloed. The UNIDIR document addresses this issue by stating this should ideally be led by a suitably resourced and empowered single government ministry or department. It goes further to explain that a whole of government approach requires as a minimum a degree of cooperation between the ministries or departments of interior, defence, justice, customs, and state intelligence agencies in order that national resources may be mobilized and used in an effective and coordinated fashion.

Two other key documents reviewed were US Presidential Policy Directive 17 (PPD 17) and the US army C-IED strategy published in February 2022. PPD 17, of 2013 has three policy objectives on national C-IED efforts which can be summarized as follows:

  • Leveraging, integrating and aligning all national efforts across government best summarised as a coordinated whole of government approach;
  • Focus on protecting lives;
  • Promote cooperation with governmental, international and private sector stakeholders.

The US Army’s C-IED strategy employs a framework, involving Lines of Effort (LOE) intentionally designed with overlapping objectives to facilitate convergence. The integration LOE within this strategy consolidates elements from other LOEs and focuses on three layers of integration critical to its success. This speaks to the need for coordinated C-IED efforts under a coherent framework through harmonised implementation.

Table 1. Male versus female contacted in KIE process with breakdown of female engagement.

Table 2. Donor, receiver and implementor breakdown of those contacted, engaged and usable in KIE process.

A wide range of stakeholders were contacted with 18 different organisations, institutes, and areas of expertise engaged in C-IED as well as wider security, stabilization, and development initiatives part of the process. Table 1 shows the breakdown of male versus females involved in the KIE process with Table 2 showing the breakdown of those considered as donors, recipients, or implementers of C-IED assistance.

Several limitations were identified regarding the semi-structured methodology employed in the KIE process. First, Table 1 highlights the disproportionate number of males contacted, with only 12 of the 68 persons contacted being female. This may indicate a bias within the process of selecting key informants; however, the author was conscious of this throughout and worked to address this imbalance without success. Alternatively, it may be because those involved in C-IED assistance are at present disproportionately male. Another consideration may be a reluctance among females to engage in C-IED research, with 6 of the 12 females contacted, not responding. Only 1 of the 6 who did engage allowed their insights and opinions to be used within this research.

Second, from Table 2 we see an imbalance between donors, recipients and implementors with disproportionate contact and engagement by implementors compared to both donors and recipients. The fact that 20 out of the 23 KIE participants which were usable are implementers, is a point of significance. Potential contributing factors include:

  • The author’s potential unconscious bias of deferring to known key informants within the implementing community, within which he has operated for approximately seven years.
  • Implementers’ eagerness to engage as they may either appreciate its benefits or see opportunities to shape the narrative within their community of practice.
  • A potential reluctance or lack of understanding amongst recipients of C-IED assistance.
  • A potential lack of awareness amongst donors of their role and their importance in developing and supporting C-IED in an IED affected state.

Overall, these figures indicate an imbalance in key C-IED stakeholder perspectives with the opinions and insights of implementors being disproportionately represented.

Thirdly, it is noted that interviewees spoke in their personal capacity, instead of representing the entity that employed them. This was a necessity as the author was unable to identify a viable mechanism to allow C-IED donors and recipients to speak in an official capacity. A contributing factor to this issue, in the case of C-IED assistance recipients, was that in many cases no systematic strategic whole of government approach is established to allow for such official positions to be put forward. In some regards the absence of systematic strategic whole of government approaches to C-IED is the reason for this research being undertaken.

Fourthly, the perceived technical nature of the subject and sensitivity of the topic affected the number of interviewees willing to partake. Many persons contacted initially responded to say they were not appropriately C-IED ‘expert’ to be of benefit to the research. At least half of those who did participate needed to be convinced that although they may not have been C-IED ‘experts’ their insights were highly sought. Some participants were concerned of the sensitivity of the topic and not being seen to compromise security. The approach of allowing for anonymisation as well as the reassurance that they had to approve transcripts of discussions before use, allayed many concerns.

Fifthly, semi-structured interviews allowed for detailed and personalized responses; however, there is a level of subjectivity that must be considered when assessing findings. In this sense, it should be emphasized that this is an analysis of a sample of the opinions and insights of those considered to be key informants on strategic C-IED in East Africa as well as those with expertise in regional and international security, stabilisation, and development.


When considering C-IED strategic principles in East Africa it is acknowledged that no authoritative set of rules can be followed in all contexts. Multiple factors were identified during this research which often compete when attempting to develop regionally coherent C-IED enterprises. For example, each IED affected state is different, the dynamics are different, the level at which each stakeholder needs to be engaged needs to be understood on a case-by-case basis. All elements of the defence architecture, criminal justice model, rehabilitation and reintegration elements linked with countering and preventing violent extremism, border controls etc., need to be considered. As such, it is essential that any C-IED strategy is contextually specific to the nation or region for which it is being developed.

Other challenges include the large number of stakeholders who ideally need to be engaged in C-IED. Moreover, most of these often have multiple competitive demands. In addition, an IED threat is normally an evolving and dynamic problem with IED threat actors seeking to circumvent the very countermeasures implemented against them. Other challenges that must be accounted for are the likely limited resources, distrust between stakeholders in terms of information sharing and the lack of agreement on the priority of actions needed to be taken. It is for these reasons and the need to compromise that the following succinct set of ten complementary C-IED strategic principles are proposed as ‘what good enough might look like.’ These ten C-IED strategic principles are intended to act as guidelines for reasoning and decision-making about how IED affected states as well as regional organizations can respond to and prepare for the threat posed by IEDs. In doing so they may also assist in developing C-IED strategies. They may also guide donors of C-IED assistance, regional and international organisations working toward coordinated regional efforts.

    1. Know the Desired End-State
    2. Build Your Network to Counter the IED Network
    3. Nest C-IED Appropriately Within the National Security Architecture
    4. Coherent, Coordinated, and Complementary (3C) Approach
    5. Lead Entity Identified
    6. Legally Empower
    7. Minimise Negative Impacts
    8. Understanding – Maximise Information Sharing
    9. Management Elasticity
    10. A Bandolier of Partial Silver Bullets

Fragile, fragmented, or failed regions, states or localities are vulnerable to IED use, with their impact most acute in terms of their political, economic and social destabilising impacts. As such, the IED is likely to be a prevalent and enduring threat within such security landscapes for the foreseeable future. Research has identified C-IED strategic principles for use in East Africa through an examination of assessed needs against what has been judged to have worked and not worked at the national and regional levels. This research focused on defining strategic C-IED principles for East Africa for two reasons. Firstly, the enduring IED threat in East Africa with the likelihood of an increase in their use and secondly the potential for over-extension by looking at too broad or many regions. An area for potential further research could be an expansion of the area of focus to examine Northern, Western, Central and Southern Africa and ultimately the whole continent. Further research on regional strategic approaches to C-IED in Africa should address some of the limitations identified during this research. This includes greater gender balance when undertaking stakeholder engagement, directly targeting more female engagement, while encouraging all those approached of the importance of their opinions, experiences, and insights on this topic. Secondly, efforts to increase engagement particularly amongst C-IED assistance recipients, but also from C-IED assistance donors should be pursued. This may require bespoke initial engagement to nuance requests to attune them to the reasons they are assessed as C-IED stakeholders. There should also be an emphasis that those contacted do not need to consider themselves C-IED experts to partake. Thirdly, consideration on how the positions of organisations rather than the personal opinions and insights of individuals could be captured is worthy of investment.

The ten C-IED strategic principles identified are intended as a foundation for reasoning and decision- making about how IED affected East African nations as well as regional organizations can respond and prepare to the threats. In doing so they may assist in the development of effective and efficient C-IED strategies. They may also assist C-IED assistance donors along with regional and international organisations working toward coordinated regional C-IED enterprises under a coherent framework through harmonised implementation.

If those engaged in C-IED enterprises, seek to identify the realities of the desired end state; build an appropriate C-IED network; nest the enterprise appropriately within the national security architecture; employ a 3C approach to C-IED assistance; name a legally empowered national C-IED lead entity; minimise the negative impact of all C-IED efforts invested in; have understanding at the heart of the enterprise; employ appropriate management elasticity throughout; and invest in a bandolier of partial silver bullets of C-IED technology and equipment then it is likely that a regionally coherent C-IED enterprise can be realised. ■

  1. C-IED donor assistance refers to C-IED support provided on a bilateral basis, on a joint initiative from two or more States or by an international organisation, e.g. EU, League of Arab States, ECOWAS etc or an alliance e.g. NATO, to an IED affected state or region.
  2. C-IED enterprise is the collective term to describe all initiatives, activities, assistance, capabilities and capacities that contribute to the C-IED efforts intended to at least match but ideally overmatch the threat posed by the use or threatened use of IEDs and can involve anything which is intended to predict, discover / detect, prevent, protect against, respond to / neutralize, recover / exploit, mitigate against, or deter IED attacks.
  3. The term IED threat actor is a collective term for all persons, parties, groups, organisations and entities who have the intent and / or capacity to inflict or threaten physical violence through the use or threatened use of IEDs. IED threat actors can include both criminals as well as practitioners of irregular warfare which includes:

    It is important to note that not all the terms listed as potential practitioners of irregular warfare use IEDs but they may use them as an asymmetric means to further their cause. Similarly, the designation of a group or actor under one of these terms may not be agreed by all commentators.
  4. Program and programme are often used interchangeably in the C-IED community of practice.
  5. C-IED efforts refer to all initiatives, activities, assistance, capabilities and capacities that collectively make up a C-IED enterprise. C-IED efforts can include inter alia, training, mentoring, advising, accompanying, assisting, technology and equipment (T&E) provision and intelligence support.
  6. — a. Program recipients e.g. beneficiaries, clients, customers, members, constituents, or audience;
    — b. Interested parties e.g. contributors, suppliers or any other stakeholders who are neither direct recipients nor program administrators, plus others in proximity who may be affected collaterally;
    — c. Administration frontline service delivery people, other staff, top managers, program board members whether salaried or volunteer.
  7. That which is produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry in print and in electronic formats, but which is not controlled by commercial publishers.
  8. https://unidir.org/publication/counter-ied-capability-maturity-model-and-self-assessment-tool

Paul Amoroso is an explosive hazards specialist and has extensive experience as an IED Threat Mitigation Policy Advisor working in East and West Africa. He served in the Irish Army as an IED Disposal and CBRNe officer, up to MNT level, and has extensive tactical, operational, and strategic experience in Peacekeeping Operations in Africa and the Middle East. He has experience in the development of doctrine and policy and was one of the key contributors to the United Nations Improvised Explosive Device Disposal Standards and the United Nations Explosive Ordnance Disposal Military Unit Manual. He works at present in the MENA region on SALW control as well as in wider Africa advising on national and regional C-IED strategies. He has a MSc in Explosive Ordnance Engineering and an MA in Strategic Studies. He runs a consultancy, Assessed Mitigation Options (AMO), which provides advice and support in relation to conventional and improvised weapons and explosive hazard risk mitigation. This article reflects his own views and not necessarily those of any organisation he has worked for or with in developing these ideas. Linkedin profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/paul-amoroso-msc-ma-miexpe-60a63a42/

Download PDF: 15-21 Paul Amoroso article – C-IED strategic principles for East Africa – COUNTER-IED REPORT, Autumn 2023

Counter-IED Report Autumn 2023

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