TERRORISM IN AFRICA - THE NEXT GLOBAL CONCERN
“I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself”
Africa is an alluring place with mountains, deserts, beaches and a rich culture. It is largely undiscovered. But in modern days this mysterious yet mystic place is covered with dark clouds of terrorism.
Oxford dictionary defines terrorism as “the use of violent action in order to achieve political aims or to force a government to act”.
From the beginning of the 21st century, terrorism has not been an alien concept to the equatorial continent of Africa, especially the West African region. In fact, headlines like the ones below have become part of daily news.
“Niger: 56 civilians killed in terrorist attack”
“10 soldiers killed in terrorist attack in central Mali”
“Nigeria’s Zamfara school abduction: More than 300 Nigerian girls missing”
These acts of terrorism are from the first quarter of 2021. This shows the gravity of the situation.
Some of the terrorist organisation out of Africa are Al Mulathamun Battalion, Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al–Shabab (AS), Ansar Al-Dine (AAD), Ansar – Al – Shari’a groups in Libya (ASL), Ansar Al-Shari’a in Tunisia (AAST) and Boko Haram. Most of the terrorist organisation in continent is affiliated or aligned itself to the preaching’s of either Al-Qaeda or Daesh (both based out of Middle East). Out of the organisations mentioned, the most infamous is Boko Haram.
The Algerian Coup of 1992, which escalated into a civil war, is blamed to have paved the way for terrorism ins Africa. The military carried out a coup d’état to prevent the first democratically elected party Islamic Salvation Front from taking the power. This broke the party and some of the former party members created “Groupe Islamiste Arme” (GIA). Due to increased number of civilian victims of GIA’s terrorist activities, some members of GIA broke away to form “Groupe Salafiste pour la Predication et le Combat” (GSPC). This branch vowed to attack only government targets. The organisation renamed itself to its current name Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in 2007 after it joined the notorious Al-Qaeda in 2006. Though AQIM’s goal is to topple the Algerian government to make Algeria an Islamic state, it also has strong footholds in the neighbouring countries.
Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad (meaning “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad”), established in 2002 by Mohammed Yusuf based in Nigeria is one of the deadliest and most inhumane organisation, infamous known as Boko Haram or “western education is forbidden” in English.
In 2009, Boko Haram carried out attacks targeting police stations in Maiduguri (a Nigerian city). After shootouts and hostility in the city, the authorities killed Yusef and declared the end of this terror outfit. Unfortunately, the outfit emerged stronger, under Abubakar Shekau, who took over the leadership mantle and gained international notoriety when it took responsibility for the explosion of a car bomb in the United Nations compound in Abuja (capital of Nigeria) in 2011.
Boko Haram aims to establish sharia law in Nigeria. Arguments are that AQIM played a crucial role in the development of this organisation as it is supposed to have financed, delivered weapons, and trained these fighters at the initial stage. And like AQIM, Boko Haram has pledged its allegiance to Al-Qaeda.
Kidnappings by Boko Haram usually make international headlines owing to the huge number of children involved. Many a time, the organisation targets girls’ schools - as in the case of Chibok kidnappings (2014) and Zamfara kidnappings (2021). However, in December it took responsibility for the kidnapping of more than 300 boys from a school during the day causing international outrage. It is believed that the kidnapped girls are turned into cooks or sex slaves while the boys are brain washed and recruited as fighters. These kidnappings, in addition to increasing their foot soldiers, also ensure a worldwide name recognition, as well as coming into the focus of terror financiers which aid in such drastic acts.
Boko Haram is not the only organisation to resort to these tactics. All the organisations in the region engage in kidnappings and other forms of violence to further their causes. According to an UNICEF report, there are 7.4 million African refugees, out of which 57% are children, and 14 million Africans are believed to have been internally displaced, out of which 7 million are children.
According to the UN, 4000 children were killed in a time frame of one year (20015 – 2016) and of 2021, no recent data on the number of victims (killed, kidnapped, and displaced) of terrorist activities in Africa has been provided or published.
A closer look will show that most conflicts and violence are concentrated in the Sahel region - a narrow region stretching from the Red Sea in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west, located just below the Sahara. Most terrorist organisations thrive here due to:
1. Frequent famines caused by extreme heat making the land dry and rocky.
2. Neglect by most governments
3. High rates of poverty, illiteracy and unemployment
Such rough conditions will pushes the youths to join terrorist organisations proving that in
Africa terrorism flourish where there is are no strong and stable governments, high levels of poverty, high illiteracy rates, unemployment, and high levels of corruption.
It is fair to make the statement that African terrorism is largely underestimated.
Only a handful of countries are fighting terrorism in the region – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, (together known as G5 Sahel) and France (the only foreign country which has stable presence) along with the UN peacekeeping troops to support the countries. Major militaries like the US, UK, Russia or EU are largely absent in Africa, when compared to the Middle East. Burkina Faso was comparatively a stable country but now terrorist activities have emerged from the state as well. Before more countries fall into the hands of terrorist, the world must act.
Undermining this continent is a huge mistake because Africa is largely under-developed which means there is a huge potential for natural resources. The continent is rich with gold, platinum, cobalt, bauxite, copper, iron, oil, natural gases and many such resources. A strong and stable state can use these resources to become rich and provide for its citizens. But, in the hands of terrorist organisations, these resources will positively impact their financial conditions making them more dangerous. The demand for the commodities of African natural resources will not decrease soon.
The African continent has an ideal geographic location. European colonies colonised Africa for easy trade. Add to its natural resources even today trade opportunities stand immense. It can act as a connection from the American continents to Asia.
Terrorism is rampant in Africa and the world must start paying attention to Africa and take strong, harsh decisions to drive out terrorism and better the lives of citizens. To start off, developed countries can support the democratically elected and fair governments in ways both parties seem fit. Corrupt governments can be weakened with global isolation while popular governments can reap the benefits of international aid. The governments can create citizen friendly policies like strong agriculture, education, health polices etc.. This would nudge the citizens to choose civilian life over terrorism.
With the help of strong armies and resilient policies, over the course of time, terrorism will lose its hold and the environment will be rich with social capital paving way for growth.
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Cover Image: Emmanuel Braun