While following current news, I am knocked out once again with the never ending mayhem in Libya and Syria. For quite some time, there has been remarkable media attention in those countries and the world is submerged here. Not to mention anxiety in Euro zone following Turkey, France and Brussels recent terror attacks. But, Africa is under serious threats by emergence of insurgent groups that employ terrorist tactics. These include, Boko Haram in Nigeria that is fighting for self-determination, Al Shabaab in Somalia that shares a mutual extremist ideology with Al Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) based mainly in Libya is taking over Northern Africa with the aim of building new Islamic caliphate across the Middle East.
The words of Hillary Clinton swirl in my mind trying to think of what human population is faced with in modern days that,
“Let’s not leave an educational vacuum to be filled by religious extremists who go to families who have no other option and offer meals, housing and some form of education. If we are going to combat extremism then we must educate those very same children”.
Hillary Clinton’s words reminds of some somber past in Africa. In 1998, Al Qaeda conducted its first documented concurrent terrorist attacks against U.S. interests, killing 224 people, injuring over 4,500 in the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Some worrying developments
Lately, significant changes have happened, terrorist groups have intensified their activities. Just to mention the most prominent ones, Al Qaeda and related groups have executed successive terrorist attacks in East Africa, including the first known attack by an American suicide bomber in Somalia in October 2008.
In 2010, close to simultaneous bombings were launched on crowds watching a screening of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final in Kampala, Uganda. Al Shabaab has threatened attacks on Burundi and other countries including Western targets in East Africa that support or have deployed troops to the African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
On September 21, 2013, Westgate a popular mall located in an affluent zone in Nairobi, Kenya, turned into a bloody battleground when Al-Shabaab broke its new grounds seized hostages and killed more than 70 people and injuring more than 175 people. In addition, April 2015, about 147 people, mostly students, were killed in an assault by Al-Shabaab militants on a university in north-eastern Kenya.
Consequently, in 2014, Boko Haram seizes a rural school in Northern Nigeria and Kidnapped 276 school girls. United Nations report that the militant group has contributed in the massive inflation and soaring food prices that come at a time when people have little left from the last harvest – Having blown landmark crude oil tanks and oil reserves. Also, due to killings and displacement of people, there is an alarming slowdown in food production in a region that is already struggling.
Sectarian violence is spreading across Africa in an ominously mode. Religious- ethnic tension is spilling over to neighboring countries – Religion is a transcending force as witnessed in Central African Republic, Sudan and Nigeria. There is also the potential of spill over effects in Egypt and Tunisia as a result of Islamic State determination in Libya. Continued fighting between nationalists and Islamists could attract foreign fighters. No doubt, this is a recipe for extremists to utilize and achieve their interest.
Consequently, the “new” terrorism tactics presents unique threats. The groups are harnessing on the globalization that helps define our era to the destructive potential of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons. Such groups have become true transnational threats. Nothing can be taken for granted as anything can happen anytime. These terrorists use multiple identities to operate in countless countries, autonomous of any state, sponsor or solitary home base. They are able to generate funds by any applicable means. Africa generally is a soft target given the infrastructure make-up. With the inadequate observation and surveillance equipment unimaginable spots like sheds, storage – lock-ups, garages and the like can all be used by terrorists to assemble or store equipment. Not forgetting training, meetings and planning can take place anywhere.
The composition and the people the terrorist groups associate with is important to highlight. Boko Haram and Al- Shabaab have no known connection to the diaspora communities, but they have transformed into fanatically violent terrorist organizations. The IS is rapidly radicalizing youth through on time internet communication-most of the forums are anonymous, low cost and pay-as-you-go services. Unregistered and stolen mobile phones are classic methods of communication terrorist use. Albeit, there are some laws on privacy and data protection rights, it remains a challenge to track down hundreds of terrorist linked websites.
Further, Al Qaeda has continued its efforts to encourage key regional affiliates and so-called “jihadist” linkages to pursue a global agenda using both the Internet as a means to distribute propaganda, communicate, recruit, train, plan attacks and coordinate movements. Terrorists are using the internet to raise and transfer funds. And yes, bomb-making instructions are shared by terrorist through the internet.
Many are underrating the scourge of radicalization and terrorism. It is bad and getting worse by day. Young minds are being perverted and exploited. They are made willingly to die for tough ideological reasons, at the same time destroying so many innocent lives. The numbers of recruits are increasingly alarming, they don’t seem to have any remorse anymore for their action. Sadly, the increasing numbers of “at risk” young people is also rising. The refugee crisis in Europe continue to be prolific ground for recruitment of extremists especially if numbers of immigrants, specifically, second and third generation Muslims continue to be discontented by current socioeconomic and integration difficulties and feel alienated by governments’ domestic and foreign policies.
As long as there is no proper framework to accommodate demographic forces in particular population explosion as seen in Nigeria, youth at risk will be drifted to hopelessness. Hence, the pull factors that presumably appear to provide incentives will engulf them into terror groups.
Having the above scenario in mind, it will be tenable for African countries and the world to keep an eye on a fore mentioned indicators in order to invest appropriately in counter-terrorism strategies.
Deteriorating national development strategies due to conflict and lack of political congruence particularly, in governance, poverty and corruption, education, health and basic services is a precursor for trouble. It is high time to invest mostly in locations where the risk for radicalization is remarkably high to tackle legitimate grievances peacefully and strive to foster resilience that will prevent pull factors” that drive recruitment in these “hotspots.” This is by creating tailor-made programs and strategies in response to specific needs in those localities.
Criminal Justice Systems should be revamped with a major focus on building capacities on counter-terrorism by training police, prosecutors, border officials and members of the judiciary to more systematic, more innovative, and more effective system.
To deal with insecurity and violation of human rights and the rule of law, national and local leaders must be empowered to encounter extremist interpretations through well-designed programs, training and funding that will decrease popular disillusionment that create conditions of desperation. This perspective is meant to build on sustainability and embody long term intensity of the political will and spirit in the fight against terrorist.
As no country can address the threat of terrorism singly, nor resolved the threat through military power alone, a comprehensive approach including continual exchange of ideas and engagement with the international community is paramount. Therefore, multilateral cooperation that incorporates strategies to counter violent extremism by all levels of society and government is the way forward. Those alliances and existing partnerships should be bolstered.
The launch of the electronic passport (e-passport) at this year’s African Union Summit that took place in Kigali, Rwanda, in July, is meant to improve free movement of people, good and services in the continent. It is crucial to pay attention on not only the benefit of this long awaited integration of “continent with seamless borders” but, threshold that terrorist organizations can use to expand their mission.
The idea in this piece is to stress that terrorism undermines sovereignty to the core. Why? When terror strikes, there is panic and retreating of normalcy in people’s lives. And then there comes fear, panic, mistrust, doubts, suspicions, racial profiling and all the evils of xenophobia. This rips off national pride.
By Nelly Niyonzima