The forgotten front in the war on Terror: Africa’s battle with Terrorism

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Westgate Shopping Mall in Kenya, during the massacre by al Shabaab


The forgotten front in the war on Terror: Africa’s battle with Terrorism

From the Maghreb to Mombasa, Islamic terrorism is now rife in much of Africa. Corruption, poverty and fragile political institutions are but some of the problems which need to be overcome by African nations if this battle is to be won. Unfortunately for the peoples of Africa, the rise of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has drawn the world’s attention to the Middle East and away from Africa. This pivot away from Africa is going to have disastrous consequences not just for the region, but for the world.

The main threat to Kenya is al-Shabaab, who are a Somali based terrorist group affiliated with al-Qa’ida. Al-Shabaab has carried out numerous atrocities in the region, most notably the September 2013 Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi. The Westgate attack killed 67 Kenyan and non-Kenyan nationals. It captured the attention of the world’s media however this was short lived and since then the world’s attention has shifted. The Kenyan battle with al-Shabaab is failing. Recent anti-terror legislation, rather than being used to combat terrorism, has been used to undermine civil liberties in the country rather than combat Al-Shabaab; this has served to further exacerbate political divisions within the country. The rise of Al-Shabaab has caused serious problems for Kenya’s tourism industry, one of the nation’s largest employers. As tourists avoid Kenya’s beaches unemployment rises. It is feared that this will be exploited by Al-Shabaab who will prey on the unemployed and use these recruits to further destabilise the region. Kenya is thus trapped in a destructive cycle. As political division prevents an effective strategy to combat al-Shabaab, the tourism industry collapses. This rise in unemployment then leads to increases in al-Shabaab’s membership and they use this increased membership to further divide the nation.

Moving from East Africa to West Africa, Nigeria is likewise engaged in a struggle for its survival with Islamic militants. The threat to Nigeria comes from “Boko Haram” – a Nigeria-based group in the North East of the country that seeks to overthrow the current Nigerian government and replace it with a regime based on Islamic law. Boko Haram continues to conduct near-daily attacks against a wide range of targets, including Christians, Nigerian security and police forces, the media, schools, politicians, and Muslims perceived as collaborators.  Boko Haram continues to expand its activity into neighbouring countries and has claimed responsibility for attacks in Cameroon. Boko Haram made world headlines with the kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls in Borno State in April 2014. Yet despite some help from the international community, Nigeria continues to try, with limited success, to oust the group from north-eastern Nigeria and its safe havens throughout the area. The severity of this threat led to presidential elections being postponed in the interests of national security, however, given the political history of the region we must be cautious of this [4]. Nigeria is vital to the region as it is one of the largest and most developed countries in Africa. In addition Nigeria plays a central role in peace keeping operations within Africa. Boko Haram is not solely a Nigerian problem, but a global problem.

From Nigeria to the sands of the Maghreb, Mali faces collapse as it struggles to fend of Islamic groups such as Al-Qa‘ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar al-Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) who seek to establish an Islamic state in the region.  The siege at the Amenas gas plant in Algeria drew attention to this region and the threat faced [5]. The response was swift and French Military intervention in its former colony served to fight back and contain the threat posted from Islamic extremism, however, like all military intervention, French intervention has inevitably fed into notions of a global struggle with the West and as a result, these groups have drawn more recruits to their banner.

If the World wants to prevent atrocities in Africa or further afield it must not turn its back on Africa. Military intervention, whilst initially solving the problem, only serves in the long term to aid these groups who wish to portray a global war with foreign powers. Only through strengthening ties with the region and seeking to address its political, economic and social problems can terrorism be defeated and Africa begin to recover from the devastation terrorism has caused.

Written by Nathaniel Robinson