Terrorism in Africa

Subject: Warfare
Pages: 16
Words: 4395
Reading time:
16 min
Study level: PhD


Several theorists had predicted differently about what the world would turn out to be after the end of the Cold War. Some believed that it was the end of history while others feared for the worst. Towards the end of the 20th century, fears of terrorist attacks dominated the security agenda of several countries. Terrorism is understood to be the unlawful use of violence against people or certain properties in an attempt to intimidate a government or the society for political reasons.

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Terrorism is different from the more common forms of crime since the motivating factor is not monetary. Other offenses involve financial gain, which is the main motivation. Terrorists plan their attacks well with an aim of terrorising the target and bringing about death and destruction. Their targets are usually selected well in order to premeditate a terrorist attack. Terrorists usually have a variety of targets that vary from country to country and from one attack to another. They also consider the level of anti-terrorist measures in the target country before going ahead with the attack. However, terrorist may not necessarily target their ‘real target’, which might be the government. Instead, they target a particular group or symbol that may be linked to the government indirectly.

In Africa, terrorism and the fight against it began as early as the 1990s. This was particularly in Sudan where Osama bin Laden had launched his attack on the president of Egypt. A while later, attacks to the American embassy in Tanzania and Kenya were reported. Following these events, the United States retaliated by attacking Afghanistan. It was also involved in the bombing of a chemical plant in Sudan. The reason behind this is that there was a possibility that the plant was producing chemical weapons to support the works of the al-Qaeda. The United States also went into Somalia to search, capture and to kill the perpetrators of the attacks.

The terrorist attack of 11th September 2001 that targeted the twin towers in the U.S. took terrorism to a new level. This was when war on terrorism became a global undertaking. The United States decided to send troops to Africa and especially to East Africa. Several counterterrorism initiatives were initiated in order to combat the issue. This involved the training of the soldiers on how to deal with such terrorist attacks. Therefore, Africa became as vulnerable to terrorism as any other continent in the world. Moreover, the nature of most African countries makes them susceptible to the terrorist activities.

One of the reasons why African states are susceptible to terrorist attacks and activities is due to the ethnic diversity. Vices such as tribalism and tribal politics may make the countries weak politically. Diversity in religion is another reason that may contribute to such terrorist activities. Many African are faced with adverse poverty that makes them susceptible to the growth of terrorist groups. Due to this poverty, they may not have the ability to put up adequate measures to counteract terrorism. This paper will look at how African politics are affected by terrorism and how they may encourage terrorism. The main objective of the paper is to determine the role of African politics in shaping the continent’s contribution to counter-terrorism efforts and global security.

How African politics may encourage terrorism

Terrorism may be compared to any other organized crime. For terrorism to be successful, terrorist require the opportunity and ability to perform their activities. Terrorists usually require recruiting the right personnel, mobilising funds, training, commanding and they also need intelligence. They also need to have equipment and weapons. Logistic support is vital for the success of their operations. Unfortunately, many of African countries provide easy access of these requirements to the terrorists and this explains why Africa has been greatly affected by the terrorists. In Africa, there is the availability of small arms and other weapons in circulation. The humanitarian personnel, peacekeepers and other forms of help happen to be soft targets of the terrorists. African countries also happen to be targets for the terrorists due to the great potential in the economy. Several African countries have huge oil investments that attract the terrorists. Other activities such as arm trafficking and drug trafficking (which is the case for countries with poor governments and political groups) provide the terrorists with loopholes to launch their attacks.

When a terrorist is motivated by the monetary gain from the activity, this is usually referred to as economic motivated terrorism. In Nigeria, for example, terrorist have shown interest in the oil reserves at the southern part. Terrorism in this area has been experienced in form of abductions where ransom is demanded.

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The Horn of Africa is a territorial boundary that is believed to facilitate the terrorist activities in the region. It acts as a bridge to the Middle East. This explains the nature of the relationships between the various Islamic cultures in the continent. This also explains how terrorist activities began in Sudan and spread along the coastline.

The fact that some of Africa’s countries are weak makes them easy targets for terrorists to use them as breeding grounds. Countries such as Somalia are politically weak and this explains why it is one of the breeding grounds for terrorists. It has been used as a training ground for various terrorist organizations. When the country’s leader, Siad Barre, fell, things changed for the worst. Warlords seized the country and caused instability. Therefore, the country lacked a central government. Attempt by U.S. to bring humanitarian aid to the country only led to disaster. Several U.S. service members were murdered. After this incident, U.S. stopped involving itself in the politics of Somali. Instead, it intensified its efforts towards preventing the country from being used as a training ground for those terrorist groups. It also intensified its intelligence and activities towards finding the perpetrators of the Tanzania and Kenya attacks.

Due to such void in the political system in Somali, the militant groups took over and worked on converting the country into an Islamic republic. Later on, this activity (conversion) went beyond the boundaries of Somali. Several groups were involved and they included the Al-Itihad, Jihad Al-Islam and Somali Islamic Front, among many others. The implementation of Shari’a law was also intensified and this was supported because of the benefits that came with it. The people were promised safety and sufficient food. They were also to be provided with legal assistance in case of conflict.

However, as anti-terrorist activities intensified, so did the terrorist activities. At some point, they defeated the alliance of the United States. They then joined hands with warlords and established a government that was strictly Islamic. Later on, various Islamic charitable groups arose and attempted to provide the citizens with basic needs. They did this in order to gain influence from the people. With such ideologies, they provided stiff competition to the non-governmental organisations from the west. In the midst of the chaos, another development ensued. Shar’ia courts were developed and they were firmly supported by the militia. The business class and other individuals in leadership positions supported their development because they provided stability.

Another reason why African countries are targets for terrorist attacks is due to the fact that some of them are tourist destinations. Many African governments have exploited the opportunity that comes with foreign visits. This is one source of financial gain due to foreign exchange. In many countries, tourism activities contribute a significant percentage of the total revenue. For example, Kenya attracts thousands of European tourists every year. This makes it an interest for the terrorist groups. Furthermore, there are several western embassies within the country. The many international businesses in the country also attract the terrorists. Kenya has been a target of the terrorists severally and this includes the bombing of the U.S. embassy and several hotels at the coastal region. For example, the Paradise Hotel was targeted and this brought fears among the tourists who had made it a routine to visit Kenya for holidays. This proved that the Horn of Africa was among the softest targets for terrorist attacks.

The politics in Kenya has also greatly facilitated the intensity of terrorist activities. One of the reasons that have facilitated this is the level of corruption in the country, especially in the government. Corruption has impeded the efforts against terrorism in the country. Corrupt politicians and leaders may cause the sustainability and proliferation of organized crime and illicit activities. Terrorists may make use of corrupt networks in there infiltration of government institutions in order to conduct their terrorist activities. Corruption may lead to facilitation of terrorist activities such as the smuggling of weapons. This may also be in the form of human trafficking and money laundering.

Botha and Solomon suggested that the increase in the spread of the terrorist groups in Africa is due to the socio-political ferment that resulted from the state of the economy. They also stated that the corrupt nature of the government makes them weak and unable to deal adequately with the terrorist activities. The Islamic Relief Organization, therefore, found its way in such economies in order to provide humanitarian aid in the name of Islam. Humanitarian aid included assistance in the area of education, welfare and health. They also spread their culture in the process. The Muslim nations that had interest in spreading Islam in the African nations funded the Islamic Relief Organizations. However, some of the organizations actually had legitimate objectives. The support groups, on the other hand, used it as a vanguard in order to initiate activities that would bring about destabilization.

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Another aspect that has helped in the increase of the extremist groups is the change in politics in some African states. Some of these changes have fuelled the increase in the radical Islamic movements. The introduction of political pluralism in the governance of the countries encouraged the Muslim groups to continue with their operations in an open manner. Their operations even became more organized and became more effective and intense. These radical groups were able to integrate themselves into the country’s political system since they (with the help of external forces) could disguise their illegal objectives as legit ones.

In Kenya, and other east African countries, the illegal Muslim groups came about as Islamic political parties were established. When the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi was bombed, the Islamic Relief Organization and other extremist groups took their exercise to another level. What followed was a fall in the political and socio-economic state of the country. This was as a result of the inefficiencies in the governmental and administrative functions. This unfortunate happening also greatly affected the country’s economic strongholds. These included agriculture, tourism and the industries. This effect on the economy made Kenya more vulnerable to the extremist groups.

Scholars and security strategists have suggested that some of the factors that make a given country vulnerable to terrorist attacks include governance issues, poverty and political instability, among others. These factors have made West Africa a potential target for terrorists. Despite the fact that the region has not reported any strikes from the terrorists, it remains vulnerable and it is still under threat. This is mainly due to the fact that the area had occasionally undergone a network of wars among the neighbouring countries. Civil war during the late 1990s placed the countries in a risky position as far as terrorism is concerned.

It has been noted that terrorism in Africa is a result of the factors that characterise the socio-political nature of the country. Such characteristics include the lack of an economic perspective by a country and the lack of a cultural identity. Other aspects include political regression. These characteristics are common among the sub-Saharan countries. What usually sparks the terrorist attacks is a simple mobilizing idea. In Congo, for example, terrorism has been as a result of the policies of other developed countries. These terrorist acts have been done in order to prevent the country from developing. The main goal is to maintain the prices of raw materials at their lows. When this is done, the terrorists use neighbouring countries to obtain the resources forcefully. With the ever-increasing incidences of terrorism in African countries, many countries have been made to wonder if the war on terrorism is their own.

The weakness of the African countries has created space for the terrorists to draw back. The informality of the countries’ economies also provides perfect conditions for money laundering to occur. The state of the country’s security is determined by the security apparatuses that have been put in place. Many of Africa’s countries have not put in place proper security apparatuses and this has rendered them vulnerable to attacks since the terrorists find a convenient environment to do their activities. State disintegration has also greatly facilitated the activities. Countries such as Guinea, Angola, Sierra Leone and Liberia are just examples of the many countries that are in the various stages of this process.

Another aspect of politics that has contributed to vulnerability of African countries is the lack of sufficient resources to have control over the entire state. The areas that have often been left out include the borders and the slums. This may be due to the insufficiency in the training and equipment of the security forces. In Kenya, the Northeastern province has been greatly neglected since the security there is not guaranteed. In order to travel safely on those grounds, one must be accompanied by the military personnel. The security forces deployed in the area usually retreat to isolated forts, leaving the region unprotected. Therefore, the Somali warlords take control of the area and use it to facilitate their activities. In addition to this, the police force is corrupt and has been criminalized. Some have been reported to rent out their weapons and vehicles in order for gangs to perform their robberies.

In poorer areas of the Nairobi city in Kenya, militants and leaders of religious sects are usually in control since security has not been beefed. To make things worse, these persons receive weapons from Somalia in order for them to perform robberies. The Kenya-Somali border is also not well secured because there is the illegal movement of people and goods.

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Several African states have economies that facilitate the easy trafficking of almost everything that the terrorist require for their activities. For example, weapons, consumer products and raw materials may be trafficked in such countries. The terrorists, on the other hand, use this for their advantage. Research has shown that without these loopholes, terrorism would not be possible. Therefore, African countries also contribute to the incidences of terrorism.

How terrorism affect politics in Africa

Terrorism has greatly affected politics in Africa. Most governments have shown their efforts in reducing the incidences of terrorism in their countries. One of the effects may be seen in the ban of the Islamic organizations in many of the African countries. This is despite the fact that these countries are democratic in nature. Examples of countries that have banned the establishment of such groups include Morocco, Egypt and Algeria. Since terrorism was considered a global threat, the governments of the African countries were determined to launch anti-terrorism initiatives at four levels. These were the national, regional, international and global levels. However, several governments have also shown their effort for such activities. Examples include Iran and Sudan. Sudan, under the manipulation of the National Islamic Front, has strived to show that the country is an Islamic one. This country has been involved in the interpretation of Islam.

Since the terrorist attack in the U.S., many African countries and multilateral organizations joined the war against terrorism. This has shown the commitment of the political leaders in fighting this issue. Different governments took different approaches in the fight against terrorism. For example, Algeria and Egypt attempted to use the hard approach. This did not go very well since it contributed to extremism. On the other hand, countries such as Kenya attempted to use activities that are more diplomatic in order to curb the menace. One of the activities included the assistance of the suffering Muslim community and the removal of laws that were oppressive towards this minority group. The Kenyan government also tried to provide the essential services such as the improvement of health care and education. The leaders ensured that the Muslim community had access to electricity and water and it also attempted to provide more employment for this group of individuals. Increased security in their areas was also ensured. However, all these efforts seemed not to be sufficient for the elimination of terrorism.

The African Union also saw the need to join in the fight against the menace and this involved the contribution from all the agencies. They included the Pan-African parliament and the executive council. The Peace and Security Council (PSC) was charged with the role of preventing and combating terrorism in the continent. The countries in Africa have responded differently to the issue. Some countries, such as those in West Africa supported the Americans in their attempt to get control over those areas that were not under governance.

Africa’s role in counter-terrorism efforts and global security

The issue of terrorism stopped being an issue only dealt by the United States since it became a global issue. Therefore, all the affected countries and potential targets initiated their counter-terrorism initiatives in order to curb the menace. However, these efforts have had a mixed effect on the security in the East African region. Firstly, these efforts opened up new security frontiers. The positive aspect of these efforts was the fact that it led to the initiation of peace deals in countries such as Sudan and Somalia. However, the restrictive nature of the security in the region (Horn of Africa) sparked civil war among the people. Other political figures went ahead to use the issue of terrorism in order to succeed in their political agendas.

Furthermore, most of the African states that embarked on the war against terrorism threatened the stability of their countries. These counter-terrorism laws also had no regards to the human rights and they only increased the gap between religions (conflict between religions).

Nevertheless, African countries have continued in their counter-terrorism effort in order to protect their states. For example, the government of Kenya realised that the spread of Islamism in the area facilitated the rise of the terrorist violence. Therefore, the government did not hesitate to decline the proposal of the Muslims to go ahead with the registration of the Islamic Party of Kenya. This party was meant to fight for the rights of the Muslim minorities. The Muslim youth responded by killing three police officers in their protests. Later on, they raided a local police station killing more police officers and making away with firearm.

Several African countries have responded by introducing counter-terrorism laws. There were 12 international counter-terrorism protocols that had been put in place for African countries to ratify in order to fight terrorism in the region. Tanzania, for example, introduced the Prevention of Terrorism Act. This law prohibited the provision of support to the terrorists within the state. On the other hand, Uganda introduced the Anti-Terrorism Act in their bid to fight terrorism. This law ensured that the terrorists would be imposed a death penalty and all those who supported or sponsored the terrorist activities were to potentially face the same judgement.

Kenya, under the newly elected president, Mwai Kibaki, showed its efforts towards fighting terrorism. This may be seen in the publishing of the Suppression of Terrorism Bill. However, the government faced oppositions and pressure from the Muslim groups as they cried foul. Therefore, this issue was placed on the bench as the parliamentarians faced strong resistance. The Witness Protection Bill was passed later in order to ensure that those who witnessed any acts of terrorism would be protected. Kenya beefed up its security and stepped up in its counter-terrorism efforts as it selected a special unit from the police force. This team joined hands with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation in order to fight against the supporters of Osama bin Laden. In Tanzania, a similar case occurred. The police joined hands with the U.S. forces in order to put into custody those who were found guilty for the bombings in Dar es Salaam.

Kenya continued with its efforts by stationing army personnel along the northeastern border. However, there were few boats and workforce to patrol the whole coastline. This had a negative effect on the anti-terrorism efforts since the terrorists and pirates continued to operate in the region. Somalia, on the other hand, has no coast guards or army personnel patrolling the coastal region. This had made the Indian Ocean unsafe since the pirates could infiltrate and capture cargo vessels plying the route. This made Kenya to step up and beef up the security of the Ocean by sending the Kenya Navy to perform regular patrols.

The efforts of the Kenyan government have also been seen in its establishment of the inter-ministerial task force that ensured that the terrorist activities could not be financed. One of the ways this was done is through deregistration of Muslim NGOs that had earlier been suspected of being involved in such illegal activity (financing terrorists). The groups affected included the al-Najah Islamic Center, the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, among many others.

Many other African countries have also been involved in similar activities to support the war against terrorism. This began during the late 1990s when countries such as Libya, Algeria and Morocco joined hands in the fight against terrorism in Egypt. The IGAD member states, made up of several countries at the eastern region, also joined hands in order to fight terrorism at all levels. These countries supported the adoption of the six-point implementation plan. This plan had some benchmarks and standards that had to be adhered to in order to ensure compliance by the member countries.

West Africa has also been greatly involved in the fight against corruption. One of the initiatives that were introduced in order to curb these acts was the Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Initiative (TSCTI). This initiative cost the country about $120 million. The region was also involved in the building of the region’s defence force and the upgrade of its security capacities. The main aim of TSCTI was to train more personnel and improve the information sharing among countries. This initiative went across the border to include neighbouring countries such as Morocco, Nigeria and Tunisia, among many others. This initiative focused on the training of soldiers from the member countries and equipping them with the necessary material in order to be in a better position to prevent the spread of the extremist groups. This was also meant to ensure security on the national and regional borders. This initiative supported the work started by U.S. on the global war on terrorism and ensured that Africa was self-sufficient and independent on the issue.

Another initiative that was put in place for the same objective was the African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA). It contained several programs that were designed to fit individual countries in order to foster security, provide humanitarian support and ensure the availability of peacekeeping activities. The training was mainly done by the U.S. military personnel. They also used the military equipment and technologies of the U.S. West Africa allowed the U.S. to put in place their facilities and bases such as airports and ports in order for the U.S military to be in a position to launch their missions when need arose. This clearly shows that West Africa was in partnership with the United States in the fight against terrorism. Despite the obvious partnership between the two states, U.S. appears to dominate in the initiatives. Therefore, this may mean that West Africa may be held captive by external interests that may negatively affect the citizens’ interests at later stages.

Conclusion and recommendations

Terrorism is an act of terror that is directed towards specific countries for political reasons or other related reasons. Africa has been greatly affected by this illegal act and it has put its efforts towards fighting terrorism. Counterterrorism efforts have been seen in several states and one of the main efforts is the partnership with the United States in the fight. West Africa, for example, allowed the U.S. to take control of the ungoverned areas of its territory. It is unfortunate that many of the terrorist attacks in Africa are facilitated by the conditions presented by the countries themselves. The terrorists have used such conditions to advance their gangs into the country and enabled them to perform their illegal activities. For example, unsecure borders allow for the infiltration of the gangs into the country.

One of the main facilitators of terrorism is corruption in the police force. The police force has been involved severally in the facilitation of terrorist activities in that they lend their weapons and vehicles. The government should be aware of this and ensure that measures are put in place in order to curb this menace. One of the main motivators for the police officers to be involved in such corrupt deals is money. This is due to the fact that the police officers (in Kenya, for example) have low salaries. Since their salaries do not motivate them to do their job right, they resort to illegal deals in order to make ends meet. Therefore, the government should make an effort to increase their salaries and make them comfortable so that they would not be tempted to source for money from such illegal deals. Such offenders should also face the law so that future attempts would be discouraged.

Another facilitator is the lack of proper security in some areas of the country. The African countries should ensure that there is security in all areas and that illegal activity is not tolerated. This would ensure that the terrorists do not have more avenues to exploit. Such countries should also employ the strategy adopted by West Africa when they allowed the United States to govern those areas in the country that were not governed. Partnership with U.S. would increase its efforts and ensure security in those areas. Therefore, African countries should be well equipped to handle terrorist attacks and should put in place measures to ensure that the terrorists do not have avenues to exploit for their advantage.


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