What should be done? The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) is lobbying for joint military operations involving regional states. But intelligence sharing, border controls and efforts to win over local populations would be cheaper and more effective. Ecowas should redouble efforts to avert electoral crises that militants could use to their advantage.Public Policy 

Africa should not wait for jihadists to get stronger before our leaders act

By Cherbo Geeplay

Today, everything we know says Africa is plagued with barrage of conflicting issues, and prominent amongst these is the looming threat of terrorism buckling at the feet of our leaders who are not proactive on the issue to fight the crime, even as migration or corruption spiral out of control, and caught between the scissors are our poor people who otherwise are the victims largely of these conflicts. They are caught in terrifying crosshair here—with little options available to them. When we are talking about Africa: the nagging regional issue becomes, what must be done to fight these jihadist movements, so our peoples can live in peace and prosperity on the continent of their birth, in an era when Africa seek answers to difficult matters: mass Poverty, Poor access to Education, harsh health conditions, perverse violence, chronic hunger, sustainable agriculture that feeds its peoples, nutrition and food security, access to financing, and an economic growth rate that is far too low to create a rapid middle class, despite some economic progress here and here. With all the above narrated: the issue of terrorism is a prime cause for concerns and a major destabilizing factor, with the propensity to cause the most harm and dislocation of poor families.

That these militants’ Islamic units are determined to carve a foothold in Africa given the zealotry with which they are arming themselves is worrying. The past few years Boko Haram has had Nigeria by the throats for close to two decades. The terrorist agency is wreaking havoc on the population, and it seems Nigeria, one of Africa’s military and economic powers has few answers for Boko Haram, the terrorist organization which prostrates the West African nation of 200 million inhabitants. African leaders should not be distracted, and power struggle should not get in the way of finding lasting solutions to this serious cross border conflict, now ongoing within the doorsteps of our nations. These militant organizations want above all political and economic power to establish a caliphate and sharia law against the popular wishes and wills of Africans generally.

Because the threat is imminent, Africa should not wait for these jihadists to get stronger before our leaders act. With Africa’s rough terrain made of dense forests and vegetation, for example, the Lord Resistance Army and Joseph Kony, have been around for close to three decades, eluding capture while orchestrating horde of kidnappings. The LRA, is not as strong as these Islamic militants, but have also wreaked untold havoc across Uganda and neighboring countries. It must also be noted that the LRA is not that extreme its religious fanaticism compare to these Islamic terrorists that have better recruitment tactics and equipment, having fought the West in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen, and now pose even greater threats, than anything Africa has seen in its modern history since it gained independence in the 1960s.

Yet the LRA still exists even after the United States sent commandos to find Joseph Kony and extinguish his movement. The New York Times observing these events, wrote in a 2014 headline: A Mission to Capture or Kill Joseph Kony Ends, Without Capturing or Killing, adding, “The United States spent almost $800 million on the effort since 2011 when President Barack Obama deployed Special Operations forces to the region to provide advisory support, intelligence and logistical assistance to African Union soldiers fighting the Lord’s Resistance Army.” The article went on to say, “Treasury statement on March 8, 2016, blamed Mr. Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army for at least 329 civilian abductions in the Central African Republic between July 2014 and July 2015. The department also accused the L.R.A. of engaging in “illicit diamonds trade, elephant poaching, and ivory trafficking. Through all of this, Mr. Kony has managed to avoid capture. His troops operate throughout 115,000 square miles of territory in Central African Republic, South Sudan, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo — all areas of conflict where civilians have fallen prey to marauding groups of fighters.”

For example, we already know what Al Shabab has done in Somalia and Kenya, maiming and killing innocent civilians. The issue of terrorism whether in Africa, Europe or the west, is a global threat that equally requires global efforts to defeat. Efforts by France and other allies to help fight jihadists in Africa must be welcomed, but African leaders must do more, the onus to protect its citizenry should not be outsourced, although collaborating with allies to fight these jihadist movements should be seen as a positive development.

As this issue gains domestic and international concerns, this week the International crisis group released a report in which it says, “In West Africa, jihadist movements are spreading like the desert, from north to south. Their influence in Burkina Faso is a growing concern for West Africa’s coastal states. Though these states have suffered very few attacks, their leaders fear that militants will use Burkina as a launching pad for operations further south. The sub-regional organization, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), is lobbying for large-scale military operations in response.” Its overview of the jihadist threat it wrote needs serious efforts to contain and the think tank was less optimistic, adding, “yet such operations could prove a blunt instrument in a situation that requires surgical tools; they may aggravate tensions among ethnic groups in vulnerable areas.

Instead, coastal states should adopt measures that are less expensive and likely to be more effective: better intelligence gathering and sharing, better border controls, targeted arrests and repaired relations with populations in neglected northern areas.” The statement went on to say, “Ecowas should also take steps to minimize risks that elections in several coastal states do not provoke crises that would distract from efforts to rein in jihadists.” The International crisis group concluded that “In 2020, for the first time in its post-independence history, West Africa could face a major crisis coupling political disturbances in the south with insecurity in the north.

The combination of these two flashpoints could be catastrophic for the region. To avert this possibility, awareness of the danger must be raised at the highest possible level. Leaders need to recognize that terrorism is not the only threat in the area and that regional interests must take precedence over private and national considerations. Otherwise, various heads of state will soon find themselves the leaders of countries in turmoil,” or may lose power as was the case in Mali in 2012, when the army seized power over concerns that its government was doing less to fight militant jihadists.

This looming threat was on displayed last week as Islamic State, which was welcomed into Nigeria by Boko Haram, beheaded a dozen Christians during the Christmas festivities, with Reuters adding, “The militant group posted the footage on its online Telegram news channel on Thursday, the day after Christmas, with Arabic captions but no audio. The video showed men in beige uniforms and black masks lining up behind blindfolded captives, then beheading 10 of them and shooting the 11th man.” Please see below a few concerns, as the threat looms over our poor people of Africa, and especially Western Africa that bears the brunt of these conflicts.

Serious security threats admist indifference from African leaders

  1. The warnings by security experts that West Africa or Africa generally is now the new home of jihadist organizations have received Lukewarm reception or death ears from African leaders. Our presidents and prime ministers are mainly concerned with power struggles than state-building, or the solidification of African institutions, and especially strong security architectures capable of responding to these threats and mayhem.
  2. That Africa is attractive for several reasons, to Islamic fundamentalism, fanaticism, and jihadists’ propaganda is on display for all to see: easy access and free rein, which comes with Sharia and indoctrination, and the insane or crazy crusade to resurrect the so-called caliphate in parts of Africa especially the Nigerian north.
  3. African governments are weak, for one, and there are illicit trades and an abundance of resources to exploit, and this can be done easily as public or government regulations are weak or near to none existent (e.g., in the Sahel, Islamic State is now engaged in gold mining, just like the LRA is trading in natural resources in East Africa). This sort of brazen and illegal natural resource tap, will never happen anywhere in the West, yet state actors and the powers that be cannot act, because either there’s no political will or zero to near no INTERESTS in confronting these terrorists and or protecting the vulnerable population who are the real victims here.
  4. That African governments are dysfunctional, corrupt, and lack the proper infrastructures i.e., intelligence and ample security apparatuses (training, equipment, and manpower) to fight these terrorist cells and militant Muslim groups, and are increasingly relying on colonial powers to lead the fight. E.g., France, Turkey, etc.
  5. That this terrorism on our borders is a serious threat to African lives and prosperity; this is also a grave danger to regional and continental stability. Defeated largely in the Middle East, and choked off in the West, Africa is the place Islamic State and other jihadist agencies are regrouping to spread their bloody ideology. Hence, compounding this very troubling issue, the jihadist agencies are growing in numbers: Al Shabab, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, Islamic State and many more Islamic terror cells and groups now make AFRICA their base and home turf!

Finally, with these killings or beheadings now public knowledge and growing across the region, like the migration threat which has seen African nationals bastardized in North Africa and the high Mediterranean Sea, African leaders and governments are mute or don’t seem to have the kind of high-level interests needed to address these imminent security threats to the continent—not many are expressing indignation or alarm, or doing much to quell this disquiet. The time to act is now!

author’s contact: akklamm@gmail.com

Main Photo: African jihadist agencies are growing in numbers, www.africanjournalonline

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