Boko Haram, al Shabaab and ISIS: Terrorism is now Africa’s existential threat


As Nigeria-originated Boko Haram destabilizes parts of West and Central Africa, with Somalia-based al Shabaab attacks in East Africa and ISIS joining AQIM to attack North Africa, Islamic terrorism is no longer a state or regional issue- but a continental problem.

On Monday al Shabaab killed six people, among them four aid workers for the international children’s agency UNICEF, in Somalia’s northeastern city of Garowe. The attack comes a day after the militants killed three AU peacekeepers, a week after the group killed 17 Mogadishu, and barely a month after it murdered 148 students in Kenya. Just yesterday, 10 more Somalians were killed by a car bomb, the orchestrator- al Shabaab.

On Sunday the Iraq-originated Islamic State, or ISIS, released a video on social media showing militants shooting and beheading about 30 Ethiopian Christians in Libya. The militants, this year, extended the sphere of their influence from Iraq and Syria to conflict-ridden Libya. There they have severally attacked foreigners, the most brazen of which were the assault on the Corinthian Hotel in Tripoli and the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians in February.

Back in February, Egypt retaliated with air-strikes on ISIS targets in Libya, and now the Ethiopian government is mulling a military response, but both countries, and indeed the rest of Africa, must realize that terrorism can only be defeated by collective cooperation, not individual campaigns.

In September of 2014, the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) made proposals for a closer security cooperation and coordination among member-states in the fight against terrorism. Among the proposals were the institution of an African arrest warrant and the set-up of specialised regional counter-terrorism units. However, over six months later, very little has been made of those recommendations. Between the AU September meeting and now, terrorists have grown in number and in the size of their attacks. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its subsidiaries have struck in Mali, Algeria and Tunisia. The most deadly of its campaigns was the group’s attack of a Tunisian museum in which it killed over 22 people. Al shabaab has also been prolific in its terror campaigns; just last month it murdered 148 students in Garrisa, Northeast Kenya, and since then has severally attacked AU security forces, aid workers and government officials in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu.

Boko Haram was enjoying a similar run in Northern Nigeria and neighbouring communities until the country and its neighbours–Chad, Cameroon and Niger– teamed up to push them back. The success achieved by the four states is testament to the urgent need for regional military coalition and continent-wide security partnership and intelligence sharing. Even terror groups understand the importance of partnerships; al Shabaab is affiliated to al Qaeda and has an understanding with AQIM, while both AQIM and Boko Haram have both publicly sworn allegiance to ISIS. The alignment of the terror groups makes more urgent the need to quickly integrate the continent’s security system and apparatus.

Equally important to stronger security cooperation is the need for African states to strengthen their governance institutions. Most African states are weak in their ability to protect lives, properties and national sovereignty. They are also plagued by political instability, severe gaps in the respect of human rights and the prevalence of corruption and indiscipline in governance. These factors are the main harbingers of terrorism. In Somalia, Egypt, Libya, and Mali, terrorists took advantage of political instability, while in Nigeria and Kenya they were propelled by corruption, government ineptitude and porous borders. The Sahara Desert, Africa’s wild west, also guarantees these Islamist groups safe havens.

In order to defeat these extremists springing up all over the continent, African countries must begin by joining forces together. The continent will also benefit from plugging holes that often eases the spread of terrorism.


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