20 years after 9/11: Africa as a jihadist hotspot


As of: 09/10/2021 8:56 a.m.

In the past 20 years, Africa has become the region of the world most affected by terrorism. Militant Islamists are particularly active in countries in the west and east of the continent. The backgrounds.

By Norbert Hahn, ARD Studio Nairobi

Twenty years after the 9/11 attacks, Islamist terror has become a fixture in Africa. In a report to the Security Council, the UN committee responsible for monitoring Islamist terrorist groups stated for the first half of 2021: “The most noticeable development in this period is that Africa has become the region of the world most affected by terrorism.”

Hatred of their own regimes

Militant Islamism had its early roots in Egypt in the 1950s and 1960s. Driving force: Sayyid Qutb, the thought leader of the Muslim Brotherhood at the time. The goal: a new ideology that rejects capitalism, socialism and secularism. Instead, a radical turn to morality and belief was preached. There was particular hatred of their own regimes, which were supposedly corrupted by the West.

Osama bin Laden was also a follower of these teachings. He was active in Sudan in the 1990s – years which experts believe were essential for the success of the newly formed terrorist group Al-Qaeda. When the group confessed to the attacks on the US embassies in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and Nairobi (Kenya) in 1998, he had to leave Sudan.

Al-Qaeda stayed, IS joined in

Al-Qaeda, however, has remained on the continent and the so-called Islamic State (IS) has been added. The two organizations now have some of their most successful branches in Africa through offshoots and alliances.

IS and its allies are mainly active in Central and West Africa. From Mali it goes to Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Niger and Senegal. The south of Chad and Niger are infiltrated from Nigeria. In the east of the continent, the roots of the evil lie in Somalia: Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda alliance, operates from Somalia, into Kenya, then, with its allies, further south in Mozambique.

There now also seem to be attacks on Tanzania from the north of Mozambique; for the UN reporters this is “a particularly worrying development”.

In the view of the west: Mali and Somalia

After the abandonment of Afghanistan by the western allies, the focus is now on two countries: Mali in the west and Somalia in the east of the continent. 13,000 UN soldiers are stationed in Mali, including around 1,000 Germans from an EU training mission, and around 5,000 French soldiers. The number of French is to be greatly reduced: The use is unpopular with the citizens in the home country – and also in Mali.

It is similar in Somalia: 20,000 soldiers from eleven African countries have failed to bring peace since 2007, even with massive Western aid. Here, too, support is about to melt away. The USA, which has around 6,000 soldiers in the African fight against terrorism, is already reducing its commitment. Al-Shabaab is said to be making land gains, writes the Wall Street Journal, citing the military.

Nepotism and corruption

The West trains soldiers who, however, often do not know what to give their lives for. “If you look at the behavior of certain representatives of the state – the security forces, the judiciary or even the communities – it does not help the population to recognize the authority of the state,” says Aly Tounkara, security analyst in Mali. In other words, no support from the people can be expected for nepotism and corruption in states that are only a shadow of themselves.

This people is often not homogeneous anyway. An example from Mali: The pastoral people of the Fulani (or: Peul) have long been in dispute with settled farmers. It’s about social neglect, frustration with the government, animal theft and grazing grounds; Most Fulani – unlike the farmers in the south – are Muslims.

All of this becomes a mixture that the Islamists in Mali use for recruitment. Suddenly Fulani are under general suspicion in the eyes of some military officials: A spiral of violence sets in that drives even more supporters into the arms of the radicals. It’s not about simple, military solutions, but about complex problems.

IS and Al Qaeda offshoots successful in West and East Africa

This is why there is still no end in sight to the Islamist upswing in Sub-Saharan Africa – with dire consequences: around two million refugees in the western Sahel, well over 1,000 deaths annually in Mali, and an estimated 30,000 deaths since 2009 by the Islamists in Nigeria. None good prospects for a whole generation in large parts of the continent.

According to a study by the South African Ichikowitz Foundation, almost 80 percent of young respondents between the ages of 18 and 24 are concerned about the development.

Another comparison is worrying: According to the “Global Terror Index” of the Institute for Economic Affairs and Peace, the number of attacks and fatalities fell massively worldwide between 2014 and 2019 – but rose dramatically in many African countries. “Especially in West and East Africa, the offshoots of IS and Al-Qaeda boast that they have gained supporters and territory,” the report to the UN Security Council said.

This is news that doesn’t bode well – not for Africa, but not for the rest of the world either.

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