The Challenges of Solving Terrorism in Africa

by Tope Shola Akinyetun

Terrorism is a plague from which no continent or country is immuneConinsx.

The above statement exemplifies how widespread the menace of terrorism is around the world. Terrorism refers to the illegal use of violence to coerce a people or government to achieve a political end. The occurrence of terrorism could be domestic or international. Terrorism is domestic when it seeks to coerce or undermine the authority of a government within its territorial jurisdiction. However, when it is aimed at weakening a government outside its jurisdiction or if its operations are transboundary, it is referred to as international terrorism. Terrorism is therefore an epidemic that if not reined, will transmogrify into a pandemic. To be sure, the menace of terrorism has permeated several continents and has left the citizens of many countries wallowing in poverty, displacement, deprivation, and unwarranted deaths. Terrorism, no doubt, constitutes a bane to international security. According to the Global Terrorism Index [GTI] (2020), West Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, Russia, South America, the Middle East, and South Asia are among the regions with incidences of terrorism around the world. This is an indication that international security remains a fluid notion as long as terrorism grows.

The region with the highest incidence of terrorism is sub-Saharan Africa. Terrorism in sub-Saharan Africa has assumed an unprecedented dimension since the bombings of the United States Embassy in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Evidence of terrorist activities also emerged in Nigeria in 2009 when a young Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to bomb an aeroplane in Detroit. Today, terrorism in sub-Saharan Africa has become a more sophisticated nut for the government to crack. Terrorist activities have become more pronounced in Somalia, the Sahel, and the Lake Chad Basin as perpetrated by Al-Shabaab, Ansar al-Dine, and Boko Haram, respectively. Of these groups, Boko Haram has proven more active, more deadly and more ferocious; ranking 3rd on the GTI rank and making Nigeria an epicentre of terrorism in Africa. Studying the Boko Haram sect in Nigeria is merited, as the group, with an international outlook, has spread into neighbouring countries such as Niger, Cameroon, Mali and Chad.

Despite the several counterterrorism strategies adopted to combat the menace of terrorism in Nigeria, the country remains plagued by incessant terrorist attacks. That is, these counterterrorism measures have proven ineffective and are at risk of turning the military into terrorists themselves. This has made winning the war on terror an illusion. However, several key obstacles are responsible for the failure of the government to tackle terrorism. These obstacles include identity politics; prevailing socioeconomic conditions; a weak security apparatus; the politicization of the war on terror; underfunded national security and intelligence services; porous borders; and weak regional integration – among others.

One of the major obstacles to solving the challenge of terrorism is identity – ethnic, religious and cultural. The social identity theory of extremism suggests that terrorism festers as a result of the notion of ‘we’ vs ‘them’ or as a result of the perceived threat to a group’s identity. This explains Boko Haram’s categorization of western education as a sin that threatens Islamic teachings. Given the level of multiculturalism in Nigeria, it is not surprising to see a group like Boko Haram rise in arms against the government following a perceived threat to its identity. Besides, post-colonial African states such as Nigeria are majorly ridden with identity crises following the artificial union occasioned by colonial construct. Therefore, the lack of national identity and the consciousness of the identity of separation makes it easy for terrorism to thrive.

Another key obstacle to solving the challenge of terrorism in Africa is the prevailing economic condition of the country. For instance, Nigeria is presently the poverty capital of the world with about 70 million (i.e. 40% of the total population) people living in abject poverty. Whereas, Africa has been described as the poorest continent in the world with about 433 million people. Following Ted Gurr’s conception of relative deprivation, groups, when deprived, tend to subscribe to frustration-aggression which makes the possibility, sustenance and proliferation of terrorism possible.

A weak security apparatus is yet another obstacle to curbing terrorism. The morale of the Nigerian army has been dampened over time. This is not unconnected with the fact that the weapons of the officers are often inferior to that of the members of the sect. There have been allegations of the funds meant to acquire arms for the Nigerian army being embezzled by the top echelon of the military thus discouraging the officers from giving their all. Some officers have also willingly resigned from the services of the military for fear of being killed by the Boko Haram sect.

More so, there is speculation that government officials might be sponsoring these terrorist groups to achieve a political end. For instance, ex-President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan once retorted that Boko Haram adherents are in his government, in the legislature, judiciary, police, armed forces, and other security agencies. This makes it difficult to defeat the group given the possibility of insider information being leaked ahead of assault operations. Also, it is suggested that terrorism is often politicized by the political elite to serve as a cash cow.

The majority of the security and intelligence services in Africa are underfunded and understaffed and are therefore incapacitated from engaging in coordinated intelligence gathering. For instance, it is suggested that the war on terror in Africa has failed because the governments in Africa have failed to understand the structure and operations of the sects. For emphasis, little is known about the organizational structure of Boko Haram, its communication channels, recruitment channels and financiers. The police have also been accused of lacking sophisticated gadgets to intercept the communication channels of the sect, and forensic laboratories to investigate the arms and other materials recovered from the sect.

Boko Haram takes advantage of porous borders and poorly governed areas to spread its activities. These porous borders connecting Nigeria to other countries along The Chad Basin and several other hinterlands make it extremely difficult to track the activities of the sect before spreading to other countries. Besides, the sect has constantly used this to its advantage and to escape capture by security agencies.

There is also the challenge of weak sub-regional cooperation between Nigeria and her neighbouring countries. There is no overstating the need for a joint, coordinated and uniform strategy in tackling terrorism – by both affected and yet to be affected – neighbouring countries.

Given the above, an effective, albeit, comprehensive approach to curbing terrorism in Nigerian will be that which emphasizes a counter-narrative of national identity; address the socioeconomic conditions that allow terrorism to thrive; strengthen the security apparatuses; reduce political interference; fund national security and intelligence services – through a public-private partnership, increase the presence of security agencies at the borders and reduce the number of such borders, and encourage a regionally-based Joint Task Force against Boko Haram.

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