Confronting the expansion of ISIS and al-Qaeda in Africa: Is concerted international effort inevitable?
Benefiting from ethnic conflicts and the presence of separatist groups, terrorist organizations, led by ISIS and al-Qaeda, have expanded within the African continent, which has become a new center of gravity for the groups' resistance, indicating that confronting the expansion of these organizations in Africa has become imperative for the international community, represented by its institutions, which must pay more attention to the continent to confront the danger and expansion of these groups.
Expansion and spread
There are 64 active terrorist organizations and groups on the continent of Africa. Their affiliations differ, but they agree on adopting violence as a means to achieve their goals. At the forefront of them are al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, the Somali Al-Shabaab movement, and ISIS.
Niger and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, passing through Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Somalia, are countries where terrorism is extensively expanding with an increasing pace of operations that have bloodied parts of those countries. The terrorist activity was mainly concentrated in the Lake Chad basin, which includes parts of Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria, and the central Sahel region along the borders of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.
Reasons for embracing terrorist ideas
The European Center for Counterterrorism and Intelligence Studies published a study in February in which it explained that the vast majority of countries in Africa suffer from deteriorating economic conditions, which pushes many young people towards just two options: either illegal immigration or joining terrorist organizations. It noted that the low level of education in Africa and the high level of illiteracy, which is among the highest among the world’s continents, in addition to bribery, nepotism, and a stereotyped lifestyle, are reasons that drive young people to embrace terrorist ideas and then join terrorist groups.
In its study, the center limited the reasons and motives for the expansion of terrorist groups in Africa, the most prominent being “the political crises and instability of some African countries, the absence of the state and its weak role in many regions, and the weakness of the security grip of some African countries on their borders, which gives freedom of movement to these groups, along with economic and social marginalization, corruption, and increasing levels of poverty.”
Exploiting the dynamics of conflict
UN Under-Secretary-General for Counterterrorism Vladimir Voronkov indicated in a previous statement that ISIS and its affiliated groups continue to exploit the dynamics of conflict, the fragility of governance, and inequality in order to incite, plan and organize terrorist attacks.
On the sidelines of the Africa Focus Group meeting within the framework of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, American expert Steven Hill, Executive Secretary of the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law (IIJ), said that the countries of the continent have a very clear vision in the international war against ISIS, and that this vision is based on a comprehensive approach to confront the challenges of terrorism.
Hill highlighted the importance of this meeting, which was co-chaired by Morocco, the United States, Italy and Niger, in intensifying efforts and strengthening international cooperation to confront terrorism, especially in Africa.
“Terrorism represents a threat that cannot be combated by military means alone, but a comprehensive vision must be developed broadly to meet the needs of countries and populations affected by terrorist threats,” he said, noting that Morocco brought up these various elements in its discussions, stressing the need to pay attention to innovative solutions to combat terrorism and violent extremism.
The Africa Focus Group also warned of the impact of the proliferation of non-state actors, especially separatist groups, on efforts to confront ISIS in Africa.
The group stressed that these separatist groups open the way for terrorist organizations, led by ISIS and other terrorist groups, to spread within the continent, pointing to the need to address the growing threats of ISIS, especially in Africa, by strengthening the capabilities of African members to confront terrorism.
Hesham El-Naggar, a researcher in the affairs of Islamist movements, said that the situation of terrorist organizations in Africa is very different from Iraq or Syria due to the presence of more separatist groups on the continent and the ethnic conflicts that fueled these organizations to exist there.
Naggar noted in exclusive statements to the Reference that ISIS is planning to repeat the experience of al-Qaeda, which built the foundation of its global organization by expanding first on the Asian map, whether in the countries of Central Asia or the countries of Southeast Asia, as an extension of its presence within the African continent, and from there it established training camps, planned, trained, and prepared for its most dangerous terrorist operations, foremost of which were the attacks of September 11, 2001. Now, ISIS, which is based in the continents of Asia and Africa, is trying to build an alternative caliphate for the one it lost in the Middle East.