More often than not, the news from Africa is mainly about terrorist attacks. The rate of such attacks in North Africa, Sub-Sahara, Sahel, and Horn of Africa has been rising in recent months. The last couple of years also witnessed thousands killed, more injured and millions displaced in the region.
The rise in terrorism intensified after 2018, as Daesh was defeated in Iraq and Syria and tens of hundreds of its fighters moved from the region to Africa via countries such as Turkey and Libya.
Terrorism in Libya, Mali and Burkina Faso is now going up. We have also noticed it in countries such as Nigeria (where the Daesh-affiliated Boko Haram is active) and in Somalia (where Al Shabab holds sway). It’s just a matter of time before all these groups, linked to Daesh and Al Qaida in Africa, join forces and create a new monster. So far, the global attention is elsewhere but we must not keep our focus away from the dangers that lurk in Africa.
Pertinently the Western coalition to fight terrorism (that defeated Daesh) in Syria and Iraq was diluted after 2017. United States, which spearheaded the fight against these terrorists, is going into an election year with little interest in foreign wars, let alone in Africa.
Curiously the Europeans think that a possible ‘political solution’ in Libya can prevent the country turning into a hotbed for terrorism. It might be too late now, as Turkey has already paved way for terrorists from Syria and Iraq to Tripoli and Misrata over the last few years
If the danger of Daesh in Iraq and Syria lies in the possibility of the grouping controlling two important countries, one with huge oil wealth and the other with strategic importance, the new terrorist entity in Africa could be controlling more than oil. If it is oil in Libya and Niger delta, it is gas reserves in Algeria and Libya, and vast gold mines in Burkina Faso apart from other natural resources.
Growing incidents of terrorism in North Africa also threaten a possible return of the root group, Ikhwan in Egypt, Sudan, Jordan and other countries that have managed to ‘neutralise’ this threat so far. The spell of that danger won’t be confined to the continent alone but might — most probably — destabilise West Asia and Europe.
Recent diplomatic efforts concerning Libya showed a deep European interest in protecting its southern shores on the Mediterranean from an influx of refugees from North Africa. But the inclusion of Turkey in such efforts is problematic. Ankara is in Libya for its own political gains, which will only — in the long term — encourage the rise of terrorism in Africa.
Curiously the Europeans think that a possible ‘political solution’ in Libya can prevent the country turning into a hotbed for terrorism. It might be too late now, as Turkey has already paved way for terrorists from Syria and Iraq to Tripoli and Misrata over the last few years.
Many of those came from North African countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria while some came from Yemen through Sudan. According to reports they transited in Libya in the early years of Syrian conflict to be transported to Turkey where they joined other terrorists, which led to the rise of Daesh.
The only active force now fighting this terrorism threat in Africa is a small French force in the Sahel and West Africa region. That was agreed with a group of five countries: Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Chad and Niger. America had an African force with a drone base in Niger that killed dozens of Daesh terrorists in Libya in September 2019.
Now, the United States wants to close this base as it costs the army nearly $100 million (Dh367 million) a year. The French are trying to convince the Americans to stay on and coordinate anti-terrorist efforts with them. Meanwhile, the French military presence in Sahel countries is facing popular opposition, sponsored and fuelled by the same so-called ‘moderate Islamists’ that the West mistakenly wants to accommodate.
The small French force is not enough to face the rising number of terrorists in the region. Extremists, coming from Mali, now control an area of Burkina Faso, rich in gold mines, and are forcing locals to mine, using the revenue in buying new arms and recruiting fresh terrorists.
Resources and help from regional powers like Turkey make it even harder for the small Sahel force to combat the rising threat. Paris is trying to form an European force to help reinforce its military effort and lessen the popular opposition to it but that may not be enough.
In fact, the rising terrorist threat in Africa requires a coalition even more wider and forceful than the one formed to combat Daesh in Syria and Iraq. That danger needs to be confronted now. We cannot afford to wait until the world wakes up to a ‘terrorist state’ in the northern part of Africa, centred in Libya and panning from Western Sahel to the Horn of Africa.
— Dr Ahmed Mustafa is a noted UAE based journalist.