21.07.2014 Feature Article


The ISIS terrorist group is sending the message that it intends to expand its territories beyond Syria and Iraq. It wants to conquer large swathes of Africa and Asia, as well as the entire Middle East.The ISIS terrorist group is sending the message that it intends to expand its territories beyond Syria and Iraq. It wants to conquer large swathes of Africa and Asia, as well as the entire Middle East.
21.07.2014 LISTEN

One of the major challenges confronting Africa today is how to tame or reverse the tide of terrorism sweeping across the continent. There is a strong belief among policymakers that terrorism in Africa is largely the product of economic hardship, poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, corruption, alienation and economic, social and political marginalisation and dispossession of the masses. For example on 15 November 2001, two months after the 9/11 attacks, Susan E. Rice, the current Obama Administration's top Security Adviser told the Congress' Subcommittee on Africa that:

'Africa is the world's soft under-belly for global terrorism...Much of Africa is a veritable incubator for the foot soldiers of terrorism. Its poor, overwhelmingly young, disaffected, unhealthy and under-educated populations often have no stake in government, no faith in the future and harbor an easily exploitable discontent with the status quo. For such people, in such places, nihilism is as natural a response to their circumstances as self-help. Violence and crime may be at least as attractive as hard work. Perhaps that is part of the reason why we have seen an increase in recent years in the number of African nationals engaged in international terrorism...Al-Qaeda and other terrorist cells are active throughout East, Southern and West Africa, not to mention in North Africa. These organizations hide throughout Africa. They plan, finance, train for and execute terrorist operations in many parts of Africa, not just Sudan and Somalia. They seek uranium, chemical weapons components and the knowledge of renegade nuclear, chemical and biological weapons experts. Terrorist organizations take advantage of Africa's porous borders, weak law enforcement and security services and nascent judicial institutions to move men, weapons and money around the globe. They take advantage of poor, disillusioned populations, often with religious or ethnic grievances, to recruit for their jihad' (Rice, 2001).

In 2004 Chris Mullin as UK Foreign Office Minister, pointed out in a speech in New York, USA that "the problems of terrorism [in Africa] are inextricably connected to Africa's other problems“... "The factors which sustain and feed terrorist networks and activity [in Africa]... stem from a complex relationship between geography, institutional weakness, corruption, poor borders, economic and social issues, radicalisation and alienation, and simple opportunity” (Mullin, 2004).

However, the poverty, unemployment and illiteracy that drive African youths to embrace terrorism in Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Sudan, Egypt, Algeria, Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania and Mauritania among others are the product of another issue: The Bad African Politics. As Jakkie Cilliers of the Institute of Security Studies, South Africa has observed:

'African politics easily degenerates into a life-and-death struggle over private access to limited public resources; the zero-sum nature of the struggle compels would-be political leaders to obtain material benefits in order to wield influence over followers and competitors. Accordingly what all African states share is a generalised system of patrimony and an acute degree of apparent disorder, as evidenced by a high level of governmental and administrative inefficiency, a lack of institutionalisation, a general disregard for the rules of formal political and economic sectors, and a universal resort to personalised and vertical solutions to societal problems'.

In this zero-sum game politics, helping the masses to climb out of poverty isn't the priority of the politicians. Once they are in power the politicians quickly forget about the electorate and rather work hard to monopolise national resources and use it for their personal gain. As has been argued by Hussein Solomon of University of the Free State, South Africa:

'Part of the reason for the conflict-ridden nature of African polities is that a tiny elite has often been allowed to monopolise the wealth of the nations giving precious little back to ordinary citizens. President Mobutu Sese Seko's rule (1965-1997) of the former Zaire is perhaps the quintessential example of this. For his entire 32-year rule, Mobutu and his kleptocratic coterie gave his hapless citizens little more than an ill-disciplined and predatory military rule while spending practically nothing on public health and educational services'.

The danger is that because politicians refuse to address the extreme poverty facing the people, the poverty quickly gives way to grievances. The grievances when they mature also metamorphose into secession, violence, ethnic-religious conflict and terrorism. In the last three decades for example Africa has experienced an increase of secessionist movements which has already desintegrated Ethiopia and Sudan and may as well dismember Libya, Mali and Nigeria. The reason is that poverty and marginalisation of the masses from the largesse of the state by the tiny political elite and their cronies usually force the marginalised to take extreme measures in order to secure their share of the national resources. In Mali and Niger for example poverty has served as a major motivational factor for both terrorism and secession by the Tuareg people who have complained about poverty, neglect, and marginalisation. In Mali for instance, while the poverty rate averaged 64% of the population in 2004, the figure was much higher in the Tuareg dominated north: Timbuktu had a poverty rate of 77%, Gao had 78.7% and Kidal had an astonishing 92%. It is these conditions of poverty and despair that led Tuareg to join forces with the terrorist group Ansar Dine to battle the government in Bamako in 2012 for the creation of Azawad/homeland for the Tuareg people.

Poverty has been a driving force for terrorism in Nigeria. Since oil was discovered in the late 1950s the country has earned more than $350 billion and continues to earn about $74 billion a year but a tiny elite of top civil servants, military and civilian regimes have plundered the money leaving very little for the people who live on one dollar a day. As Hussein Solomon of University of the Free State, South Africa points out:

'Despite soaring oil prices benefiting the Nigerian state, the growing impoverishment of the citizenry stands in sharp contrast to the growing wealth of the political elite, and perceptions of endemic corruption. Since the end of military rule in 1999, Nigerian politicians have reportedly embezzled between US$4 billion and US$8 billion per annum. At a time when Nigeria's oil revenues are in excess of US$74 billion per annum, more than half of Nigerians live on less than $1 a day and four out of 10 Nigerians are unemployed'.

Cyril Obi, one of Nigeria's respected political scientists observes that:

'Apart from being Africa's largest oil producer and exporter, Nigeria is also a producer of natural gas, accounting for an estimated output of 22 million tonnes per year. Natural gas exports account for about $4 billion worth of earnings annually. Most of the natural gas is produced from the Niger Delta or its coastal waters. However, this oil- and gas-rich region that generates billions of dollars worth of revenues and profits annually is also paradoxically one of the least developed and conflict-ridden parts of Nigeria'

In the absence of economic opportunities for the average Nigerian, jihadist groups such as Boko Haram and Ansaru with radical Islamic ideologies have found fertile ground in the country's north, recruiting the youth and radicalising them to carry out act of terrorism against the state. According to Thomas Fessy of the BBC, Boko Haram pays more than $3000 to each new recruit. As a result the ranks of the terror group have been swelled by thousands of destitute young men from even Niger who are willing to swap their poverty and joblessness with terrorism and death. A group of poor and jobless youths told Thomas Fessy of BBC: "We break into houses for cash; sometimes we beat people for money, we steal their animals so we can eat and then we gather up and take Tramol [an opiate drug], smoke ganja [marijuana] and drink alcohol...We have no jobs; some of us are still at high school but we need money. Violence has become a form of work for us...They [Boko Haram] have paid 500,000 Nigerian naira ($3,085, £1,835) to those of us who followed them over there" (See BBC documentary headlined: 'Niger hit by Nigeria's Boko Haram fallout' April 22, 2014).

The same poverty was responsible for the insurgency that took place in the Niger Delta between 1999 and 2009. Many of the youth sensing that they had been deceived by the politicians, after billions of dollars' worth of oil and gas was taken from their land without any direct benefit, began to agitate for greater control of their natural wealth as well the revenue accrued from the exploitation of those resources. When the government-corporate alliance failed to address their concerns, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and other ethnic militias embarked on armed rebellion, destroying and sabotaging oil and gas pipelines, flow stations, kidnapping oil workers and killing security officers sent to confront them. This is one of the reasons why Nigeria cannot supply gas to Ghana through the West African Gas Pipeline.

Poverty therefore is a major driver for terrorism in Africa. In the just ended Fifa World Cup in Brazil the international media (BBC, Al Jazeera) reported embarrassing news about 200 Ghanaians who had sought asylum with the Brazilian government claiming to be fleeing religious persecution. According to media reports the asylum seekers claimed their life would be in danger if they returned to Ghana. While the claim of the people to be fleeing massive religious conflict is totally false, it cannot be denied that those claiming asylum are in fact fleeing poverty, economic hardship, unemployment, inequality, underdevelopment, neglect, dispossession, and economic and social marginalisation.

Some policymakers, security experts and political scientists have rubbished the idea that Ghana might go the way of Nigeria if the poverty of the people is not addressed. They argue that Ghanaians are not so enthusiastic about shedding blood and radicalisation may be difficult to take root because the Muslim population in the country follow a moderate form of Islam. The danger of such argument is that it continues to give the politicians in the country a license not to do anything about the suffering of the people. On the larger note the argument that Ghanaians are not blood spilling people holds no water if one considers the ethnic and chieftaincy conflicts in the north that has claimed the lives of thousands of people including Ya-Na Yakubu Andani II of Dagbon and Naa Dasana Andani the Paramount Chief of the Nanumba Traditional Area.

The truth is that the high poverty levels and economic hardship facing Ghanaians are increasing their agitation against the ruling elite. The July demonstration by the Occupy Flagstaff House group; the two month old strike action by POTAG; chiefs in Western region fighting Ghana Gas Company over land compensation; 817 highly skilled Ghanaian professionals renouncing their citizenship; the increasing fatal armed robberies are all signs that the country is slowly slipping into something that resembles Nigeria's Niger Delta.

To prevent Ghanaians from embracing terrorism or any form of political violence, the swamps of poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, and corruption must be drained. And to quote Dr. Susan Rice 'we must do so for the cold, hard reason that to do otherwise, we place our national security at further and more permanent risk. We must do so out of realpolitik recognition that our long-term security depends on it'. To drain these swamps, we must invest in education and healthcare of the people. We must build roads and rail infrastructures to connect our cities and rural areas to speed up development. We must industrialise by building and expanding our energy infrastructures to take advantage of Ghana's huge untapped natural resources. We must increase trade, investment and promote economic growth. We must strengthen state institutions to deliver better, efficient and high quality public goods to the citizens. And we must at all cost fight to end endemic corruption in the country.

Without progress on these fronts we should expect the international brotherhood of terror groups (made up of Al Qaeda, AQIM, Boko Haram, Ansaru, MUJWA, ISIS and future such enemies) to infiltrate communities in Ghana to recruit and radicalise the youth to engage in local or international terrorism.

Cilliers, J. (2003) 'Terrorism and Africa', Africa Security Review, Volume 12, Issue 4, p. 98.

Fessy, T. (2014) 'Niger hit by Nigeria's Boko Haram fallout' April 22, 2014

Mullin, C. (2004) 'Chris Mullin 2004 Speech on Africa'

Obi, C. (2009) 'Nigeria's Niger Delta: Understanding the Complex Drivers of Violent Oilrelated
Conflict,' Africa Development, Nov. 2, 2009, pp. 106-107;

Solomon, H. (2013) 'The African state and the failure of US counterterrorism initiatives in Africa: The cases of Nigeria and Mali' South African Journal of International Affairs, Volume 20, Issue3, pp. 427-445

Rice, S. (2001) 'September 11, 2001: Attack on America Testimony of Dr. Susan E. Rice Before the House International Relations Committee Subcommittee on Africa - "Africa and the War on Global Terrorism"; November 15, 200.