President Muhammadu Buhari’s thought provoking article titled, “Africa needs more than US military aid to defeat terror,” published in Financial Times Of London on Sunday, in which he warned that with the United States’ pullout from Afghanistan and the subsequent takeover by the Taliban, Africa has automatically become the new frontline of terror and global militancy!
That conclusion should be of concern to Nigerians in particular and Africans in general. Buhari in this article confirmed the worst fears of security experts and scholars, a fear that they have been expressing over the past decade.
In 2006 the U.S. Naval Institute published an article titled, “Into Africa: A New Frontier in the War on Terror” written by Lieutenant Commander Pat Paterson. The author stated that “The war on terror is about to enter a new theater. Africa has emerged into the spotlight of global counter-terror operations because of repeated appearances of Africans among the foreign fighters in Iraq. The Navy and Marine Corps are concerned that the vast and lawless expanses of Africa could make the continent a potential terrorist sanctuary. The reasons that make Africa a safe haven for terrorist organisations are the same ones that make the continent difficult for American military operations.” He described Africa as perhaps the most impoverished, corrupt, and ungoverned region on the planet.”
In 2013, Mustapha Ajbaili published an article in Al-Arabiya titled, “Is Africa the new frontier of global terrorism?” He wrote that “A series of deadly attacks in East, North and West Africa has put Islamist militancy on the continent under the spotlight, raising the question of whether it is turning into the new frontier of international terrorism. Kenya, Somalia, Algeria, Mali and Nigeria were the scenes of major terrorist attacks in
2013 –prompting leaders at this month’s Africa-Arab summit to pledge their commitment to tackling the problem.”
In 2018 Global Terrorism Index, Nigeria was ranked the most terrorism-impacted country in Africa with 1,532 deaths, 852 injured and 411 incidents and the third most impacted in the world after Iraq and Afghanistan who occupied first and second positions, respectively.
It is obvious that Nigeria’s position on Global Terrorism Index and the growing terrorism in the continent should be of concern to the leader of Africa’s most populous country. And this column agrees with the position of the president.
For Africa to defeat the growing terrorism on its soil, the president argued, it would require more than US military aid but the entire world coming together for its sake.
The President wrote: “Though some believe the war on terror winds down with the US departure from Afghanistan, the threat it was supposed to address burns fiercely on my continent. Africa is the new frontline of global militancy. Yet few expect the outlay expended here to be as great as in Afghanistan. The fight against terrorism begun under the George W Bush administration was never truly global.
“Despite rising attacks across Africa in the past decade, international assistance has not followed in step. Mozambique is merely the latest African state in danger from terrorism. The Sahel remains vulnerable to Boko Haram, 20 years after its formation, and other radical groups. Somalia is in its second decade fighting the equally extreme al-Shabaab.
“Many African nations are submerged under the weight of insurgency. As Africans, we face our day of reckoning just as some sense the West is losing its will for the fight. It is true that some of our western allies are bruised by their Middle Eastern and Afghan experiences. Others face domestic pressures after the pandemic. Africa was not then, and even less now, their priority.
“But the threat cannot be ignored. Covid-19 has been like oxygen for terrorism, allowing it to gain in strength while the world was preoccupied. Sooner or later, the reverberations will be felt beyond Africa. If extremist groups are able to hold territory, it can inspire disillusioned people living in the west to commit heinous acts of terror in their own countries.
“The self-proclaimed caliphate of Daesh in Iraq and Syria fulfilled that propaganda function, boosting transcontinental recruitment. We must not complacently assume that military means alone can defeat the terrorists. If Afghanistan has taught us a lesson, it is that although sheer force can blunt terror, its removal can cause the threat to return.
“The US and its western allies cannot be expected to underpin the security of others everywhere and indefinitely. Africa has enough soldiers of our own. However, more can be done to help with technical assistance, advanced weaponry, intelligence and ordinance. The US air strikes last month against al-Shabaab in Somalia — the first of the Biden administration — show what can and should be done. But what Africa needs most from the US is a comprehensive partnership to close the disparity between our economic and demographic growth.
“Despite having six of the world’s top 10 fastest-growing economies, my continent’s gross domestic product gains are insufficient to provide for burgeoning populations. Since the start of the US-led war on terror in 2001, Africa’s population has nearly doubled. Every day, every month, this means more unemployed or underemployed entering the labour market, far outstripping economic expansion. A lack of hope is the chief recruiting sergeant for the continent’s new brand of terrorism. What we need above all is investment in infrastructure. Transport and freight lines can spread opportunity across nations unequal in economic strength.
“In parts of Africa, a government’s grip on remote territories can be tenuous. Militant groups step into the void. Some even provide a form of governance, however perverse. These areas must be connected with their surroundings. The recent attacks in Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique illustrate the point. Their target was a vast natural gas project, part of an international investment which extracts wealth but provides few jobs for locals. This fuels grievances in a poverty-stricken province. It is a landing pad for the likes of Daesh. That is why we in Nigeria have begun building a train line from the southern coast through the north-east to Niger, our neighbour. My government has been accused of wasting money, because trade between our two nations is minimal. But that is hardly a surprise, given that there is no trade infrastructure between us. The train line will pay dividends in security, a prerequisite for economic growth.
“Some will remember that Boko Haram originated in north-eastern Nigeria, along the border with Niger. First, they agitated against a lack of opportunity. Then they radicalised into the terrorists we face today. The US already has schemes such as Power Africa, which invests in the continent’s essential energy infrastructure. However, more must be done. Ultimately, Africans need not swords but ploughshares to defeat terror. Yes, we require the technological and intelligence support that our armies do not possess. Yet the boots we need on the ground are those of constructors, not the military. Africa’s fight against terror is the world’s fight. We will defeat them one highway, one rail link — and one job — at a time.”
The President’s postulations could not be faulted by any discernable observer of terrorism trends in Sub-Saharan Africa. He is also right that global efforts are needed to attack this problem headlong. He is right to note that the West appears to have ignored the growing terrorism in Africa and treating it as Africa’s problem.
If terrorism in Africa is not contained it would in the long run hurt the West. However, more efforts must be made by African leaders to tackle the economic, social, and education challenges that breed the religious intolerance that fuels extremism on the African continent.