Violent extremism by Jihadist groups such as the Somali Al-Shabab, Boko Haram or Al Quaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI) has dramatically increased in recent times.
While consequences of terrorism in Africa, in particular migration to Europe, are currently widely discussed, more attention needs to be drawn to the underlying roots of Islamist radicalization.
A new War on Terror has been taking place in each of the crisis regions ranging from the Horn of Africa to Northern Nigeria & neighbours to the Islamic Maghreb and the Sahara and Sahel region.
Prof. Markus Kornprobst, Diplomatic Academy Vienna, Ambassador Alexander M. Laskaris, Deputy to the Commander for Civil-Military-Engagement, United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM), Prof. Jeremy Keenan, International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) London, Jean-Claude Brunet, Consul General of France in Munich, Former Head of Africa Department at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and First Counsellor for Peace Keeping Operations at the French Permanent Mission to the UN, Dr. Benedikt Franke, Chief Operating Officer, Munich Security Conference, Dr. Frank Laczko, Director International Organisation for Migration – Global Data Centre (IOM), Pamela DeLargy, Special Advisor to the UN Special Representative for Migration, Dr. Knox Chitiyo, Associate Fellow, Chatham House, Charlotte Huebner MSc SOAS, Programme Coordinator
by Charlotte Huebner MSc SOAS, Programme Coordinator
Two years ago, we came together to discuss “Africa’s Turn”. Back then we were looking with high hopes to the bright future of a continent rising. We pointed to Africa’s enormous potential associated with high growth rates, a growing middle class and business opportunities. Africa is still rising despite a low commodity price environment, but there are also disparities and instabilities. And today we are looking at terrorism across Africa, its causes, consequences and possible solutions.
As a matter of fact the relevance and timeliness of this event cannot be overstated. Terrorism in African countries does not get the same media attention as terrorism in Europe, but commentators have observed that the frequency of attacks by the different jihadist groups across Africa has increased.
Even though there are more, the three most dominant terror groups in Africa are: Al-Shabab in Somalia and in Kenya, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, in particular in Mali, Algeria and the wider Sahara Sahel region and Boko Haram in Nigeria who is responsible for more deaths than any other terrorist group in 2015, including the Islamic State.
While these groups are localised and act autonomously, they have gained strength from an internationalisation by pledging allegiance to global terror networks: Al-Shabab is affiliated with Al-Qaeda since 2012 and Boko Haram with the Islamic State.
As a direct consequence, people are trying to escape violent terror. Some are even willing to take on the risk of the dangerous journey to Europe across the Sahara and Mediterranean Sea. Libya has certainly become one of the busiest routes for Africans to Europe.
However, it would be misleading to think that the majority of displaced Africans are coming to Europe. There are far more African migrants within the continent than even attempt to come to Europe. An estimated 1 million people have been displaced by Boko Haram, and the majority have joined refugee camps in neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Similarly, more than a million refugees from Somalia are living in Kenya and Ethiopia. Many African refugees are hosted in some of the poorest countries in the world, with no or little external support and the human costs are enormous.
But what are the direct implications for Germany? According to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees- out of all asylum seekers in Germany, currently less than 5 per cent are “African refugees”. Clearly, there is in an increasing trend, if one considers the impact of climate change as well.
It is often assumed that Africans are only fleeing poverty. But among African refugees, the majority originates from Nigeria, Eritrea and Somalia. Two of these countries are directly exposed to Boko Haram or Al-Shabab.
This event consists of two panels. The first panel discusses Terrorism in Africa, its origins and the War on Terror in Africa led by the US and France. The second panel will address forced migration as a consequence of terrorism. We have called this the terror-migration nexus.
One of the main objectives of this gathering is to look at the underlying causes of radicalisation and terror in Africa. Before this is discussed from a counter-terrorism – security perspective in the first panel, I would like to take a different approach. I would like to highlight the social process behind radicalization.
On closer inspection, it becomes evident that terrorism in Africa (and in other parts of the world) is not inherently linked to Islam. I would like to emphasize five root causes of terrorism.
Firstly, most terror groups are a product of social and economic grievances. It is well known that high unemployment, especially among the youth, results in frustration, anger and radicalisation. Having no perspective for the future, joining a rebel movements or migrating out of the country seems tempting.
Secondly, some of the most unequal economies are in Africa. If wealth is concentrated with the elite at the top 1%, while the majority has nothing, the likelihood of radicalization and terrorism increases.
Thirdly, terror groups rise in a context of marginalization and exclusion. For example the Northern Muslim part of Nigeria, home to Boko Haram, was not represented in the central government, and population felt left out from the wealth of the oil-rich South.
Most terror groups have also emerged in weak or even failed states such as Somalia. They step in for governments unable or unwilling to provide basic services to their populations, which is the reason for their popularity. Since the downfall of Gaddafi we can observe this in Libya as well.
Finally, an unequal world economic system, and the failure of western involvement across Africa in colonial and post-colonial times also have to be acknowledged. A common denominator of African terror groups is that they consider governments in their region as a helper of Western imperialism. The name Boko Haram for example means “western education is forbidden.” We should not forget that Western policy has significantly contributed to some of the current problems.
In sum there are five root causes: Grievances, Economic inequality, Exclusion, Failed States and poor governance, Global inequality and the failure of western policy.
These five root causes also affect migration: indirectly through displacement from terror groups or directly as drivers for migration.
Instead of spending money on military troops to fight terrorism and building walls and fences to reduce migration, we have to find sustainable solutions and tackle these underlying causes.
Finding a solution to migration from Africa and other parts of the world cannot be reduced to measures such as cracking down on smuggling networks or the intensification of border controls. If we continue to rebuild the same systems that reproduce these grievances, if continue to make the same mistakes as in history, if we continue to focus on fighting symptoms rather than the causes, how are we going to escape this vicious cycle?
Instead African policy makers have to focus on pro-poor development, inclusive growth that includes job creation, while knowing this does not happen automatically. They have to invest in their youth population in their education and training.
Still it is the job of Africans to find solutions to address the five root causes, and we should be there to assist. As it has been said at the Munich Security Conference (MSC) on Sunday, there can only be joint and shared approaches. Where polices and interventions are imposed on Africa, they will fail.
While risks from terrorism and migration are considered among the greatest of our time, I would like to emphasise another risk: that is perspective or rather lack of perspective. In our highly complex societies, driven by short-termism and media headlines, it has essentially all become about perception or rather screwed perspectives, which shape decisions and policy responses. These screwed perspectives are feeding our basic human instincts of fear, xenophobia and prejudices. And this results in political populism and extremism and it is harming one of the most effective peace projects: the European Union.
Grafik: Deutsche Welle Fotos: Egon Lippert, Vereinigung Europäischer Journalisten e.V.