An African Approach To The War On Islamist Militancy

Boko Haram continues its terror campaign in Nigeria, Borno State, with four suicide bombers in Maiduguri on March 15th. The bombers killed themselves and two others, with 16 injured in total. The same day, armed Boko Haram insurgents attack the Magumeri community in the Magumeri Local Government Area, killing an undisclosed number of soldiers. Boko Haram continues to employ horrific tactics including the use of children and young women for suicide bombing, the forced marriage of young women to fighters, and threatening locals who cooperate with the Nigerian authorities. After eight years of violence, the Nigerian Federal Government (which incidentally governs the largest African economy as a measure of GDP) seems no closer to stopping the terror group as it increases the ferocity of its attacks. Unfortunately, it is not only Nigeria that faces Islamist militancy.

In the Sahel, there are a number of caliphates. To name just a few: Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) continues its violence in Niger, Mali, and Mauritania, wishing to overthrow regional governments. In the border region between Mali and Burkina Faso, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISIG) threatens the peace in Morocco and Niger. Attacks in northern Burkina Faso are causing local schools to close down as teachers are fearful of terrorist threats. The cause is because of an ancient theocracy, known as Djelgodji, which requires schools to stop teaching in French (Burkina Faso was a former French colony). In East Africa, Al-Shabaab causes further damage in Somalia and Kenya which, according to news forum Aljazeera, is responsible for more than 360 attacks in Somalia alone over the last decade.

With the rise of populist politics in the US and much of Europe, an increase of isolationism, and five years of development aid reduction to Africa, it is doubtful whether the solutions to these threats will come from the international community. However, is the international community the only possible solution? All too often, international intervention emphasizes military action that worsens the crisis. Historically, two clear examples stand out. The Russian militarization of its humanitarian intervention in Syria and the US’s role in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). The latter example resonates, especially with the current situation. Rather than trying to bring federal regions and warlords together to negotiate a peaceful resolution, AMISOM only resulted in the funding, and supply of arms, training, and personnel for military peacekeeping forces (which was unsurprisingly welcomed by regional governments). This obsession with global peacekeeping narratives and “ international” rather than local causes means that peacekeepers are missing critical opportunities to reduce conflict through negotiation and settlement.

African leaders, to their credit, know that a different approach is needed — one only needs to read the Peace and Security Communiques released by the African Union (AU). The “War on Terror” discourse has proven to not end conflict, but exacerbate it in the case of Islamic State.

Desperately needed is a holistic, regional approach to peace-building that involves the true concerns of local citizens and engages with community leaders, religious institutions, civil groups across all levels of society. The tools and architecture for such a process exist in the AU and the regional economic communities that span Africa. However, African governments need to commit to these ideals on a political and monetary level, meanwhile international partners need support this African-led approach. Only a unified effort can reduce the conflict from extremism in African countries.

Thomas Gray