Pervasive Terrorism In Africa And Peacekeeping

The Mogadishu double truck bombings in Somalia carried out on Saturday, October 14 that killed 358 people and injured hundreds more is the deadliest single attack in Somalia’s modern history. The initial bombing destroyed the Safari hotel, several vehicles, and caused damage to Qatar’s embassy in Somalia. The Somali government has placed blame on al-Shabab as the Islamist militant group has had a presence in Somalia since 2006; however, a terrorist organization has yet to claim responsibility for the attack. Al- Shabab maintains a stronghold on rural areas in Somalia and has reigned terror throughout the years on neighbouring Kenya.

Somalia, a young nation on the Horn of Africa, has struggled to develop politically and economically since gaining independence from Britain in 1960. Somalia suffered a government collapse in 1991 that propelled the country into an ongoing deadly civil war. In December 2006, Somalia was caught in the crossfire in a violent conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia. On December 24, 2006, Ethiopia invaded Somalia in attempts to support the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and defeat the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), an Islamist militia government. The invasion had great ramifications: with an estimated 8,000 Ethiopian troops in Somalia, war erupted between the two nations, leading to 600,000 people fleeing their homes by the end of 2007.

The UN and AU both continue to play an integral role as partners in Somalia in the quest to combat terrorism and government corruption. The AU’s Peace and Security Council (PSC) was quick to respond to the situation in Somalia. The PSC established the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) on January 19th, 2007 which was authorized by UN Security Council resolution 1744 on February 20, 2007. The mission was initially mandated for six months to Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, and peacekeepers were also tasked to support the TFG by providing “protection to Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs) and key infrastructure to enable them [to] carry out their functions.” AMISOM faced several operational challenges. The slow deployment of the 8,000 mandated troops hindered their ability to fulfill its many tasks.

The UN was fully prepared to assist the AU; however, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon stated that “putting the AMISOM forces under a UN peacekeeping operation… is not our preferred option” because sending in a UN peacekeeping force to such a volatile environment in Somalia would be reckless. Any form of military intervention in Somalia was unwelcome by the ICU, who perceived AU intervention as a threat, and therefore attacked AMISOM’s forces. Further, because the AMISOM mandate did not entail protection of civilians or humanitarian workers, mission personnel were constrained and had little impact on the civilian and humanitarian population, who faced countless attacks by Al- Shabaab opposition militias. The situation in Somalia was grave; according to the UN, by the end of 2008, there were an estimated 1.5 million IDP’s and 3.2 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. Al-Shabaab carried out ruthless and indiscriminate attacks against civilians in Mogadishu, including suicide-style attacks. Fighting between AMISOM forces and the terrorist organization often times took place in areas that were densely populated with civilians, such as the shelling attack in Mogadishu’s Bakara Market area, where civilians were subject to killings by AMISOM, according to Human Rights Watch. Taken together with prevalent human rights violations, this became a major concern for the international community as it violated the laws of war. Human Rights Watch also reports that AMISOM came under scrutiny due to allegations of rape and sexual violence against women by AMISOM personnel, which was under investigation by the disorganized Somali government.

The UN reacted by creating the United Nations Support Office for the African Union Mission in Somalia (UNSOA), established by Security Council Resolution 1863 on January 16, 2009 to provide logistical field support to AMISOM. In 2012, the UN responded to the calls from the AU by authorizing an increase in AMISOM personnel to 17,731 in order to meet the demands of the mission. UNSOA provided support packages to AMISOM that included “vital life support such as food, water, health and sanitation, fuel, facilities and engineering, vehicles and other equipment, communications and IT, property management, capacity building, aviation and medical services” as well as training. Further, AMISOM’s most recent mandate was extended by UN Security Council resolution 2297, with a military, police, maritime, and civilian force of 22,126 until May 31, 2018.

The peace enforcement through operations such as the UNAMID and AMISOM strive to lay the foundations for long lasting peace that enable countries to rebuild and meet the basic needs for survival of its people. Peacekeeping missions have become more effective because of the coordinated response to these crises between the UN and AU, regardless of external factors that are outside of their control when entering war-torn countries. Pointedly, international interference has been successful in weakening terrorist organizations; nevertheless, the missions have been unsuccessful in ending the violence as groups such as Al-Shabab still have the capacity to carry out atrocities.

These emerging terrorist organizations all stem from al-Qaeda, and have since decentralized and dispersed into different franchises. Al-Shabab formally pledged obedience to al-Qaeda in a joint video released in 2012, according to CNN. Radical jihadist terrorist organizations such as ISIS, Boko Haram, and Al-Shabaab have caused political turmoil in Northern Africa and completely changed the geopolitical landscape in the Middle East. Consequently, Africa has become a target for terrorist networks and breakaway factions. Innocent civilians are bearing the consequences of terrorism, which has disrupted their daily lives, forced them to flee their homes, and live in temporary settlements. Suicide bombings have become pervasive on the continent, especially in countries such as Libya, Sudan, Nigeria, Kenya, and Somalia. Nigeria has suffered several deadly terrorist attacks, particularly in its Northern region, and has turned into a hotbed for violent extremism. Further, according to a report by the Combating Terrorism Center that focused on gender-based violence, Boko Haram has utilized women for suicide bomb attacks more than any other terrorist organization in history, with 56% of all their bombers being females.

In recent years, events such as the refugee crisis and the rise of terrorist attacks throughout Europe are evidence that terrorism now poses a massive threat on almost every continent. The rise of nationalism across Europe is a response to the pressures the continent faces in light of instability in the Middle East and Northern Africa. According to Politico, the war in Iraq and Syria has led to the largest mobilization of foreign fighters, with an estimated 30,000 fighters from around the world and estimates of 150-200 American citizens who have travelled, or attempted to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State. This increases the risk of attacks in their home countries; many of the terrorist attacks in Europe were carried out by European nationals who had travelled to Syria and become radicalized.

Terrorism remains one of the biggest international threats to peace and stability, and although there has been a rise in terrorist activity in Africa, the threat is not unique to any continent. The capacity of these organizations to carry out unanticipated, violent, indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians will continue to be one of the biggest challenges governments and intelligence agencies face around the world. Law enforcement must combat the terrorist threat by: sharing intelligence on threats; disrupting online recruitment networks; and tracking terrorist financing. Finally, in the face of violent extremism, the international community must respond by educating their societies on respecting multiculturalism, promoting and encouraging religious tolerance, and embracing minority groups.

Luisa Tembo