[Tribune] The unsuspected territories of African jihadism

In West Africa as in Mozambique or in the Great Lakes region, we are now witnessing a progression of jihadist groups which feed on the errors of analysis made for several years. Nothing suggests a quick victory.

Burkina Faso parachute commando exercise, under the supervision of Dutch special forces, during the annual counterterrorism exercise conducted by the United States military in Thiès, Senegal on February 18, 2020.

Burkina Faso parachute commando exercise, under the supervision of Dutch special forces, during the annual counterterrorism exercise conducted by the United States military in Thiès, Senegal on February 18, 2020.

The progress of the jihadist hydra on the continent is no longer debated today. But it is nonetheless interesting to reflect on certain points whose importance has been underestimated and, perhaps also, on certain mistakes which have been made over the years.

Let’s start with West Africa. The countries of the sub-region know that they are not immune and that, advancing south, the danger has already crossed their borders. No one forgot the attack which bloodied Grand-Bassam (Ivory Coast) in March 2016, or lattack that targeted foreign tourists in Pendjari Park (Benin), in May 2019. Their intelligence services have stepped up their vigilance but none are so deluded as to believe that this will be enough to alleviate the porosity of borders.

They know that the threat of local radicalization remains limited for the time being. But they are aware that ad hoc recruitments are increasing. We know, for example, that many young Ghanaians joined Daesh in 2015 and that the situation has not improved since. In Burkina Faso, several terrorist cells have been dismantled, and in Togo, arrests of armed individuals are now commonplace.

Already too late?

Have these countries underestimated the dangerousness of the links between organized crime and terrorist organizations? Even if the two phenomena are complex, even if they each evolve on their own in space and time, there are already points of convergence and sometimes even cooperation. The connections between terrorist networks and South American cartels, from the Sahelian corridors, thus pose the risk of worsening insecurity.

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Solicited by coastal countries, the United States as well as the European Union have started prevention work. But isn’t it already too late? All the more so as – and this is an aggravating factor – the armed conflicts which tore Sierra Leone and Liberia apart have enabled highly mobile transnational actors to put into circulation large arsenals of war.

No one knows better than Daesh theorists how to play symbols or conquest narratives

Now let’s take a look at Mozambique. In the same way that, in the 1980s, we made the mistake of dissociating the sub-Saharan and North-Saharan spaces, we seemed to overlook the fact that East Africa and South Africa are , since the Middle Ages, the land of predilection for Muslim conquests and incursions. Today we are surprised to see the province of Cabo Delgado become the scene of an insurrection which is only in its infancy. But this is to forget that at the time of Vasco da Gama, it was a certain Mussa Bin Bique who gave his name to the Muslim sultanate of the island of Mozambique, then to the entire country, long before the establishment late Portuguese … in 1544.

Diverging views

No one knows better than the theorists of Daesh how to play symbols or narratives of conquest. The Islamic State (IS) propaganda organ, Al-Naba, in its recent publications devoted to Africa, reports on the insurgency in Cabo Delgado, which it presents as the new refuge for terrorist groups vanquished or weakened in the Levant.

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Neither Mozambique nor the international community had foreseen such an insurgency with a religious charge catalyzing demands and frustrations of various kinds. Surprised by the scale of the phenomenon, analysts try to identify the origin, but points of view differ. Some refer to the Shebab, while others report an influx of nationals from West African countries. The situation is all the more complex as Cabo Delgado even attracts elements of former rebellions, some of which have raged in Burundi or in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

ISIS seeking to establish itself more firmly in the region and forge alliances among populations, its theorists will continue to surf the rhetoric of “oppressed” Muslim communities in countries with a strong “Christian culture” – which is why This is precisely Mozambique.

Towards an Africanization of jihad

In the region, some countries experienced, long before Mozambique, attacks and periodic incursions by the Shebab – this is the case, for example, of Tanzania. But they may seem concerned by the deterioration of the security situation, they do not want to be the scene of a regional or international intervention.

Already in the grip of endless conflicts, the Great Lakes region is not left out. The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed group from Uganda established in North Kivu province since the mid-1990s, pledged allegiance to ISIS. Attacks have been carried out on the Congolese-Ugandan border, and ISIS, which intends to spread from Mali to Somalia, has announced the birth of one of its African branches, dubbed “Central African Province” .

This dynamic inaugurates a new era, that of the gradual transformation of these conflict zones. in eldorados of financing global terrorism

The arrest in 2018 of Kenyans Walid Zein and Halima Adan, who established from the region a complex financial facilitation network on behalf of ISIS covering Europe, the Middle East, the Americas and the East Africa also shows that this region is becoming an essential platform for international terrorism.

This uncommon dynamic inaugurates a new era: the gradual transformation of conflict zones in Central Africa, rich in minerals and politically unstable, into El Dorados for the financing of global terrorism. An Africanization of jihad, at a time of globalization of vulnerabilities in a post-Covid-19 context, with its share of populism and identity escalation, which do not augur in any way for a return to stability, let alone of a hypothetical victory against international terrorism.

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