Written by Charlotte Florance
Terrorism is on the rise across Africa as global terror groups, including al-Qaeda affiliates, continue to overtake local insurgent organizations and transform them into regional and international threats.
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad began as a local movement in Northern Mali, but was successfully overtaken by The National Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa and al-Qaeda In the Islamic Maghreb, threatening countries and even entire regions. . Last year, the situation became so dire in Mali that the French led a military intervention from which the country continues to recover.
According to the State Department’s recently released “Country Reports on Terrorism 2013,” al-Shabaab, a Somali-based and now al-Qaida-linked group, continues to carry out attacks and threaten governments in Somalia and in countries, such as Kenya and Uganda, that support AMISOM – the African Union’s anti-terror military force. Last Fall al-Shabaab carried out a deadly attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya, and demanded Kenya withdraw its defense forces from Somalia. Because of al-Shabaab’s increased regional focus, East African governments are enhancing “domestic and regional efforts to bolster border security and create integrated and dedicated counterterrorism strategies” – efforts the United States should continue to support.
The United States needs to take seriously the rising levels of extremism and terrorist activity in Africa. The State Department’s recently released “Country Reports on Terrorism 2013” highlighted the “significant levels of terrorist activity” Africa experienced in 2013” and emphasized the increased aggressiveness of al-Qaida affiliates and like-minded groups in Northwest Africa and Somalia.
Across the continent in West Africa, Boko Haram “maintained a high operational tempo in 2013 and carried out kidnappings, killings, bombings and attacks on civilian and military targets in northern Nigeria, resulting in numerous deaths, injuries and destruction of property in 2013.” As recently as last week, this group staged a car bomb attack in the capital, Abuja. Spillover violence in Chad, Niger and Cameroon is equally disturbing given the porous borders and large swathes of ungoverned space in the region.
Ungoverned space also enables al-Qaeda-linked groups in North Africa and the Sahel, such as Ansar al-Sharia and AQIM to operate freely, causing problems for the governments of Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria.
This year likely will see an even greater increase in terrorism in Africa as vulnerable Muslim refugees flee the Central African Republic because of violent sectarian conflict. As the situation in CAR continues to break down, ungoverned and lawless space also will increase terrorist operating space. The breakdown of South Sudan ensures even more weapons will spread across the region.
Given the evolving threat of al-Qaeda and the new wave of global terrorism, U.S. security partnerships and engagement with African governments will become even more important in the fight against global terrorism.