Book Review: Terrorism in Africa – New Trends and Frontiers
A total of 1,500 SANDF personnel have been deployed to Mozambique’s volatile Cabo Delgado region as part of a Southern African Development Community (SADC) mission to the troubled region. This is in response to a jihadist uprising in the region which recently discovered rich gas resources. South Africa recently recorded its first victim, Corporal Tebogo Edwin Radebe, a 31-year-old SANDF soldier, a special forces operator who was killed in an ambush by insurgents east of the village of Chai in Cabo Delgado.
Accusations have emerged that South Africa’s involvement is half-hearted, underfunded and lacks the necessary air support at the expense of the lives of deployed soldiers. A recent publication, Terrorism in Africa: New Trends and Frontiers, may prove a valuable guide for those fighting against the resurgence of jihadist insurgency on the African continent, thus avoiding a Vietnam of southern Africa.
Africa, a long-suffering continent emerging from decades of decolonization, despotic and corrupt leadership and a neo-colonial scramble for Africa, faces a new threat in the form of Islamic extremism that manifests itself in violent terrorism. In the foreseeable future, the rise of violent terrorist groups and their inexorable march towards the south of the continent pose the greatest threat to the sustainable development of the continent. Terrorism in Africa: New Trends and Frontiersa collaboration between the Institute of African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow, Russia), the University of the Free State (Bloemfontein, South Africa) and the University of Haifa (Haifa, Israel) , is a welcome and timely addition to the arsenal needed to combat the pernicious threat of terrorism on African soil.
Terrorism is of course not new to Africa, being an integral part of Africa’s decolonization campaign. However, in its current form, it poses a particular threat to Africa’s quest for modernization, democratization and economic well-being. The book, through its twelve contributors, seeks to uncover the root cause of the alarming growth of terrorism in Africa. Rather than simply labeling the problem as Islamic radicalism, it delves into the nature of the problem and offers possible solutions. The various authors address topics such as bad governance, authoritarian rule that has alienated government from its people, endemic corruption, use and abuse of social media by government and terrorists, government indifference , the poor delivery of services, the underfunding of the armed forces, the use of mercenaries and of course the Islamic nature of most of the terrorist groups involved.
Africa’s position in the geopolitical hierarchy further compounds the problem. The evidence presented removes any doubt that Africa is just an afterthought for the major world powers. Powerful countries in the northern hemisphere ruthlessly exploit Africa for its mineral and natural wealth with a keen eye on its potential as a growing market to sell their manufactured goods. They show little respect for the environment, wildlife or even the well-being and aspirations of ordinary Africans. Only the African elite benefits from lucrative trade deals and the wholesale sale of Africa’s natural resources, leaving the majority of Africa’s population destitute and desperate. The first world must take responsibility for much of Africa’s current woes, and they have an obligation to be part of any lasting solution.
However, not everything can be blamed on indifferent, exploitative and indifferent economic superpowers. African leaders have historically and globally failed to deliver on the promises of those who liberated the continent from colonialism. They have betrayed the legacy of liberation struggles and dashed the hopes of millions of Africans who hope for and deserve an end to exploitation and the beginning of prosperity. Despotic leadership, incompetent governments combined with endemic corruption and non-existent service delivery have created an atmosphere of desperation from which many people without jobs or prospects flee into the arms of terrorists. Ironically, they may find a degree of pride, camaraderie, purpose, and even paltry economic prospects here.
The book takes a holistic approach to exploring the solutions and countermeasures needed to combat the relentless expansion of terrorism in all parts of Africa. What is certain is that there is no pure military solution and that governments will only be able to use force to temporarily regain lost territories and populations. Once they regain control through the military, they would be wise to vigorously pursue non-military interventions to regain the trust of the alienated population. It is almost impossible for kleptocratic authoritarian regimes that have distanced themselves from the peoples they govern or badly govern. Governments must use the temporary advantage of military force to provide a better life for all by looking after the local economy, good governance and service delivery. This is obviously a daunting challenge for many African regimes which, plagued by incompetence and corruption, are prone to rely solely and usually unsuccessfully on the military to restore order.
In the list of contributors, members from Western countries or China, all of whom have a major interest in the continent, are clearly visible. The book is far from being the last word on terrorism in Africa but can claim to be the first word of its kind. In many ways, this is a once-in-a-lifetime collaboration and valiant effort to discover the cause, the extent of the problem, and then come up with possible solutions. This is a book that can be used by others for support and hopefully it will be the first in a series that will add considerably to the body of knowledge of an understudied subject.
Terrorism in Africa: New Trends and Frontiers.
Moscow: Institute of African Studies
Available for free download—https://www.inafran.ru/sites/default/files/news_file/terrorism-full.pdf
Written by Dr. David Brock Katz.
Katz received his doctorate in military science and is a research fellow at the University of Stellenbosch in the Faculty of Military Science.