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Perspectives of Jihadism in Africa
The jihadist phenomenon in Africa, particularly in the countries of the sub-Saharan and Sahelian area, has developed considerably due to several factors:
Critical national political scenarios;
Ethnic tensions and contrasts (motivated by the low representation of nomadic and semi-nomadic populations in political institutions and national economies);
Presence of huge mineral wealth and other natural resources;
Privileged areas to manage numerous illicit trades such as drugs, weapons, human beings, etc… and self-finance its operations;
Young people, very poor, with no job opportunities (therefore more vulnerable to recruitment);
High corruption of security forces and the political class;
Economic and social vulnerabilities;
Crisis resulting from struggles for autonomy and independence;
Weakness of governance;
Abuses by the security forces;
For some years, Africa has become increasingly important for the expansion of Islamist terrorism, particularly the affiliates of al-Qaeda (AQ) and the Islamic State (IS). The numerous problems mentioned above represent the basis for the recruitment of jihadist organizations, which have managed to progressively integrate into the different complexes of the areas in which they operate, presenting themselves as a credible and legitimate alternative to central governments, through the distribution of basic necessities, assistance services, work, education, administration of justice and defense of communities and minorities.
In Africa, IS has made significant progress in the last year, often damaging al-Qaeda, present with its affiliates: al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Jama’at Nusrat al Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), Ansaroul al-Islam and al-Shabaab. The Islamic State, with its Wilayats (provinces), operates in Algeria and Tunisia, Libya in southern desert areas, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso (ISGS), in Chad, Nigeria and Niger (ISWAP), the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique (ISCAP), Somalia in the Puntland area (ISS), Somaliland, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda (Jahba East Africa or IS-SKTU) Other jihadist groups operating on the African continent, independent of the two main networks of jihadism, are Jama’at Ahl as Sunna li-da’wa wa l-Jihad (known as Boko Haram) and Anṣāru.
The biggest security risks in Africa, in the short term, are in the Sahel, with the possibility of a new expansion of jihadist groups on the North African coast, which would directly interest Europe. However, now they are mainly focusing on local expansion and the rivalries that have led affiliates of al-Qaeda and Islamic State to clash with each other. In the short to medium term, operations and terrorist attacks will continue in Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, in the Lake Chad basin and in the Horn of Africa. Mozambique could be an important new operating theatre, where immediate action is needed. In Libya, on the other hand, the escalation of the civil conflict could allow the resurgence of IS. If the LNA and the Tripoli government do not end the conflict, a resurgence of violent religious extremism could arise. The States in which there could be a concrete expansion of jihadist operations in the coming months are: Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Chad, Benin, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
The expansion, recruitment and attacks of AQ and IS are the main concern of all African countries. The Islamic State and AQ are able to conduct sophisticated attacks in Africa and occupy large territories.
The African theatre, however, will in the long-term be exclusive to local jihadist groups. Organizations such as AQ and IS, in fact, will have at the center of their strategy, that of establishing (or re-establishing) a caliphate in the Middle East.
Daniele Garofalo is a researcher and analyst on Jihadist terrorism and an expert in monitoring Jihadist media channels.
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