Violent extremism is expressed in myriad ways throughout the Greater Horn of Africa, but some contributing factors span the region. Long-term problems with socioeconomic marginalization, unemployment, and poor infrastructure have combined with evolving demographic shifts, refugee flows, and environmental degradation to expand the population vulnerable to extremist messages. Systemic corruption also alienates citizens from their governance institutions. To build resilience to radical messages, East African countries must build tailored solutions in partnership with the private sector that include seemingly disparate elements such as service provision, community engagement, and literacy building.
Emerging conflicts in the Sahara and Sahel reveal the influence of transnational ethnic and tribal ties, which serve to facilitate transnational smuggling and movement of radicalized militants. Al Qaeda-associated attacks in Algeria, Mali, and Burkina Faso also reflect the growing cooperation and cross-fertilization among regional militant organizations. This fluidity of alliances between nonstate actors and increasing interconnectedness of African conflicts require coordinated regional solutions.
Ethiopia is witnessing an expansion of the Salafi movement. The Ethiopian government has increasingly interpreted Salafism as extremist movement that is seeking political power and Islamization of the state. However, Salafism is a religious organization whose ideological roots support detachment from public and political life. This misdiagnosis has prompted a misguided campaign by the Ethiopian government to limit religious expression. This could provoke precisely what it fears, a politicization of Salafism as a means to protect its religious freedoms.
Although Burkina Faso has remained relatively peaceful and stable in an insecure region where violent extremism has undermined security, structural challenges within the country—such as endemic corruption, religious tension and chronic underdevelopment—render the country vulnerable to extremism. The Burkinabé government, civil society and stakeholder states should seek to nurture resilience by promoting development and community engagement and thus prevent the spread of violent extremism into the country.
Boko Haram has been able to conduct its operations largely due to its ability to recruit young men. This recruitment is spurred by poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and weak family structures that make young men susceptible to radicalization. Extreme religious teachings by imams act as the final stimulus. The Nigerian government should address the conditions that support recruitment by monitoring imams and providing education and job creation programs. Reducing its ability to recruit will significantly diminish the strength of Boko Haram.
While commonly perceived as a domestic problem, the threat posed by Boko Haram has important multinational drivers and implications. Both the Nigerian government and external partners, consequently, must make a priority of keeping links between northern Nigeria and the outside world open. The challenges posed by Boko Haram are emblematic of an emerging security paradigm in Africa today where local grievances are fused with international ideology, funding, and technology. Effectively addressing the multilayers of this transnational threat will require the sustained engagement of Nigeria’s neighbors and international partners.
Pakistan has for years struggled against violent extremist ideologies that underlay several intrastate conflicts and transnational threats, problems now emerging in Mali, Nigeria, Kenya, and elsewhere in Africa. With weak legitimacy, the Pakistani government’s counter-extremism strategy has achieved little, but religious and secular civil society outfits have initiated their own successful community engagement efforts despite limited organizational management, inter-group connectivity, and personal security. Government efforts to compensate for these shortcomings could produce further counter-extremism successes.
Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Niger and other states in the Sahel appear to be experiencing a new “Salafist era.” Since the introduction of Saudi Wahhabist institutions in the 1970s Salafism has expanded gradually in the Sahel, though with varying success as it interacted with differing political contexts and contrasted sharply with prevailing Islamic institutions. However, states in the Sahel may be able to leverage their religious and ethnic diversity to temper and reverse extremism’s rise.
While not often considered a hub in global terrorist networks, South Africa has seen a steady and growing pattern of domestic and al-Qaeda-linked terrorist activity over the past decade. Coinciding with the creeping expansion of terrorist threats in other parts of the continent, this Security Brief examines lessons learned from South Africa’s experience and their potential relevance to other African countries and their security sectors. Also available in: FRANÇAIS | PORTUGUÊS
Islamism has been present in the Horn of Africa for decades and is currently making significant impacts across the region. Encompassing a variety of actors and ideological traits, it is a heterogeneous phenomenon with political and reformists groups as well as violent extremist elements. Stability in the region, from the community to the national level, will hinge on engagement strategies that incorporate the non-violent elements of this diversity into the public sphere.
Most countries in Southern Africa lack comprehensive legal frameworks that criminalize terrorism and the methods to finance it. However, as numerous local arrests of international terrorists suggest, the sub-region is attracting terrorist networks. To prevent such activity, states should institute legal reforms and better coordinate anti-money laundering efforts through available international and sub-regional working groups.
The penetration and persistence of extremist ideology in the Horn of Africa remains unclear and moving along many trajectories. Multiple groups from Sudan to Zanzibar have created divergent forces of ideological influence, perhaps complicating efforts by al Qaeda to establish a unified base of support across the region.
Highly commended report that links social, economic, political and cultural factors to extremist ideology and support for terrorism. Develops extremist profiles and “at-risk” populations as well as explores individual motivations.
African Counterterrorism Cooperation provides an overview of terrorist threats and responses in each region of the continent. With contributions from leading African security scholars, this volume is a insightful compendium of knowledge on terrorism in Africa that reflects a balance of African and American perspectives on what can and should be done to address this emerging threat.
Security Topics: Countering Violent Extremism