Terrorism in Africa is no longer somebody else's war: once a theatre for proxy wars, Africa must now confront the spectre of homegrown terrorism by knowing its enemies, choosing its friends and fighting the instinct for overkill, argues Kalundi Serumaga.

Author:Serumaga, Kalundi
Position:Cover Story: TERROR IN AFRICA - Cover story


Until about a decade ago, Africa was little more than an arena in a widening global contest between militant jihadism and Western power. Staged attacks on the continent that killed and maimed innocent bystanders had, as their declared objective, Westerners and Western targets.

Indeed, groups such as Al Qaeda, most notably in its East African US Embassy bombings in August 1998, regarded the killing of Africans as collateral damage. Instructively, in the aftermath of the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, African victims pursued compensation claims with the US government, tragically emphasising the sense that they, too, regarded themselves as bystanders in other people's wars. There are important exceptions, of course, but for the most part, Africa has found itself in the cross-hairs of a violent global contest. And as happened during the Cold War, Africa and Africans must once again contend with the disruptions of foreign wars being fought by local proxies on African soil.

However, considering the West's long-standing record of deploying the terrorist label to suit imperialist ends--the 1986 Reagan administration's bombing of Muammar Gathafi's compound and the murder of his three-year-old daughter comes readily to mind--terrorism remained an all-encompassing term throwing together warlords, secessionists, radical Islamic clerics, leftist dissidents and common thugs.

The terrorist label has always been problematic in the African context. Yesterday's terrorist is often today's liberation hero--and possibly tomorrow's autocrat.

Technically, many African countries have Mad terrorists as their presidents. Nelson Mandela-Samora Machel, Salva Kiir, Joachim Chissano, Jomo Kenvatta, Houri Boumediene, Yoweri Museveni, Paul Kagame, Meles Zenawi, Joseph Kabila, Pierre Nkurunziza, and Robert Mugabe have all come to power bv the fact of having been members of organisations that used armed violence to achieve political ends. Some, like Kenyatta, Mugabe and Mandela, were even officially branded terrorists by the powers opposed to them at the time.

Beyond the issue of labels, the past decade has Drought home the reality of violent insurgencies on African soil. The thousands killed and maimed in the Lake Chad basin from attacks staged by the Jama at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Dawah wa'l-Jinad, otherwise known as Boko Haram, and those in East Africa by the Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, commonly called al-Shabaab, has led to perhaps the most serious security crisis in sub-Saharan Africa today.

Three things stand out in particular. The first is the increasingly regional nature of the threat. From a relatively small area of operations in the north of Nigeria, Boko Haram now stages attacks in four out of the seven countries of the Lake Chad basin. Likewise, militant groups in Somalia, most notably...

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