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Has Africa become the ‘Dark Continent’ for terrorism?

Africa will most likely continue to be a hot bed of terrorism for many years to come with little hope of a resolution to this threat

Did I really just write the ‘Dark Continent’ in reference to Africa??

I am well aware that I will anger some by even using the term ‘Dark Continent‘ in this piece to describe Africa. Some will accuse me of racism, somehow equating the term ‘dark’ with those of a negroid skin type. Others will think I am glorifying the days of European colonialisation: after all, that is where the term originates (a reference to the fact that not a lot was known, at least in the West, about the place). Interestingly, some use the term to reflect that because of the dearth of electricity on much of the continent, satellite imaging from outer space depicts much of Africa at night as, well, ‘dark’. Still, many are outraged. None of this is relevant to what I want to examine in this Perspective.

As an aside, we now know of course that our very species originated there some 315,000 years ago and spread around the globe (the so-called ‘Out of Africa‘ phenomenon – no, not the movie with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep!). In this way the continent is thus the ‘bright’ one since in its absence we would not be here and I would not be putting out blogs on national security!

Yet when it comes to national security Africa is still very much the dark continent. There are so many terrorist and criminal groups operating in dozens of nations, all contributing to a very insecure environment. Millions of Africans have suffered and are continuing to suffer as a consequence.

RELATED: Borealis discusses the jihadi situation in Africa

Sticking solely to terrorist groups, here is a partial rundown of who is doing what where.

As noted, this is just a partial list but I think you get the idea.

African nations appear at times to be helpless in the face of these threats. Some leaders – the Nigerians are notorious for thisclaim every year that it is to be the last one in which the terrorists will be around. Other countries employ tactics in which military forces kill civilians as well. Still others have relied on foreign intervention such as the aforementioned Operation Barkhane in the Sahel (Canada was part of that too) and US airstrikes (especially in Somalia). Little if anything of this appears to be working.

RELATED: Borealis discusses terrorism in Africa

African leaders like to blame a lot of their woes on colonialism. Yes, the years of subjugation were often horrible – think of Belgium’s role in the Congo – but the current terrorism scourge has NOTHING to do with this. These groups are either completely homegrown – Al Shabaab in Somalia is a great example – or benefit from assistance from other terrorist organisations like ISIS and AQ which originate in the Middle East, NOT the West. It seems as if these latter two see the continent as a great place to do ‘business’: little intervention, poor governance, a population fed up with the central authorities, large easy-to-hide-in spaces. This is not something we in the West need to apologise for.

The bottom line, as I outlined in The Lesser Jihads, is that Africa will most likely be a hot bed of terrorism for many years to come. Whether this mutates into threats outside the continent (the 2009 ‘underwear bomber’ Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was from Nigeria) remains to be seen. I know that many European security officials are concerned about terrorist use of migrant flows from Africa.

At the risk of coming across as pessimistic this is a problem with no obvious solution. Efforts will continue to be made but the scale of the threat is almost beyond measure. Africa is dark indeed in this regard.

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By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. and Director of the National Security programme at the University of Ottawa’s Professional Development Institute (PDI). Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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