The Global Terrorism Index 2020 placed both Nigeria and Somalia within the top ten countries with the highest cases of terrorist activities; the former being third on the list while the latter stood at an unenviable fifth position.
The scale and intensity of the terrorist attacks that have rocked Nigeria since the turn of the decade have been unprecedented even by the country’s own tragic post-independence standards which is why most political observers have drawn parallels with the descent into anarchy being experienced in Somalia.
Descent into terror
Between July 2009, when the campaign of violence against the Nigerian state was initiated, and In January 2012 more than 935 people were killed and thousands wounded in 164 attacks by Boko Haram.
The attacks intensified, with more than 253 people killed in twenty-one attacks in the first three weeks of January 2012.
Whilst the initial geographical focus of the attacks was in the four northern states of Bauchi, Kano, Yobe, and Borno, they have now spread across the country.
During this period, the targets of the attacks also widened from churches and shops to politicians and the state security apparatus to the United Nations itself.
The world also came to a standstill when the insurgents on the night of 14–15 April, 2014 abducted 276 female students from a Girls Secondary School in the town of Chibok, Borno State.
This unfortunate incident further cascaded into a series of guerrilla attacks against the Nigerian Army, schoolchildren and locals who are often killed or released after payment of huge ransoms.
Nonetheless, judging by recent topline casualty numbers, Boko Haram’s sustained attacks point to a trend in direction.
Indeed, despite claims to the contrary, the activities of the insurgents appear to be on the rise once again with many observers suggesting the group morphed into kidnapping innocent schoolchildren in order to gain funding via ransom-payment by the Nigerian state.
Boko Haram’s resilience, in particular the effectiveness of its attacks against security forces, has taken a toll on morale and rattled the Nigerian government.
Rise of the new wars
In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States (US), terrorism has increasingly become a new tactic of warfare and a key security threat, both in Africa and globally.
Terrorism is in itself an evolving global issue, and is among the most complicated and demanding security challenges for the international community.
On the African continent, for instance, terrorism has continued to affect people’s fundamental human rights both directly and indirectly, including contributing to high numbers of people being displaced within their home countries.
The most prominent terrorist groups that are creating a terror impact in Africa include Boko Haram of Nigeria and al-Shabaab of Somalia.
The presence of these terrorist groups, together with their allies across Africa, has led to property damage and huge numbers of people dying and sustaining injuries.
This growing trend of terrorist attacks, which has resulted in the increased movement of people across borders, remains a major security challenge for policymakers in Africa.
Many questions still remain unanswered, even with the involvement of external actors. Is Africa able to showcase success stories in the fight against the Boko Haram and al-Shabaab terrorist groups?
Has the notion and understanding of new wars brought more complexity in countering terrorism on the continent than before?
Like al-Shabaab, like Boko Haram
Many of the terror activities of both Boko Haram and al-Shabaab fall within the definition of new wars, meaning that terrorism is a manifestation of new wars.
New wars are attacks waged by terrorist groups via the use of disproportionate attacks, usually not directed on their rivals but most often on the innocent civilian population or civilian objects.
An example of this would be Boko Haram’s infamous attacks on schools, and their eventual capture of the Chibok school girls.
Another feature of new wars that closely relates to terrorism is the method of financing wars.
Unlike old wars, which were financed by states through taxes, new wars are financed privately by unknown individuals or entity financers.
Both Boko Haram and al-Shabaab are privately financed, with huge donations from sympathisers.
Such funding enables both groups to boast publicly of their sophisticated weapons purchased and used in attacks.
The mass displacement of the civilian population is another feature of new wars and is embedded in the terror activities perpetrated by these two groups.
In old wars, the targets were rival armies and military objectives. However, new wars have been characterised by population displacement as civilians, including women and children, are the targets of terror groups.
As a consequence, the world continues to see huge numbers of people being displaced and seeking safety either within or outside the borders of their countries.
As an example, the Boko Haram insurgency accounts for approximately 70% of the total civilian population being displaced in the countries of the Lake Chad region.
Al-Shabaab has also contributed to the great numbers of both refugees and IDPs resulting from its insurgency in Somalia.
The breeding grounds
Displaced people are usually vulnerable to being targeted as recruits for terrorist groups. There are numerous reasons why people, especially the youth, join extremist groups such as Boko Haram and al-Shabaab.
This point highlights yet another feature of new wars, which is that terror activities are often youth-led in many terrorist groups.
Young people join these organisations for economic gains, as most African young people suffer from a scarcity of employment opportunities.
This links well with the reality in both the Boko Haram and al-Shabaab terrorist groups, whose activities have been largely sustained by young people, including young women, joining as extremists due to circumstances of poverty, insecurity, injustice, and so on.
Both Boko Haram and al-Shabaab continue to use these circumstances and related poor economic contexts to their advantage by identifying and providing the youth with alternative opportunities to compel them to join these terrorist groups.
In the past few years, the world has seen an increased proliferation of religious-based terrorist groups that are motivated by extremist religious ideology. This extremist religious ideology is in itself another feature of new wars.
As an example, both Boko Haram and al-Shabaab are terrorist organisations whose agenda relies on the toga of religion to dissipate their ideals on an impressionable populace who feels treated wrongly by the central governments.
Ideology, particularly religious ideology also serves as another factor or breeding ground for the recruitment of people into terrorist groups.
Therefore, individuals who have strong beliefs in a similar ideology to that of terrorist groups are vulnerable and easily recruited into these organisations.
An end in sight?
Due to the complexity and lethality of terrorism in Africa, there is a need to reconsider new strategies for conflict resolution, such as human security-based approaches, which are prerequisite for effective counterterrorism measures.
In answering why countries dealing with terrorist groups receive different amounts of foreign intervention, the strength of a state was shown as the primary cause for such dissimilarities.
Scholars and policymakers must try to work within the current system to provide security, social services, food, and other necessities to the people of Nigeria and Somalia.
The change of the system is long overdue, but making sure policies are aimed at helping those in need should be the primary objective.
Furthermore, the strength of the state is arguably more important now than ever due to the growing threat from terrorist organizations in Africa.
There are essential steps states can take to increase the possibilities of strengthening their departments, agencies, and overall government. Such as tackling corruption through anti-corruption campaigns.
An anti-corruption campaign will look different in every country due to the complex social, economic, and political climate in each state. Policy and initiatives aimed at rooting out corrupt officials and easing tensions within a nation are everyday actions nations should pursue.
Dissolving divisions within a country, whether religious or ethnic, through co-existing campaigns can help minimize tensions and support for terrorist groups.
Countries with ethnic and religious tensions need to focus on providing a political environment where differences are not used to promote specific agendas or discriminate against a group.
By strengthening the state, a country is fundamentally strengthening its populations. If a country can strengthen itself, there is a high probability it can provide education, security, food, and employment for its people.
However, there are limits to the recommendations because the history of corruption and patronage in Africa are lengthy and can hamper efforts to strengthen states.
Only through a more just, inclusive political and social order in Nigeria can terrorism there be defeated for good.
Authorities cannot afford to wait.
By Mayowa Oladeji…
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