Radical Islamic Terrorism Threats in East Africa


The presence of Al-Qaida in the East African region is a threat to governments and the interests of the United States in the region owing to their ability and methods of operation. The East African region is an area that runs from Sudan to Tanzania, constituting over seven countries. This article talks about the dangers posed by the terrorist organization in the region as far as the interests of the United States are concerned. It established through research that some conditions are favorable to the terrorist organizations. The article examines the current counter terrorist strategies employed by the United States, in collaboration with the states of the East Africa. Currently, the African Union funded a military intervention program in Somalia meant to flush out members of the Al-shabaab group, who are linked to the main Al-Qaeda group (Bang 47). Kenya employed a military strategy to safeguard its borders because it was perceived that the terrorist group in Somalia was interfering with the Somali citizens in Kenya by recruiting them into the organization and committing the acts of terrorism in the border. The US has moved in to offer technical and military assistance to the states of the region in an attempt to stop the Al-Qaeda group from destabilizing peace and security of the region. The US interests would not be achieved in case the extremist groups are given the chance to continue dominating the region. Since the fall of the Said Barre regime in Somalia in 1992, the region has encountered several problems associated with terrorism, ranging from kidnappings to suicide bombing.

East Africa is among the top in the list of Al-Qaeda strategy mainly because of the presence of the Arab communities and strong Islamic religion, which always misquoted to encourage young men to fight the west. Al-Qaeda first established its based in Sudan in early 1990, with the help of the Islamic military regime that had taken power in 1989. The deputy director of the Al-Qaeda group made several trips to Somalia following the overthrow of the Somali dictator in 1992. The meeting between the Al-Qaeda and the Somalia militants was to forge a working unity that would see Al-Qaeda training its members in the Ogaden region. The acts of terrorism would be unleashed to the Kenya people given the fact that the country was a close ally of the west and is populated by Christians. The activities of terrorists faced a major setback when the director of the group drowned in Lake Victoria when he was on a mission to attack the American Embassies in Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya. In 1996, Al-Qaeda group launched on the two American embassies in Nairobi and Dares Salaam, killing several people and injuring others (Boukhars 37). In 2002, the heinous acts of terrorists were experienced in Kenya when the Paradise Hotel in Mombasa was attacked while another planned attack on the Israeli charter aircraft botched. The attacks targeted American nationals and Israelis, who have always been the main targets of the group in the region.

Features of East African States that expose them to Terrorism

Some of the factors in East Africa make it conducive for terrorists to execute their plans. A number of weaknesses, including poor governance, weak institutions, failed states, absorbent borders, unlawful access to weapons, propinquity to the Arab Peninsula, and access to attack avenues characterize the region. However, these conditions are not the characteristic of all the East African states. Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania have high levels of bureaucratization while Somalia has been in a condition of stateless since Barre was overthrown in 1992 (Lyman 78). Kenya and Tanzania have developed infrastructures and sensibly structured societies that give foreigners inscrutability, as well as needed resources, which are critical in executing the acts of terrorism. In comparison to Somalia, which is inhabited by the Al-Qaeda sympathizers, it is very difficult for foreigners to access it because there is a high level of surveillance and monitoring. Foreigners can only coexist with the help of the locals, who are mostly members or sympathizers of the illegal groups accused of destabilizing the region. It therefore follows that no foreign group can succeed in persuading the populace to an extent of influencing it to stop supporting the terrorist groups mainly because of the social relationships and the unity brought about by religion and ethnicity. This means that Kenya and Tanzania are the favorable places for terrorists to carry out their operations while the Somalia region is the safe haven.

Weak Governance and Collapsed States

Weak administrative institutions, as well as pathetic political and social orders in the East African region are the main cause of persistent terrorist acts. Due to this, the region depends on informal power structures to take care of political and security matters. The south of Somalia has been without a functioning government for over twenty years. The region is the most volatile and it is the most insecure region, giving terrorists a clear chance to execute their plans. Somalia was under the control of various clan-based organizations until 1996 when the ICU acquired Mogadishu from insurgent groups, after fighting fiercely with the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter Terrorism (ARPCT), which comprises of the Mogadishu based warlords and the power brokers from the United States (Ploch 22). The ICU government did not last because it was overthrown by the Ethiopian troops in December 2006. The Ethiopian government facilitated the installation of the Somali Transitional Federal Government, popularly referred to as TFG. The new government was supported by the United States, Ethiopia and other regional states in the East African region. The UCU government was never supported by Ethiopia because it had an ambition of reuniting the Somalia nation meaning that some parts of Kenya and Ethiopia were to be declared part of Somalia. The US was never comfortable with the ICU government because it could easily rejoin with the Al-Qaeda group given the fact that its leaders were close allies of the extremist group. In this regard, Somalia continued with its stateless nature mainly because of the interests of various actors, the United States being one of the states that expressed concern over the ICU government.

The problems in Somalia have been persistent mainly because of the fifteen years of warlord dominance and internal hostilities. The conflicts and the presence of warlords destroyed the established physical and government infrastructure meaning that the new government could not operate normally without depending on other actors, Al-Qaeda being one of actors to be depended upon. Moreover, the clan rivalries made it difficult for the international community to install an accepted regime since each clan had its own interests, which were contradictory to the wishes of other clans. The extremists hijacked the process of peace by claiming that the new government could unite the Somali nation by bringing together some parts of Kenya (North Eastern parts), Djibouti, and the Ogaden region, which is owned by Ethiopia. The case is even complex in Sudan because the government supported a terrorist group named Janjaweed. The group has consistently targeted non-Muslim residents in Sudan to an extent of causing a civil strife. Terrorists have taken advantage of the situation to unleash terror, claiming that they support the jihad war.

Alternative Power Centers

In the East African region, there are quite a number of alternative sources of power, which has affected the performance of the region as regards to countering terrorism. The Horn of Africa is characterized by alternative centers of power, which are bestowed in clans, warlords, rebellious groups, radical extremists, and unlawful networks. In particular, the clan system, which is subdivided into sub clans, has been the main feature of the East African communities. The clans are further organized into lineages and extended families. These clans, lineages, and family systems are to blame for the collapse of the Somali state in 1992. With time, warlords took advantage of the family and clan divisions to establish their influence in the region. The warlords acquired weapons such as guns that they used to achieve their interests. In Somaliland, the elders took control and demanded independence from Somalia. The influence of clan elders in Somaliland is being felt to date because the state enjoys internal peace and security (Rosenau 10). In Ethiopia, the government is grappling with the influence of the secessionist groups, including the Somali Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), as well as the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which are backed by Eritrea. In 1998 to 2000, the two governments of Eritrea and Ethiopia engaged in armed conflicts to over the border. The emergence of the secessionist groups shows that terrorists are using alternative centers of power to accomplish their missions. In 2007, the ONLF, with the help of Al-Qaeda, attacked the Chinese oil exploration fields near the Somali border, killing sixty-five Ethiopia residents and nine Chinese nationals. A number of other Chinese and Ethiopian nationals were abducted.

Criminal network have also had a fair share of influence in the East African region, especially at the sea whereby they abduct goods and people in the sea. Piracy is a common feature in the Horn of Africa, especially in the Kenyan and Somali coast. The pirates and criminal syndicates is always well armed. Moreover, they operate under a program that is well designed. This shows that terrorists are involved in these acts of crime because they always abduct western citizens and goods. The composition of the criminal gangs is global, which signifies that it is one of the modes of operation for terrorists.

Prevalence of the Informal Economy in the Region

In the East African region, the informal economy is so prevalent meaning that the formal economy is even overshadowed. States in the region are unable to operate effectively because of the presence of these economies because some businesses conducted in the region are not taxed. A report released in 1999 by the International Labor Organization office revealed that an approximated 50.6% of the Ethiopian workers and 36.4% of Kenyan workers are employed in an informal sector. In Somalia, the percentage is even higher because many people are informal in illegal business. Terrorists have taken advantage of this state of affairs to execute their acts of terror because many people are willing to engage in terrorism to acquire resources. Money laundering is easily executed under the informal economy, especially in Somalia whereby exchange of foreign currency is controlled by terrorists under a system referred to as hawala. The existence of this system of foreign exchange has made it easy for foreign sympathizers of Al-Qaeda to remit finances to the terrorist owned accounts. The system does not leave any evidence that a transaction was actually made.

Porous Borders

In the East African region, the presence of the state in its borders is minimal because the borders are not even demarcated. The states do not have the ability to police the borders because of poor infrastructural development and inadequate funds. In places that security personnel and revenue authorities are available, corruption is rampant meaning that terrorists can have their way into a state and commit the acts of terrorists without any difficult. In this case, the governments are always caught unaware. A recent Kenyan case serves as an example because terrorists from Iran were allowed into the country with explosive materials. The terrorists were later arrested in Mombasa while planning to commit terrorism, but were released on bail. Terrorists have been able to execute their heinous acts in parts of Nairobi using explosives believed to have been made in Somalia yet the country has a tight security in the Somali-Kenyan border. The Kenyan-Somali border is rarely patrolled yet there are people charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the border is safe. Kenya and Uganda nearly went into war over an island referred to as Migingo because it is not yet determined whether the island is in Kenya or Uganda. The administrative units in the island belong to Kenya yet the Ugandan troops monitor the island. It is concluded in this section that terrorists have been able to commit their acts because of the protected borders in the East African region (Dempsey 9).

Widespread Access to the Illegal Weapons

In the East African region, the distribution of arms is widespread, even though the UN issued an embargo on the sale of arms. Many states are accused of distributing arms to various criminal and terrorist groups in the region, the United States being one. In Somalia, Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Syria are accused of providing weapons and logistical support to Islamic insurgents. In particular, Iran provided weapons to the ICU government. The current TFG government in Somalia is supported by Uganda and Yemen (Shinn 19). In Kenya, a report released by the national security intelligence services claimed that over one-hundred thousand weapons are in the illegal hands. The East-Leigh region of Nairobi is a hub of terrorists and illegal arms market because of the presence of Somalis. Recently, an armed gang of terrorists attacked the district commissioner’s officer residence in northeastern region and abducted the administrator, together with other members of staff. The gang was well armed meaning that access to illegal firearms is prevalent in the region. The Al-Qaeda group has been keen to capitalize on this state of deteriorating security to execute its acts.

The Effects of Islamic Radicalism in East Africa

The effects of terrorism are enormous because they range from economic, political, and social to cultural. Terrorism is so costly because member states are forced to adjust their budgets in order to convene their security interests. The effects are categorized into direct and indirect costs meaning that terrorism has an effect on production, well as life. These are some of the short-term effects of terrorism since terrorists cause harm to people and their property. This is a problem to the state since the primary role of any government is to provide security, apart from other basic needs. The state is forced to come up with measures aimed at beefing up security, such as checks at the major borders entry points. A lot of time is lost at the airport since people are taken through a though process of examination. Time is a variable that matters so much in the business hence wastage of even a second is costly. At the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, goods an people visiting the country and leaving the city are thoroughly checked to establish whether their activities are related to those of terrorists in any way. This is the responsibility of any state, especially those faced with security problems, such as Kenya. Thorough checking has scared away potential investors because they do not like the idea of spending considerable time at the airport going through unnecessary checks (Scheuer 89).

Tourists have also been avoiding the country because of the wastage of time going through checks and cross-examination at the airport. In particular, tourists from Middle East and West Africa have shied away because they are always suspected to be connected to terrorists. The effects of terrorism in the East African region are compared to the effects in Spain and Israel, which have forced the state to channel state resources to combating the crime. The US had to readjust its foreign policies after the 9/11 attack because it was noted that the state was ill prepared to handle intimidations from terrorists. In Nairobi, each building must have an effective security system to ensure that people suspected to be carrying explosives are identified easily. This has increased the cost of running businesses in the city because proprietors are forced to spend extra costs on the acquiring security equipments such as CCTV cameras and electronic gadgets with an ability to detect an explosive. The challenge has been so immense because the city was ill prepared to deal with terrorism. Since the state declared war on the Al-Shabaab group, constant attacks have been made on innocent people and property. In one of the estates populated by the Arab community, attacks on members of the African community have been the order of the day. The government has been forced to spend too much on providing adequate security to the residents of East-Leigh and its environs (Chalk 12).

In the CBD region, the country has been so vigilant to ensure that any act of terrorism is detected at the earliest stage because the effects are always stern. Terrorists have been targeting the congested places such as meeting places, bus parks, and other places believed to be highly congested. Attacks on innocent people at the bus parks have been rampant. In fact, the number of deaths witnessed at the bus parks is so high as compared to any other places. Recently, the Al-Qaeda related group claimed that it was willing to compensate an individual highly if he or she manages to execute a terror attack at the police officer, military officer, or any other senior government official. This was a threat to the Kenyan government because its security officers are vulnerable to the acts of terrorists owing to the poor training and pitiable equipments. The government of Kenya came up with a resolution to form a special police force that would deal with all forms of terrorism (Haynes 1324). Terrorists operating in Nairobi are not any different from those operating in Uganda since their major aim is to destabilize peace, cause tension, and attract the attention of the international community.

The government of Uganda was forced to acquire over five military helicopters since it was a reality that terrorism was the major threat to the interests of the state. Unfortunately, the military helicopters acquired were brought down at the Mt Kenya forest, with bad weather being blamed for the crash. However, close military reports suggest that terrorists could have brought down the helicopters since they were headed to Somalia for a major military operation to flush out members of the Al-Shabaab from their strong hold Kismayu (Gettleman 68). The East African governments had agreed under the hospices of the African Union that Uganda would conduct an air strike while Kenya was to offer naval support. The plan never materialized because of the crash at the Mt Kenya region since the weapons meant for the operation were destroyed in the crash. The Amisom forces had to wait until Uganda stabilized for them to continue with the assault. Even though Uganda is being faced with various problems, including great poverty and agricultural challenges, it was forced to prioritize the military operation in Somalia because of the long term effects Islamic radicalism was causing to the region. The government of Uganda was caught unaware during the final match of the world cup when unknown assailants attacked citizens in a restaurant. The Al-Qaeda linked Al-Shabaab group claimed responsibility and threatened to strike more if Uganda does not stop associating with the US and the west over Somali peace.

It can be concluded that the costs spend on preparedness and prevention of terrorism are high as compared to the costs spend on fighting it directly. Kenya was losing tourists because they feared visiting the Kenyan coast in fear of attack and kidnapping. Potential investors were reluctant to transfer their capital to Nairobi or Uganda in fear of instabilities brought about by terrorism. Based on these threats, the East African states decided to attack the Al-Shabaab militias and end the problem at once. Many states were willing to join the war, including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi because the acts of terrorists had become intolerable in the region. Islamic radicalism inspired the East African states to declare war on the Al-Shabaab, which is an Al-Qaeda related group (Abbink 56).

Counterterrorism programs in East Africa

The governments of the East Africa region have continuously strived to come up with strategies that would help them stem out terrorism. Some of the strategies are being implemented while others have already been implemented yet they have not been successful. The United States and its allies, such as France, Britain, Canada, and Australia have maintained a strong military presence in the East African region because they its values state security. The US, through its agencies and the embassies has continuously supported peace programs in the region. The security of the region is of great importance to the US because it has various companies and organizations operating in the region (Ahmad 76). In particular, Kenya is of great importance to the national interests of the US, given its strategic position in East Africa. However, the US has a military base in Djibouti, but not Kenya because of the favorable environment and availability of training space. The Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa is one of the military organizations owned and controlled by the United States under the Africa Command. The organization was established in 2008 to fight the activities of the insurgent groups in Kenya, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Djibouti, and the Seychelles. Moreover, the military organization was expanded to cover the operations in Tanzania and Uganda after it was found out that terrorists had diversified their plans and aspirations. The main role of the military organization is to draft policies that would address the terrorist challenges facing the region. In this case, the organization works with the militaries and foreign policy makers of the region to build littoral force with extra ordinary capabilities to address terrorism. The ongoing operation in Somalia is part of the organization’s plan to end tyranny in Mogadishu and install a working government. The organization supports the activities of the African Union, as well as the United Nations (Haynes 481).

The security situation in Yemen was deteriorating when the organization intervened by training the coast guard security personnel. The organization has also provided training and technical support to the troops of Uganda, Djibouti, and Ethiopia. The current program aims at equipping the Kenyan navy in addressing the persistent problem of piracy in the sea. Apart from offering military assistance, the governments of East Africa have embarked on a program aiming at training the public on how to address or respond to terrorism (Stith 58). In this regard, the CJTF-HOA has been facilitating civil training in an attempt to promote civil affairs in region. An enlightened society is easy to convince that terrorism is not related to Islam in any way, even though radical Muslims tend to brainwash the faithful to believe that terrorism and Islam are interrelated. The US government has introduced programs in Djibouti and Somalia aiming at enlightening the members of the public regarding the effects of terrorism and extremism. In the North Eastern part of Kenya and parts of Somalia, the US government, through its agency-the US AID has drilled wells and constructed hospitals to save lives. Recently, a counterterrorist program, referred to as the East Africa Counter-Terrorism Initiative, was launched mainly to address the new challenges. The program seeks to provide funds in five major areas, including the movement of people and goods, military training, aviation surveillance and capacity building, establishment of terrorism protection programs, and finally training the police.

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