The unsuspected territories of conquering jihadism in Africa (Timbuktu institute) Spécial

Between the Sahelian "sand wind" and the coming sea storm on the West African coast, we can already see the overflow of the epicenters and a fierce conquest of new unsuspected territories of Jihadism in the great lakes as well as in Mozambique 
The Sahelian sand wind should not close our eyes to the coming sea sickness. Are we heading for more dangerous links between organized crime and terrorism on the West African coast with the shift in theaters of operation in a context where the East of the continent is experiencing an unexpected rise in jihadism?

Countries such as Benin, Togo and even Ghana are already aware of the growing scale of terrorism, which in fact has already crossed their borders. Even if the threat of local radicalization is limited for the time being, terrorist recruitments are increasing with young Ghanaians having joined Daech as early as 2015. Recent armed conflicts in the region (Sierra Leone, Liberia) facilitate the circulation of arms in a context of porous borders and arsenals still intact in the hands of transnational actors who have never been so mobile. From Ghana alone, more than 80 uncontrolled incursion points along the borders of Togo, Burkina Faso and Côte d'Ivoire make terrorist groups' access to the sea a compelling reality today. The spectacular incident of kidnapping of foreigners in 2019 in Benin is now becoming anecdotal with the recurrence of arrests of armed individuals from Burkina Faso in Togo as well as the dismantling of terrorist cells in that country. The connection between terrorist and criminal networks from the Sahelian corridors with the South American cartels raises the risk of increased insecurity. Moreover, both the United States and the European Union are already openly committed to preventing such a situation, while these same coastal countries are seeking the support of international counter-terrorism bodies to deal with any eventuality. If not already a little late!

The conquest of Africa or the return of history?

In the same way that a dominant Western geopolitical approach in the 1980s led to the error of a paradigmatic dissociation between sub-Saharan spaces and the North of the Sahara at the cost of a security surprise from which we are still not out of the woods, we seemed to neglect the fact that East and South Africa had been since the Middle Ages, the land of choice for Muslim conquests and incursions. It is surprising to see the province of Cabo Del Gado become a new theater of an insurgency that is only in its infancy, forgetting that already at the time of Vasco de Gama, a certain ruler Musa Bin Bique had given his name to this Muslim sultanate of the island of Mozambique and then to this country well before the late establishment of the Portuguese in 1544. No one knows how to play with symbols or narratives of conquest as well as Daech's theorists. The Islamic State's propaganda arm, al-Naba, in its recent mostly Africa-focused publications, refers to the insurgency in Cabo del Gado as a new refuge for defeated or weakened terrorist groups in the Levant. Neither Mozambique nor the international community had foreseen such an insurgency with a religious charge catalyzing claims and frustrations of various kinds. Given the scale of the phenomenon, analysts differ on the origin of such a situation, mentioning, for some, the Al-Shabab sanctuaries in the DRC recruiting in Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, while others point to the influx of West Africans from predominantly Muslim countries and the diaspora. They are said to have been radicalized from various jihadist areas in Africa and also in Europe.

The situation in Mozambique, so unclear, risks becoming even more complex, with a transnational dimension mobilizing large Muslim minorities in the Great Lakes and taking advantage, increasingly, of the multiplication of zones of instability, attracting elements of former rebellions, including those of Hussein Rajabou in Burundi, to the insurgents in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Conquistadors and El Dorado: Africa; a multifunctional platform for global terrorism

In this context, where the Islamic State is seeking a stronger territorial base and alliances among the population of Cabo Del Gado, theorists of Daech will continue to use the rhetoric of Muslim communities being "oppressed" in countries with a strong "Christian culture" like Mozambique. Elements from various East and even West African countries had already improvised as a Daech affiliate there in 2017. Countries like Tanzania, which long before Mozambique experienced attacks and periodic incursions by the Shebabs, seem to be concerned about the security situation, while avoiding becoming a front or sanctuary in the event of regional or international intervention.

The Great Lakes are not left out with recurrent incidents; a sign of the rise of the jihadist peril in this region already plagued by endless conflicts. Starting with the April 2018 attacks that claimed the lives of more than 8 soldiers and other civilians in the Kamango area of North Kivu near the Congolese-Ugandan border and incursions against the Bovata base, Daech had already announced the birth of the "Central African Province" there. Since then, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in the Congo have claimed the status of a faction of the Islamic State, which intends to spread from Somalia to Mali after having been a subsidiary of al-Qaeda in the region. The 2018 arrest of Walid Zein and Halima Adan, who established a vast and complex Islamic State financial facilitation network from the region spanning Europe, the Middle East, the Americas, and East Africa, is one sign of Africa's new multifunctional status as an inescapable platform in the international terrorism hitch.

This unprecedented dynamic ushers in a new era: the gradual transformation of the mineral-rich and politically unstable conflict zones of Central Africa into a veritable Eldorado for the financing of global terrorism. The Africanization of jihad at a time of globalization of vulnerabilities in a post-covid context19 with its share of populism and identity-based outbidding, which in no way augurs well for regional stability, let alone a hypothetical victory against international terrorism.

Dr. Bakary Sambe
Director, Timbuktu Institute- African Center for Peace Studies