Global Terrorist Index notes that generally, terrorism is losing ground: worldwide the total number of deaths fell by 15.5 percent to 13,826. The fall in deaths was mirrored by a reduction in the impact of terrorism, with 103 countries recording an improvement on their GTI score, compared to 35 that recorded deterioration.
Despite the overall fall in the impact of terrorism across the world, it remains a significant and serious problem in many countries. The expansion of ISIS affiliates into sub-Saharan Africa led to a surge in terrorism in many countries in the region. Seven of the ten countries with the largest increase in terrorism were in sub-Saharan Africa: Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mali, Niger, Cameron, and Ethiopia.
This trend is troublesome not only for those, focused on Africa but for the general Wester public as well. The rise of the terrorist on Africa is may lead to the spiraling of terrorist-attributed violence in Europe and possibly even the USA.
The falling of Afghanistan into the hands of the Taliban urges the international community to provide a better analysis of the terrorist activities in all the corners of the world, as now many experts are cornered that the overall decrease in terrorist activity can quickly turn into an upsurge in violence.
Rapid power transition in Afghanistan has significantly lifted the morale of the militant groups across West Africa. The main point of concern is ISIS, as its global reach has steadily expanded beyond the traditional hotspots in the Sahel, Lake Chad Basin, and the Horn of Africa to West Africa’s coastal states and Central and Southern Africa.
Burkina Faso experienced the largest increase in terrorism in the world in 2019 with nearly 600 people killed in terrorist attacks. According to the Global Terrorism Index, Mali was the country that experienced the worst terrorist incident in 2019 in Africa, when on March 23, assailants opened fire on the villages of Ogossogou and Welingara in Mopti. The attack took 157 lives. Terrorism was assessed to have increased significantly also in Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Niger, among others.
Traditionally the terrorist activity tends to coincide with inner territorial conflicts paired with weak state defense institutions. Any conflict inside a state makes it easier for an armed group or a terrorist sell to penetrate a region or country and maintain territorial control. From terrorists in Mali to al-Shabaab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria, armed groups advance and maintain territorial presence by a combination of coercive tactics and providing governance services, either by replacing existing local institutions altogether.
The opportunity to increase their influence is the basic need for terrorist groups flourishes in a given territory. The major drivers of influence are media coverage, recruitment of sympathizers, and finances. Developed networks that go beyond borders and several base points in already taken territories are serious grounds for further expansion. The African continent is rich in natural resources that may become an additional source of financing terrorist activity. Another source Africa is rich in its human capital. Most countries have a population of unemployed young able men, very predisposed to religious radicalization.
The low quality of equipment and the lack of relevant training among the national armies of Africa are of huge concern, as there are next to no states in Africa capable of providing an adequate antiterrorist response in the case of amplification of terrorist activity.
The years of counter-extremism and prevention efforts by international actors, unfortunately, did not bring any fruits. The inefficiency of the UN peacekeeping Missions with its one-fits-all methods and tremendous bureaucracy has become proverbial. The UN was widely criticized for the fact that its programs are poorly adapted to the special local conditions. Another point of critics was the huge procedural machine that prevents the organization from acting quickly in the face of modern conflict.
Other international peacekeeping programs seem to bring even less positive results. After eight years in Sahel, Paris began re-organizing its forces deployed in the Sahel under the famous Operation Barkhane. Now the French are pulling out its northernmost bases at Kidal, Timbuctu, and Tessalit, under the avalanche of criticism from Malians, who, as Mali's Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maïga has put it, “feel abandoned”.
The fact that violent extremism keeps spreading in Africa is worrying not only because of the threat it poses to the continent. In the West, ISIS directed or inspired at least 78 terror attacks between 2014 and 2019, resulting in 471 fatalities. France recorded the most ISIL-related terrorism deaths, followed by the United States and Belgium. The creation of a stable terrorist hub in Africa inevitably increases the likelihood of terrorist attacks in Western countries.
The fact that the francophone Sahel region is the most affected by terrorist activity, makes France more exposed to the import of terrorism on its national territory. Just in April 2021, French police have arrested four women and a girl as part of an anti-terrorist investigation into a suspected attack plot targeting the city of Montpellier. According to Marc Hecker, Director of Research and Communications at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), “the threat level is still very substantial in France right now”.
The recent rise in terrorist activity in Africa, and especially in the Sahel region, should be not closely monitored by the international community, but also analyzed with great deliberation, as a renewed balanced strategy in tackling the terrorist crisis is much-needed. The previous approached turned out to be rather inefficient: the current methods of distribution of development aid lead to corruption increase and undermining of the local institutions; lack of attention to the local governance mechanisms result in crippling practices that eventually backfire; negligence of the local actors only deepens the conflict.