THE ISLAMIFICATION OF AFRICA
"Those who know nothing about Islam pretend it counsels against war" (Ayatollah Khomeini)
As Thomson (2010) points out, African rulers have been quick and generous with the building of mosques. It has been so since the days of independence. Islam dominates the north and east coast, but even throughout the rest of the continent, one can easily find a mosque (or one under construction) in just about every city neighborhood. It's unknown what the rate of mosque-building is, but one would guess it's pretty high. One-fifth of the world's Muslim population lives in Africa, Muslims have the highest birth rate of any religious group in the world, and record numbers of people convert every year. Several African nations have ruled in the name of Islam (sometimes erroneously called Arab states) for some time. Libya, Sudan, and Mauritania, for example, have been Islamic ever since independence. Algeria came close in 1992, but the army stepped in to prevent Islamic rule. Nigeria decided to adopt Shari 'a law in 1999, and Islamic expansionism takes the form of terrorism in Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia, Morocco, and other places. There is certainly growing support for Muslim beliefs across the continent.
To be sure, traditional African beliefs (based on animism and ancestor worship) are still respected, and syncretism (or mixing) of religion (especially with Christianity) can easily be found. However, it is the Muslim followers who cause the most political problems. This is because Islam is NOT a secular religion. It doesn't separate church and state like other religions do. The mosques frequently become conduits for protest against the state, with most protests aimed at either the full implementation of Shari'a law OR political concessions in terms of "special privileges" of citizenship for Muslims. This kind of protest movement is called Islamification, and African leaders are finding out exactly how difficult it is to suppress no matter how often they remind everyone that in their country, the secular practice of Islam is all that's tolerated.
Now is not the only time that Africa has been subjected to Islamification. It has been going on a long while, along with efforts to suppress it. For many years, pro-Western governments have operated with two assumptions: (1) that full-scale democratic elections would likely bring Islamist radicals to power; and (2) that a benign dictatorship was the natural mode of governance because this form of leadership is part of Arabic culture and tradition. The consequences of these assumptions have been that the Western world has supported some of the worst regimes on Earth. The Arab states in Africa, despite a wealth of resources, suffer under an economic growth rate of 0.5 per cent a year (according to the United Nations Development Program), placing them at the bottom of the world’s growth list. In addition, where Islamic rule is evident, an average 25% of citizens live in extreme poverty, making less than $2 a day; and there are vast, intergenerational levels of unemployment.
ISLAMIST TERRORISM IN AFRICA
The three main operational areas of terrorism in Africa are the oil regions, the Horn of Africa and central Africa. The oil regions in west Africa are sources for terrorism for multiple reasons, but one of the most important factors is that in states such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and most others in the region, governments are weak, corrupt and exercise little control over most of the national territory. Douglas Farah (2004) says that there are at least two international terrorist groups operating in West Africa: Hezbollah, which has long-standing, historic ties to the Lebanese diasporas centered in Abidjan, Ivory Coast and dominating trade throughout the region; and al Qaeda, which has had an interest in the regional diamond trade that extends at least back to the mid-1990s. Jihadists exploit the state of affairs in the oil regions where criminal networks are in union with corrupt leaders and governments and rebels struggle for power. Countries like Nigeria that has the second largest Muslim population in Africa, has had fighting between the Muslim north and the Christian south that has claimed 10,000 lives.
The Horn of Africa holds active terrorist cells. Kenya is the only sub-Saharan country with known al Qaeda cells, but there are many other known jihadist organizations in the Horn. Jihadist activities bleed across Kenya’s borders into Somalia. The most obvious threat comes from the ability of terrorist groups to take immediate action. From bases in the Horn they can attack American interests and stage operations. Another threat is the ability of terrorist groups, especially jihadists, to organize in the region. They are able to do this because of unstable political environments and a population that supports terrorism against the United States and its allies.
In the central region of Africa, tribal conflicts and lack of governmental control have created large, lawless areas. Jihadists have exploited this. They have created criminal enterprises and links with criminal organizations to expand their financial structures. In addition to the human tragedies of ethnic cleansings, child exploitation, and slavery, failing states encourage the emergence of a jihadist presence.
In addition, terrorism is a potential problem in western and central Africa. There, weak or failing states combine with governmental corruption and organized crime to create a potential haven for terrorist groups. A good West African example is the controversial Islamist group Boko Haram, which has been clashing with Nigerian police since 2002. For any jihad-oriented or evangelist group, the large Muslim populations in West Africa are suitable for exploitation politically, economically and territorially, particularly when such populations are seeking to mobilize their own empowerment movements. The three convergent issues of poverty, the AIDS pandemic and lack of effective and meaningful national boundaries contribute as suitable factors for exploitation by jihadist groups. Where such groups are able to demonstrate value by providing for an ethnic (and not limited to Muslim) population, recruiting orphans or children otherwise unable to be provided for and validating a population's ethnic and cultural identity, such terror groups can effectively develop and prosper. This can result in both locally successful groups conducting terror operations with a potentially wider view on political and economic control, in addition to shared tangible and intangible benefits of operating under a perceived umbrella of a global jihad.
REFERENCES AND RESOURCES
Clapham, C. (1996). Africa and the International System.
NY: Cambridge Univ. Press.
Ray, B. (1999). African Religions: Symbol, Ritual, and Community. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Thomson, A. (2010). An Introduction to African Politics. NY: Routledge.
Wikipedia Entry on Islam in Africa
Last updated: June 17, 2011
Not an official webpage of APSU, copyright restrictions apply, see Megalinks in Criminal Justice
O'Connor, T. (Date of Last Update at bottom of page). In Part of web cited (Windows name for file at top of browser), MegaLinks in Criminal Justice. Retrieved from http://www.drtomoconnor.com/rest of URL accessed on today's date.