Violent extremism refers to the actions of people who use violence to achieve ideological, religious, or political goals. Some notable extremist groups who use violence, instability, and civil disorder to achieve ideological, religious, and political goals include the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Boko Haram, The Taliban, and Al-Shabab.
Violent extremism portends severe costs for the world, especially Africa. Terrorism committed through violent extremism cost Africa $14 billion in economic costs in 2016 alone, even though 18 African countries spent more than $259 billion between 2007 and 2016 to fight violent extremism and terrorism. Still, terrorist attacks fuelled by extreme religious and political beliefs have barely subsided in Africa.
In June 2021, armed men killed over 160 people during a village raid on Solhan, Burkina Faso; violence linked to Islamist groups surged by more than 22 percent between 2022 and 2023, respectively, comprising over 6,859 terrorist events. These gory incidents are part of the many continuing cases of terrorism and violent extremism in five context-specific African areas: the Sahel, Somalia, Lake Chad Basin, North Africa, and Mozambique.
To defeat violent extremism, African governments and policymakers must work seamlessly in a concerted effort that safeguards all African peoples’ peace, welfare, and security
To defeat violent extremism, African governments and policymakers must work seamlessly in a concerted effort that safeguards all African peoples’ peace, welfare, and security. This article will examine the varied ways by which violent extremism can become a thing of the past in Africa through much-needed strategic imperatives:
1. Combating Terrorist Financing (CTF)
Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, more commonly known as Al-Shabab, is a Salafi jihadist military organization primarily based in Somalia and maximally operational across East Africa. Al-Shabab makes about $100 million annually from illicit revenues generated through piracy, arms smuggling and trafficking, extortion of local businesses and individuals, collection of illegal fees, and facilitation of underhand trades, amongst many others. Al-Shabab uses a lot of these monies to finance terrorism in East Africa and worldwide. In 2009, the group officially pledged allegiance to al-Qa’ida, a global Islamist militant organization it supports, by spending $24 million yearly on weapons.
We must identify and truncate their extensive monetary networks to defeat Al-Shabab and other similar extremist organizations. In October 2022, the United States Department of Treasury officially designated seven financial facilitators of Al-Shabab and placed them on a watchlist, including Abdullahi Jeeri, Khalif Adale, Hassan Afgooye, Abdikari Hussein Gagaale, Abdi Samad and Abdirahman Nurey. However, African leaders can cooperate with international organizations and governments to dismantle the financial networks of terrorist organizations in Africa.
Security experts have advocated that combating terrorist financing (CTF) can be achieved through various legal and administrative measures. From a legal perspective, African countries can implement The International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (1999) while also enacting domestic legislation to ensure the criminalization of offences related to the financing of terrorism. Administratively, African governments can embark on a unique financial investigation, asset freezing, asset seizing, and confiscation of terrorism-related assets while strengthening regional partnerships against terror financing.
2. Strengthening governmental trust with local communities
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has reiterated that strengthening the trust between governments and citizens is essential for building civil tranquillity and achieving sustainable peace in conflict-ridden African regions. The Programme confirms that confidence remains an integral component of democratic societies. Any attempt at shortening the trust deficit between African governments and citizens must holistically address the root causes of conflict and violent uprisings by restoring the vertical and horizontal dimensions of trust in African communities.
The UNDP is not alone in advocating this message of rebuilding trust between governments and citizens. In the book “Trust: The Social Virtues and The Creation of Society,” Francis Fukuyama, a renowned political scientist, stated that the ability to trust and work with others is necessary for economic success. For Africa, Fukuyama’s words couldn’t have been more poignant; trust between governments and citizens is a crucial ingredient for building healthy, safe, and stable communities in Africa.
Nonetheless, achieving societal trust in Africa is not a cakewalk. Only one in four Nigerians trust the Nigerian government to save their lives, and Africans generally trust their country’s national army more than they trust their president or parliament. But to defeat terrorism across Africa and put insecurity to bed, this must change. African political leaders must restore the trust between citizens and their governments to a healthy level, as it will aid government’s efforts and peace-loving citizens in fighting extremism and terrorism. African governments can build trust by upholding the end of their social contract with their citizens.
This can be done by employing the taxes paid by the citizens for national development and social investment purposes, eliminating corruption, improving resource governance, communicating soundly, promptly, and earnestly, strengthening election integrity, and eliminating pre-election and post-election violence, amongst many other governmental imperatives.
Once African governments sustainably implement these measures, social trust in local communities will increase, and violent extremism will decline as most African societies will move against it in the same direction.
3. Developing robust and mobile defence capabilities
A non-negotiable part of winning the war against violent extremism in Africa involves robust investment in the defence capabilities of many African countries, given that the security systems of many African countries remain grossly incapable of fighting and ending terrorism.
While the United Nations recommends that governments should ensure one police officer for every 450 citizens, the African reality is brazenly disobedient of the UN recommendation. Kenya has one police officer for every 1,150 citizens; Tanzania has one police officer for every 1,298 citizens, while Ghana retains one police officer for every 1,200 citizens. Officers in many African countries need to be more funded and equipped. Little wonder many citizens in Uganda and other African countries now pay for their guards since the public security system is unreliable.
When it comes to sophisticated security systems, many African governments are deficient due to corrupt practices, which remain a long-standing bane against investments in robust and agile defense technologies. Nigeria’s $2 billion arms scandal, popularly known as “Dasukigate,” remains a credible example of why violent extremism persists in many parts of Africa since the weapon-grade systems needed to embark on counterinsurgency efforts have been embezzled.
To fight violent extremism, African governments must start to embark on large-scale purchases of the sophisticated weaponry needed to fight terrorism, and it must embark on the drive as a matter of national emergency.
Violent extremism remains a raging issue across many African regions, from across the Sahel, Somalia, Lake Chad Basin, North Africa, and Mozambique. To properly win the war against religious, ideological, and political fundamentalism, African governments must implement the suggestions above. I believe this will play a crucial role in restoring peace across Africa by helping to end violent extremism and other related tendencies.