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The Problem with the Study of Extremism/Radicalization in Africa – Professor Hussein Solomon


The Problem with the Study of Extremism/Radicalization in Africa

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 6 (2018), Number 3 (February 2018)

Following the 9/11 terrorist atrocity, then President George W. Bush launched his infamous Global War on Terror (GWOT). GWOT gave greater powers to security officials, the curbing of civil liberties, the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques and the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention facility. GWOT also witnessed the militarization of US counter-terrorism policy which witnessed military intervention in several countries. Unhappiness with the policy soon bubbled to the surface from security officials and academics – pointing out that the policy was simply not working. Despite increased powers and resources to security officials, terrorism was on the increase. Others also pointed out that military force was the wrong tool, that it seemed that the US was using weapons of war as if it was going to war with another state as opposed to an ideology. Critics also pointed to the fact that GWOT was waging war on a symptom and not on its causes – the ideology allowing for the radicalization of Muslims. Recognizing the ideological imperative behind the terrorist act, the Obama Administration moved away from the GWOT and spoke of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE).

In recent years, discourses on extremism and radicalization have dominated the counter-terrorism field, especially in the African context. To be clear this is a welcome departure from GWOT. It is self-evident that we need to understand processes of radicalization if we intend to root out terrorism. At the same time, the study of extremism and radicalization on the African continent has suffered from being too myopic – attempting to understand the phenomenon at individual level without any reference to the broader structural and historical factors at play in the African context. The renowned expert on terrorism and political violence Alex Schmidt once commented: “A number of analyses have observed that the study of radicalization on the micro-level has, to some extent, become a substitute for a fuller exploration of the causes of violent extremism and terrorism. So long as the circumstances that produce Islamist radicals’ declared grievances are not taken into account, it is inevitable that the Islamist radical will often appear as a `rebel without a cause’. It appears that by excluding potentially politically awkward factors like `counter-productive counter-terrorism’ from research – especially government-funded research – too much weight has been put on the `radicalization’ of individuals and the micro-level as an explanatory variable.”

Any attempt to understand the rise of extremism in North-West Africa without reference to historical precedents will be shallow indeed as the indomitable Marc-Antoine Persouse de Montclos makes clear in his historical survey of jihad in Africa. Consider for instance the jihad embarked upon in the Senegal River Valley in 1673 as well as the jihadi roots of the various Fulani uprisings starting in Futa Jallon in 1725 and ending in Macina in 1818. The formation of the Toucouleur Empire of El Hadj Umar Tall from 1856 to 1861 also had its basis in jihad. The most impressive of these jihads was undoubtedly that of Fulani scholar, Uthman dan Fodio which began in 1804 and established a caliphate which endured until the arrival of the British in 1903.These historical precedents are important as groups like Boko Haram imitate the jihad of Uthman dan Fodio and others.

No amount of work on CVE and deradicalization on Niger’s Tuaregs will work unless greater attention is paid to the illegitimate nature of the state, Western powers are seeking to prop up. During 2007-2009 in Niger, former president Tandja conducted a policy of genocide against ethnic Tuaregs. According to Jeremy Keenan this negatively affected two million ethnic Tuaregs in varying ways and degrees. Niger’s current president, Mahammadou Issoufou, is no democrat. He was re-elected president in February 2016 after his main opponent was imprisoned and then forced to flee the country for exile. Other opposition leaders boycotted the polls. Ali Idrissa, a Nigerien journalist, notes that the president and his regime enjoy no legitimacy and that the people feel alienated from the political class. As a result, the government routinely uses repressive means to stay in power. Issoufou and his government sees cooperation with Western powers in the fight against terrorism as a means to extend their reign. Whilst providing the US with bases from which to launch drones against terrorists, Issoufou’s regime receives financial assistance from Washington as well as training and arming of his already repressive security apparatus. This financial assistance hardly gets to the ordinary citizen. As Ali Idrissa bluntly states, “We have a super-rich political class and a mass of people who have been abandoned”. At the same time, political resentment breeds insurgency. Given the fact that 94 percent of Nigeriens are Muslims, this insurgency takes on an Islamic flavour. The government then labels this `terrorist’ and gets Western countries to help suppress an often-legitimate opposition. The discourse of terrorism together with a repressive state security apparatus, armed and trained by Western governments, then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as moderate Sufi Islam is then replaced by a more radical Salafi Islam.

Context matters and scholars of radicalization have to discuss these structural factors and not just focus on radicalization at an individual level.

Terrorist Threat Set to Escalate in Africa – Professor Hussein Solomon


Terrorist Threat Set to Escalate in Africa

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 6 (2018), Number 2 (January 2018)

Perhaps, it is too early in the year to be pessimistic, but the prognosis does not look good for Africa in the realm of security. Indeed, the terrorist threat which has grown exponentially for more than a decade is set to intensify if policy-makers, academics and journalists are correct in their assessments.

The statistics unfortunately reinforce such a pessimistic view. In fact, terrorism on the continent has increased by more than a thousand percent since 2006. According to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, there has been a total of 12,020 recorded terrorist attacks in Africa between 2006 and 2015. More than just the sheer numbers however have been the fact that the terror attacks have grown in intensity and sophistication. Consider for instance the primitive bow and arrow attacks of motorcycles which Boko Haram initially used to stage attacks with their sophisticated asymmetric warfare tactics currently replete with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and Mumbai-style simultaneous multiple attacks they have engaged in, in recent years.

Moreover, according to the Global Terrorism Index, there are eight major Islamist groups on the continent who are affiliated to either Al Qaeda or the Islamic State (IS) with a combined force of 52,400 fighters. These fighters are in the process of being augmented by a further 6,000 Islamic State fighters according to the African Union (AU) who are returning to Africa following the fall of their de facto capital Raqqa in October 2017. This bleak assessment on the part of the AU is reinforced by US General Joseph Dunford who indicated that IS intends to establish a larger presence in Africa’s ungoverned or poorly governed spaces. Also confirming such a view, Nathan Sales, the US coordinator for counter-terrorism, specifically noted the strong IS presence in north Africa and its intention to expand its footprint.

To be clear, the IS presence has been growing in recent years across Africa. In 2015, Nigeria’s Boko Haram pledged its allegiance to IS, transforming itself into the Islamic State in West Africa Province. Also in 2015, a senior commander of Al Shabaab, Sheikh Abdulqadir Mumin and his fighters defected to IS, away from the Al Qaeda-aligned Al Shabaab core. Last year, given the inroads that IS has been making in the Sahel and West Africa more broadly as well as in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, the Islamic State in Greater Sahara was established. In 2016 IS was already attacking army checkpoints in Burkina Faso and a maximum-security prison in Niger.

Certain African countries, of course, are more vulnerable than others. The Egyptian armed forces seem to be losing control of the Sinai to the local IS affiliate there. At the same time, Egypt’s western desert is also rapidly developing into another front for the country’s overstretched security forces as arms and IS fighters cross over from Libya into Egypt. Indeed, IS has developed an uncanny ability to exploit existing cleavages in society and to piggy-back on existing grievances to infiltrate target countries. In the conflict between Tuareg and Tebu in southern Libya, they assisted the Tuareg and acquired their loyalty in the process. In Nigeria, their support to Hausa-Fulani and Kanuri ethnic groups against an uncaring central government in Abuja resulted in Boko Haram pledging their loyalty to the organization. There are now increasing indications that Islamic State is increasing its presence in Tunisia given the economic unrest in that country.

In this context, the introduction of 6,000 battled hardened fighters from Iraq and Syria into the African battle space will serve as a force multiplier for IS franchises on the continent.

Architecture is the Second Conquest by Islam of West Africa – Dr. Glen Segell


Architecture is the Second Conquest by Islam of West Africa

By Glen Segell[1]

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 6 (2018), Number 1 (January 2018) 

Each to his own! Organizations of religion tend to need houses of worship for the believers, and to host the offices of the religion on Earth. Here the spread of Islam into West Africa and its conquest of the hearts and minds of the population and their houses of worship persist. The first conquest ongoing for centuries is the conversion of individuals to the beliefs and practices of Islam, the second more recent is the erosion of traditional architecture even that of historical mosque style and construction.

The two conquests are interlinked for if the external view of Islam is Universal and conforms to a singularity then it grants greater centralized control of the individual. In destroying local architecture the local history, culture, and dissent can be eroded as can any variations to the centralized dictates of the religion, beliefs and practices.

Historically the House of Islam in West Africa was dominated by local architecture and building material because Islam was introduced by merchants and traders and not war.[2] Since the 20th Century, this changed due to an imposition akin to a conquest for Middle East style mosques. This conquest initiated by Saudi Arabian religious leaders aimed at eradicating anything local in the practice of the beliefs.

Those regions of the world that had Islam introduced by war tend to have a style of building; wholly imported from the Arabian Peninsula. From the onset of the arrival of Islam the mosques of North Africa to India were characterised by a minaret, a dome, arches and were decorated with mosaics or stucco. Where it was not practical to construct anew there were adaptations. Certain mosques of Spain are converted Catholic churches. Their transformation into mosques and the constructions of ruler’s palaces in the center of new or existing cities, represent colonial urbanism at work.[3]

In contrast, the historical architecture of mosques in West Africa shows that they were determined more by local skills and approaches. Less influential were the Arabs who migrated out of the Arabian Peninsula into Africa due to trade and who introduced Islam gradually. Most West African mosques were simple roofless enclosures serving the function of places for communal prayer. Nevertheless, because of the local influence and domination the style and materials of historical West African mosques varied according to the ethnic group and the local environment. [4]

The style known as “Soudanese” perhaps the most famed found from the River Senegal to the Niger bend as well as Ghana and the Ivory Coast, is bound by common building material: clay. They have a flat roof supported by pillars and the floor is usually covered with sand on top of which mats are laid. Illumination is achieved by holes pierced in the ceiling, interiors are undecorated and their elegant simplicity attests to the lack of distraction between the worshipper and his creator. Their fortress-like exteriors are reminiscent of the defensive architecture of West Africa known as tata.[5]

This style differs from Mali influenced by the local Mande, Dyula and Wangara who were Islamised. The style of their mosques is characterised by their urban dwellings using conical forms particularly found on monumental entrances of courtyard houses and decorated with pilasters and elements in relief alternating with voids.[6]

In the Futa Toro in north-eastern Senegal dwellings are generally preceded by a wooden veranda or mud porch typical of housing in the area. This structure is echoed in the sacred enclosure around Futa mosques consisting of a projecting straw roof supported by posts whose function is to accommodate the overflow of worshippers and protect them from the sun.[7]

In the central and coastal area of Senegal, the influence of European colonialism and Christian missionaries left its mark on mosque building and building methods. A repercussion of this mixes Christian baroque styles with Islamic motifs. The mosque in Dakar is equipped with a front porch defined by arcades with pointed arches. The paired square towers flanking the triangular pediment of the façade recall church architecture.[8]

In the 20th Century, new construction materials including the introduction of cement and the processes of globalisation initiated the onset of the second conquest by Islam. Economic migration furthered as local West African mosques were rebuilt in cement by the returnees or by the money they send home. The nadir came with the imposition from Saudi Arabian religious leaders for conformity. The inevitable result is that the original architecture and style is entirely transformed to conform to the minaret and dome standard encountered elsewhere in the Muslim world. The local knowledge of mosque building and hence individualism is thus eroded.[9]

The use of square minaret towers, domes and other decorative devices such as crenellations, arcades and stained glass are now commonplace in West Africa. Their style is Middle Eastern gleaning inspiration from further afield such as the Gulf States and Medina in Saudi Arabia than African.

This architectural conquest is not restricted to West Africa and has become a global phenomenon demonstrating the second Islamic conquest over the variety of local traditions and techniques that have mirrored, for centuries, different expressions of Islamic culture. The aim is to enact greater centralized control of the individual. In destroying local architecture the local history, culture, and dissent can be eroded as can any variations to the centralized dictates of the religion, beliefs and practices.



[1] Dr. Glen Segell, Research Fellow, Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa

[2] Prussin, Labelle. Hatumere: Islamic design in West Africa. University of California Press. 1986.

[3] Curl, James Stevens. A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. Oxford University Press. 2006.

[4] Prussin, Labelle. “The Architecture of Islam in West Africa”. African Arts. UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies Center. 1 (2).

[5] Schutyser, S.; Dethier, J.; Gruner, D. Banco, Adobe Mosques of the Inner Niger Delta. 5 Continents Editions. 2003.

[6] Launay, R., Beyond the Stream: Islam & Society in a West African Town. Berkeley. 1992.

[7] Bourdier, Jean-Paul. The Rural Mosques of Futa Toro. African Arts. African Arts. UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies Center. 26 (3).           

[8] Cellar, Sheldon. Senegal: An African Nation Between Islam and the West (2 ed.). Westview Press. 1995.

[9] Engy, Farrag. Architecture of mosques and Islamic centers in Non-Muslim context. Alexandria Engineering Journal. 56 (4).




By Dr. Barend Prinsloo

North-West University, South Africa

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 26 (December 2017) 


Since October of 2017, there have been a number of events which may be linked to possible Islamic extremism present in Mozambique. These events include:

  • October 5: An attack on three police stations in Mocimboa da Praia. Community members and witnesses to the shootout that killed 16 people, believed that the perpetrators were part of a violent extremist group calling themselves “Al-Shabaab.”
  • October 10: Police forces arrested 52 people after the attacks in Mocimboa da Praia. Authorities have dismissed links between Somalia’s Al-Shabaab or Nigeria’s Boko Haram. However, this has raised concerns about home-grown radical influences.
  • October 13: The rapid intervention unit of the Mozambican police was attacked at night by a group of unidentified armed men. They killed 4 policemen in total. The attack took place on the road between Mocimboa da Praia and Palma in Cabo Delgado, close to the river Chiukilila. According to independent reports, 4 policemen remain missing and it is suspected they were captured by these armed men. Other reports put causalities at between 11 and 13.
  • October 21: The same group that was reported to have attack Mocimboa da Praia, clashed with government forces in the fishing village of Maluku, some 30 km from Mocimboa da Praia. This prompted many villagers to flee their homes.
  • October 22: Clashes were reported in the village of Columbe, which is situated 16 km south of an installation of Texas-based Anadarko Petroleum Corporation. According to sources, personnel of the company were asked to evacuate. Community members who witnessed the clashes claim that they were perpetrated by “al-Shabaab”.
  • October 22: Armed men, believed to be Islamic militants, attacked Ulumbi in Palma district, Cabo Delgado. The attack targeted a building. The incident followed another clash that had taken place in Palma during which 11 people were captured and handed to the police. The armed men are suspected of being affiliated with the people who perpetrated the attacks in Mocimboa da Praia.
  • Independent reports, have come out of Nampula, stating that a police operation resulted in the killing of a number of Muslim men. These independent reports said the men were recovered in the forest of Ribaue.


These ‘extremist’ attacks are a new development in Mozambique, which to date has not seen Islamic violent extremism. Mozambican.Media reports indicate that the “Al-Shabaab” group behind the October attack comprises young Mozambican Muslims who formed a sect in 2014 and have taken over two mosques in Mocimboa da Praia. Media outlets are quick to point out that the attackers spoke Swahili, Portuguese, and Kimwani, the local dialect on the Cabo Delgado coast of Mozambique. Some of the group’s members are believed to have attended schools in Saudi Arabia and Sudan.[1]

Islam has a very old presence in Mozambique, particularly on the coast and in the Northern parts of the country. Various Sultanates and Sheikdom existed before Portugal occupied the territory in the late 19th Century. The Portuguese colonialists openly and officially favoured Catholicism, at a time repressing Islam and other religions. But Islam gained converts and nonetheless grew. By the time of independence in 1975 Muslims officially accounted for 13% of the population. The 1997 census gave the figure of 17.8%. Both figures are contested by Muslims who believe them to be higher. Islam is overwhelmingly Sufi in Mozambique, with a majority of Muslims belonging to different Turuq.[2]


Following the attacks, reports not reflected in the media stated that the Government of Mozambique arrested at least 100 local Muslim people. The media has also been asked to tone down the reporting on any Islamic extremist threat.  Officially, the government shut down three mosques in Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado province, and stated that they may extend the measure to other towns[3].  From the information available, the situation in Mozambique should be understood within the following perspectives:

  • Evidence is mounting that security forces are fomenting a climate of fear to suppress urban dissent while they conduct a scorched earth campaign against centres of support for the Renamo in the countryside.[4] In the same way, Muslims are now under pressure and will continue to be side-lined by the Government of Mozambique which would only further ripen the seeds for religious discontent while widening the door of support for extremist views;
  • The government’s clamp down on media reports is indicative of the sensitivity surrounding the attacks. The sensitivity is most likely related to an extremely harsh clamp down by the government on the Islamic community; the government’s efforts to ensure that oil and gas exploration and investment continues; ensuring that the message to the world is that “it is a minor local Islamic issue which is not connected to the wider spread of Islamic extremism in Africa”; and
  • Maintaining investor confidence is essential for the government of Mozambique given the country’s economic decline and burgeoning debt, coupled with huge allegations of governmental corruption[5]. Media reports on the developing situation should therefore not be taken on face value. It is therefore not a given that the extremist problem is only a localized phenomenon and it is more likely to be connected to the larger expansion of radical Islam into Africa.


Whether the recent attacks are related to localized Islamic groupings or being part of a larger extremist network, should not distract from the fact that the threat is clear and present. The impact of the threat is clearly high when the response from the government is taken into account. One perplexing issue is the motive for the extremist attacks – local people are not against the oil and gas exploration in their region, so the attacks cannot be seen as being against development.  Further, even though the attacks had been against police stations (i.e. the government), the motive has not been against the government per se. The only conclusion is that the attacks form part of a more strategic goal and by implication it is likely that larger Islamic extremists are involved. This may only be the be






Rehabilitation and Reintegration of former al-Shabaab fighters in Somalia – Dr. Anneli Botha


Rehabilitation and Reintegration of former al-Shabaab fighters in Somalia

By Anneli Botha

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 25 (December 2017) 

Since the formation of al-Shabaab in Somalia, the organisation went through periods of growth and decline. Periods of decline were particularly sparked by inner conflict and the loosing of territory. Consequently, members representing all levels within the organisation started to doubt their commitment to the organisation, its cause and the individual’s willingness to risk life and limb for the organisation. In dealing with individuals disengaging from al-Shabaab the Federal Government of Somalia introduced the National Program for the Treatment and Handling of Disengaging Combatants and Youth at Risk in Somalia developed through its Inter-Ministerial Task Force on Disengaging Combatants. According to this program, Somali institutions will receive, rehabilitate and reintegrate an estimated 4,500 fighters or former combatants who renounced violence, voluntarily surrender or are captured from al-Shabaab or other armed groups, with the framework of international humanitarian and human rights laws and restorative justice. To facilitate this process at least four ‘transition centers’ or ‘rehabilitation centers’ were established in Mogadishu, Baidoa, Beledweyne and Kismayo. Additionally, these institutions were also designed to protect former al-Shabaab members from retaliation from their former comrades.[1] According to Cabdirashiid Ibrahim Maxamed, the director of the Somali Defector Rehabilitation Programme (DRP) in December 2017, 2000 defectors had already been successfully reintegrated into society since the programme began in 2011.[2] This programme is supported by the United Nations through the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) and other international organisations such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other donors that finance the implementation of these programs.

The term ‘disengagement’ within the Somali context however does not distinguish between defecting and detained members of al-Shabaab although a distinction is made between high-risk and low-risk. Once received, the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) screens the individual to categorize them as high-risk or low-risk. While low-risk combatants are being transferred to rehabilitation centers, high-risk combatants are being prosecuted. Combatants who complete the rehabilitation phase in the rehabilitation center are released and reintegrated back into the community.[3] The rehabilitation program for low-risk combatants consists of family reunification, religious education, vocational and literacy training, civic education, and social reintegration.

Considering above figures and existing constraints the practical realities of rehabilitation programs requires attention. Most prominent is the temptation to put all recipients through the same program. In reality, interviews conducted with former al-Shabaab respondents have identified a number of categories based on the reasons why former al-Shabaab members joined the organization in the first place that also sheds light on the level of radicalization that is not always being considered. For example, based on a sample that differentiated between mid-ranked leaders of al-Shabaab the majority of leaders cited religious reasons (52 percent), followed by personal reasons (28 percent). In contrast to leaders, the majority of ordinary al-Shabaab members indicated that they joined al-Shabaab for themselves, followed by religious reasons. This was further supported when respondents were asked to indicate if an external stimulus played a role in their decision to join the organization. Assessing the response, most leaders were motivated to join al-Shabaab in response to AMISOM intervention (27 percent), Somali government action (27 percent) and Ethiopian specific intervention (21 percent). Ordinary members interviewed were motivated by Ethiopian intervention (31 percent) and government action (24 percent). Al-Shabaab respondents perceived the main threat to Islam in Somalia as not coming from within the country, but rather beyond its borders. Interestingly, 71 percent of respondents in the leader sample, versus 25 percent of ordinary al-Shabaab members believed that al-Shabaab represented the best interests of Muslims in Somalia. It is important to note that 75 percent of the rank-and-file did not believe that al-Shabaab represented the best interests of Muslims. In other words, whereas leaders are convinced of the organisation’s religious agenda, rank-and-file members who participated in this study were less convinced.

Underscoring religion as a prominent component in the conflict, 68 percent of leadership respondents considered Islam to be under threat at the time they joined al-Shabaab. In contrast, only 45 percent representing ordinary al-Shabaab members expressed the same concerns. When asked to identify the origins of the threat, both leaders and members identified external actors, most notably Western countries, followed by AMISOM according to ordinary al-Shabaab members and neighbouring countries according to leaders. Identifying the combination between al-Shabaab’s nationalistic and religious agenda, the first question mark rests with addressing the negative perception that exists amongst Somali nationals directed at international actors when developing and implementing deradicalisation programs within the Somali context. Although religious education will most probably correct misinterpretations in the Qur’an jihadist manipulated, but as presented in this sample, purely religious indoctrination (associated with a conflict between different interpretations of Islam within a country) was not the most prominent reason for joining al-Shabaab, but rather the perception that Islam was under threat following the ‘invasion’ into Somalia.

Vocational training is another prominent component in deradicalisation programs. Determining the role financial incentives played in recruitment, 15 percent of ordinary members and 11 percent of leaders interviewed joined al-Shabaab for the employment opportunities the organisation presented. However, when respondents were asked to assess being employed by al-Shabaab played a role in their decision to join the organisation, 75 percent of leaders, but only 47 percent of ordinary members agreed that being employed was a factor. 25 percent of the leadership sample even strongly agreed that being employed by al-Shabaab was an incentive. In contrast, 37 percent of members who did not agree that being employed by al-Shabaab was an attractive incentive. Being an employee or being part of the organisation for its financial gain open the possibility of offering better employment opportunities to encourage disengagement. However, when respondents were asked if they were paid, the majority (84 percent) of ordinary members indicated that they were not paid, while 31 percent of the leadership sample were not paid.

Although only two main factors – religion and financial benefit – were presented in this commentary, in theory it is clear that developing tailored rehabilitation and reintegration programs will enhance the effectiveness of these initiatives. However, in practical terms, capacity, even with the assistance of international actors will remain a concern. Secondly, developing and introducing programs that address the real reason why individuals joined al-Shabaab – perceptions around Western and neighbouring countries (most notably Ethiopia and Kenya) – might not always be that acceptable to those facilitating the implementation of these programs.



[1]Muggah, Robert, and Chris O’Donnell. “Next generation disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.” Stability: International Journal of Security and Development 4, no. 1 (2015). p.4

[2] Somalia Relief Web. Somalia sets priorities for defector rehabilitation. 1 December 2017.

[3]Parrin, A., 2016. Creating a Legal Framework for Terrorism Defectors and Detainees in Somalia. Colum. J. Transnat’l L.55, p. 257

Slave Auctions in Libya and the Need to Restore Islamic Values – Professor Hussein Solomon


Slave Auctions in Libya and the Need to Restore Islamic Values

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 24 (November 2017) 

The revulsion and anger on the faces of the protestors outside the Libyan embassy in Paris was plain for all to see. The signs they carried expressed their outrage all the more. “Put an end to the slavery and concentration camps in Libya,” said one poster as the enraged protestors chanted, “Free our brothers”.

The demonstration was occasioned by the airing of CNN footage a few days earlier of a slave auction occurring in Libya. The footage of a slave auction soon went viral. In the footage, African migrants were sold off as slaves for as little as US$400. Whilst this auction took place in the capital Tripoli, CNN made clear that there were several other slave auctions taking place across Libya of African migrants. Indeed, the demand for slaves were so huge that there was a backlog for slaves in the country, which currently hosts between 700,000 and one million migrants. Whilst footage of the slave auction was new, reports of slave markets in Libya is not. In April 2017, the International Organization for Migration, a UN agency, already reported the existence of slave markets across the war-ravaged nation.

The chairperson of the African Union Commission, MoussaFakiMahamat roundly condemned the slave markets calling it “despicable”. He also urged the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) to assist the Libyan authorities with an investigation into this. Despite this welcomed condemnation, do not expect action any time soon. First, the ACHPR is an advisory body and as such has no enforcement teeth. Second, there are no “Libyan authorties”. Libya is divided into a weak internationally supported government in Tripoli whose writ hardly extends beyond the capital as well as an ultra-conservative Islamist government also in Tripoli as well as an anti- Islamist government in the east of the country. This is further compounded by the hundreds of militias which have de facto control over their little feudal patch of territory. Under the circumstances, one can hardly expect concerted action to be taken against the slave markets and the holding of slaves.

The existence of Libyan slave markets however also raises deeper questions regarding Arabism and Islam in Africa. The Arab slave trade of Black Africans occurred over a longer period and involved more slaves than the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Moreover, reports of the existence of slavery in countries like Mauritania and Sudan periodically surface.  Beyond slavery, the arrogance of Arabs in their interactions with Africans was self-evident as the historical record will demonstrate. For instance, in Sudan, the local languages of Borog, Berti and Maal were all transplanted by Arabic. In the process, the sense of identity of these local communities were forever lost. Indeed, Omari Kokole convincingly argues that the twin forces of Arabism and Islamism worked to disintegrate other social and tribal groups operating in the same space.[1] Setsuko Tamara is even blunter in his assessment that  `the contacts between Arabs and Black Africans have been largely asymmetrical, in which Arabs have penetrated Africa, enslaved Africans and imposed their religion (Islam) and language (Arabic). They have viewed themselves as superior, as the conveyors of a higher civilization and tended to be patronizing towards those considered as inferior’.[2]

Whilst there have been much soul searching amongst Europeans and Americans in terms of their role with regards to colonizing Africa and the trans-Atlantic slave trade, there has been no similar introspection taking place amongst Arabs and their descendants in Africa. Such introspection is long overdue. Perhaps a good starting point would be a return to traditional Islamic values. Consider there the following verse in the Holy Qur’an:

“O Mankind, We have created you male and female, and appointed you races and tribes, that you many know one another. Surely, the noblest among you in the sight of God is the most god-fearing of you. God is All-knowing, All-aware” (Al Qur’an 49:13)

More to the point, and following on this verse, in his last sermon, the Prophet Muhammad said, “There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a non-Arab over an Arab. Neither is the white superior over the black, nor is the black superior over the white – except by piety”.

Further, Islamic tradition holds that there were 124,000 prophets, which were sent to all nations of humankind. In other words, all nations were worthy to receive the word of God. Under these circumstances, how can such slave markets exist if you call yourself a Muslim? How can this racial arrogance exist if you call yourself a Muslim?


[1]Omari H. Kokole. “The Islamic Factor in Africa-Arab Relations,” Third World Quarterly, 6, 1984, p. 690.

[2]Setsuko Tamara, “Re-thinking Pan-Africanism under African Union Led Continental Integration: Revival of Afro-Arab Solidarity or Clash of Civilizations?” Journal of Global Change and Governance, 1(4), Autumn 2008, p. 7.

US airstrikes against the Islamic State in Somalia – Dr. Barend Prinsloo


US airstrikes against the Islamic State in Somalia

By Barend Prinsloo

Subject Head: Security Studies and Management, North-West University, South Africa

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 23 (November 2017) 


In 2017, the United States (US) carried out 26 attacks in Somalia against extremist targets. Although most of them were directed at al-Shabaab, at least two airstrikes were for the first time against the Islamic State (IS). The first attack, consisting of two separate airstrikes, occurred on 3 November 2017 where at least six missiles struck the remote mountainous village of Buqa, roughly 60 kilometers from Qandala town in the northern state of Puntland. The second attack occurred on 12 November 2017, also in the Puntland area. [1] [2][3][4][5]  The US conducts airstrikes, typically drone strikes, in Somalia under the authority for self-defense and collective self-defense when American advisers accompany AMISOM and Somali government military forces. [6]


For more than a decade, al-Shabaab sought to rule Somalia through Islamic Shariah law. In 2015, some of its fighters started to join IS. Though some small pro-IS cells are in al-Shabaab’s southern Somalia stronghold, the prominent cell is situated in Puntland, a location known for arms trafficking and being relatively close to Yemen.[7] The United Nations confirms that at least one weapons shipment per month (emanating predominantly from Yemen) are being delivered to Puntland.

Known IS intermediaries between senior IS leaders in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic are reportedly also situated in Yemen. IS leaders in Somalia receive orders as well as financing through hawala money transfers, from Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic. The most prominent IS arms and ammunition trafficker is Isse Mohamoud Yusuf “Yullux”[8], the cousin of Abdiqadir Mumin. Yullux is known to be located in Puntland. Mumin was designated as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” by the US and believed to control the IS faction in Somalia.[9] He was born in Puntland and lived in Sweden before moving to the UK in the 2000s, where he was granted British citizenship. Mumin switched allegiance from Al-Qaeda to IS in October 2015.[10] His whereabouts are unknown.

Under the guidance of Mumin, the IS presence expanded in the Bari region of north-east Puntland, grown in numbers, and attracted an increasingly broad range of recruits. In October 2016, IS briefly took control of the town of Qandala, on the north coast of Puntland, and carried out its first suicide attack, in Bosaso. [11] IS declared Qandala the seat of the “Islamic Caliphate in Somalia.” They beheaded a number of civilians and caused more than 20,000 residents to flee.[12] Possibly in response to the growing prominence of IS, Al-Shabaab imposed more violent punishments, including amputations, beheading and stoning, on those found guilty of spying, desertion or breaches of sharia law. Local forces, supported by the US, gained control of Qandala in December 2016 but the presence of IS remained prevalent in the surrounding countryside.[13]

Addressing this new threat and the growing power of al-Shabaab, the US has sent more troops to Somalia and established a new operational mandate[14][15]. In March 2017, The Trump administration gave the US military the authorization to conduct offensive counterterrorism airstrikes in Somalia if there is “a reasonable certainty” that no civilians will be hurt.[16] The airstrikes against IS may have targeted top leaders of the group[17]. Following the airstrikes the US issued a statement which concluded: (the) “U.S. forces will continue to use all authorized and appropriate measures to protect Americans and to disable terrorist threats. This includes partnering with AMISOM and Somali National Security Forces (SNSF); targeting terrorists, their training camps and safe havens throughout Somalia, the region and around the world.”[18]


It is reasonable to ask whether IS can survive as a non-territorial entity. The group has distinguished itself from other jihadi factions by virtue of its success in capturing and governing territory. IS claimed that its territorial strength (tamkin) showed it to be the legitimate Islamic state, promised by God in the Qur’an (24:55). [19] It was thus imperative to ensure that Qandala did not remain under the control of IS and explains why the US supported action to retake control of the city.

In addition, while IS’s overall capacity remains limited in Somalia, an influx of foreign fighters fleeing military pressure in Iraq, the Syrian Arab Republic and elsewhere could present a significant threat to the region. [20] The broader connection between IS  ‘provinces’ (wilayat) and ‘soldiers of the caliphate’ (including Somalia, Kenya, Indonesia, the Philippines, China and Bangladesh) presents a strategic threat to international peace and security.  It makes thus sense that US airstrikes would be aimed at leaders and intermediaries of IS aimed at breaking this strategic connection.

However, if the provinces of IS (including those operating in Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bahrain) are the caliphate’s future hope, a rivalry may emerge. The different titles (provinces vs soldiers of the caliphate) may spur a form of ‘outbidding’, a strategy deployed when ‘multiple organizations are engaged in a competition and use violence to increase their prestige’.[21]  The increased use of violence by al-Shabaab is a good example that IS should be rooted out wherever it sprouts.

Airstrikes, however, is a temporary solution. If Somalia is not to slide further into chaos, to be effective, the Somalian government must gain control of all the areas in Somalia it does not currently govern and reduce the ability of al-Shabaab and other extremist groups to plan and carry out further attacks. What would help a great deal is social cohesion and media pressure. The people must feel that the social compact between their leaders and the people is being upheld because without this compact, Somalia will never achieve stability.[22] In the end, it would be the local people who root out the extremists.