Skip to content

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.
























Sufism as Political Islam in Africa: Recent Developments – Mawlana Dr Muhammad Ashraf E Dockrat


Sufism as Political Islam in Africa: Recent Developments

By Mawlana Dr Muhammad Ashraf E Dockrat

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 22 (November 2017) 

Political Islamism in Africa is well documented. Ali Mazrui coined the term “Shariacracy” to speak of the phenomenon as it appeared in Nigeria and other scholars from the continent and beyond have identified tendencies of Wahhabi-Salafi expressions of the faith in other parts of Africa. Researchers have also recently identified the link between Sufism and politics in the faith and practice of African Muslims.

Sufism has been described broadly as the tendency among Muslims to strive for a personal engagement with the Divine Reality. Frequently Sufis and Sufi tariqahs have come under attack due to the social and political influence that Sufi teachers wield for a number of reasons, including the fact they often threatened the power and privileges of the jurists and even the rulers. Religious opponents of Sufism were happy to claim that their excesses represented Sufism’s true nature. The rivalry and controversies between Sufism and its legalist and conservative detractors go back to the early epochs of Muslim history. The rise and spread of Islamist political movements have been topics of focal concern for scholars and analysts in recent decades. Scant attention has been paid to the reactions generated within the larger Islamic community toward the Islamist groups and their militant offshoots. There are real problems and instabilities in many regions with majority Islamic populations and the nature of these problems largely emerge out of the current political, economic and strategic situation of these societies. An unnoticed source of reaction to political Islamism is the nebulous confraternity of Sufi orders (turuq) whose mysticism and esoteric beliefs and practices have set them apart from the exoteric revivalism and political activism of the Islamist societies. The study of Sufi Islam in 21st century politics asks what has made Sufism successful and effective at managing religious pluralism and ethnic and regional diversity in places as varied as Senegal, the Ottoman Empire/Turkey, and India. Studies in pluralism in Sufi thought and practices have taken regional foci such as Senegalese Sufis – both in Senegal and in the West – and how they have occupied an alternative political space and developed a discourse on democratization and political involvement that is both different from and a response to radical Islam. A more recent development is the initiative of King Mohammed VI of Morocco.

The significance of Sufi brotherhoods on the continent may be gauged by the fact that in 2013 King Muhammad VI of Morocco convened a meeting of Muslim scholars (ulama) from Africa in Casablanca and launched the Council of African Ulama (religious scholars). This project of the Mohammed VI Foundation was established by the King of Morocco. Over two hundred participants drawn from twenty eight African countries were invited. Nigeria and Senegal and Mauritania had the highest number of participants drawn from the Tijanniyya brotherhood, academia, diverse Islamic organisations and accomplished imams and intellectuals of some strategic institutions and mosques around the country. On arrival in Morocco, participants were taken to Fez where they spent five days networking with diverse groups, visiting mosques, famous Islamic institutes, sufi zawiyya (retreats) and a nearby city of Ifram. The Muhammad VI Foundation for African Ulama, which was launched by HM King Muhammad VI has links with the Qarawiyyin University who is represented by the Vice President Dr Fassi Fihri Driss, who is a direct descendant of the founder, Fatima al-Fihri and Shaykh Mortada al-Boumashouli who is the Imam of the Qarawiyyin Masjid.

The Muhammad VI Foundation for African Ulama was established to showcase the efforts made by African scholars in literature, custom, teachings and the maintenance of Islamic values and tradition which was built over centuries through a legacy and relationship between Morocco and thirty African countries. One of their projects was dedicated towards empowering women across Morocco through a project of reciting, memorizing and understanding the Quran. This mammoth project produced 70 000 female graduates each of whom produced a unique handwritten copy of the Qur’an.

The mission of the Foundation is that it should serve as an institution for cooperation, for the exchange of experiences and for the Ulama to make concerted efforts to “fulfill their duty and turn a spotlight on the true image of the pristine Islamic faith as well as on its open-minded values, which are based on moderation, tolerance and coexistence”.

“My decision to create this institution has nothing to do with transient circumstances or narrow, passing interests,” the Moroccan monarch underlined. This initiative is rather in line with an “integrated policy to promote constructive cooperation and respond to the requests from a number of sister African nations in the religious domain,” he noted. It is envisaged that the Foundation will play its role in disseminating “enlightened religious precepts and in combating extremism, reclusiveness and terrorism – which our faith does not embrace in any way – but which are advocated by some clerics, in the name of Islam.”


Mawlana Dr Muhammad Ashraf E Dockrat is a teacher of Qur’anic Studies, Arabic lexicography and the Muslim intellectual heritage at the Jami’ah al-Ulum al-Islamiyyah; an institute for graduate Islamic studies in Johannesburg. He is also the Director of the Dar al-Salam Islamic Research Centre. 


Discrimination against Africans Attending Haj – Dr. Glen Segell


Discrimination against Africans Attending Haj

By Glen Segell

Research Fellow, Ezri Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 21 (November 2017) 

Saudi Arabia decides who can attend the Haj pilgrimage. The stated and publicized thumb of rule is “One spot in the Haj quota per 1000 Muslims in a country.” This means on paper the quota in place is dependent upon the country of origin, namely secular citizenship determines religious observance.

In practice there is a bias. Or more succinctly put Saudi Arabia prefers to grant higher quotas to countries that are on the Arabian Peninsula and lower quotas to others where Africa is bottom of the list. It even appears that GCC countries are exempt from the quota system.

Somewhat reminiscent of Apartheid it appears that “white Muslims” are at the front of the queue for attending Haj and “black Muslims” are at the back of the queue and might never make Haj. According to a recent article in the Huffington Post that quotes The South African Haj and Umrah Council (Sahuc) “There are 17000 South African Muslims on the waiting list to go on the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Many of them have been waiting since 2013 to do the once-in-a-lifetime trip.”[1] There can be no doubt that these 17000 are traumatized because 2.5 million other Muslims attended Haj this year.

A deeper analysis shows that Saudi Arabia often deviates from the thumb rule quota. In fact it has rarely applied the thumb rule. In practice the Saudi Arabia government decides and not the religious leaders at Mecca. Looking at figures for the last 60 years which is the post colonial period in Africa shows that the quota changes every year. The Saudi Arabia government claims this depends on the facilities and number of the people they can accommodate. So if accommodation near Mecca is being refurbished then less people can attend Haj.

However the real story is that quota percentages tend to vary according to the country behaviour regarding their quotas. If a country does not fill their requirement according to their quotas then it is reduced by the Saudi authorities in subsequent years. Africans are not the most affluent and many cannot afford the transport and accommodation for attending Haj. So inherently less Africans each year are permitted to attend Haj

The bottom line example is that before the quota system was implemented an average of 7000 to 10000 South Africans attended Haj annually but now South Africa is only permitted to send 3000.

Other African countries face further issues of Saudi discrimination by virtue of different interpretations of Islam by the Saudi government with no indication that religious leaders in Mecca are playing a role.

For example Egypt’s foreign ministry reported 12 citizens were deported daily during Haj in 2011 without reason. In 2012 Nigeria as another example saw 241 of its female citizens deported from Saudi Arabia and thousands more held in prisons. Saudi Arabia claimed they were not accompanied by male chaperons. One of these stated to the Britain’s Guardian newspaper “No one offered us anything we had only water and slept on bare floors. We are all so sad. I used my last savings to top up what my cousin provided to pay for a hajj seat, only to be treated like infidels who are not fellow Muslims”.[2]

Without going into further examples the underlying quest is for Muslims in Africa to decide beyond this article why the Saudi Arabia as the guardian of the religious sites of Islam is implementing a quota system to attend Haj and other practises during Haj. Is it stated in any writings of Islam? Is it the colour of the individual Muslim? Why is the country of origin the criteria where Africa suffers the most?


[1] There are 17,000 South African Muslims Still Waiting to Attend Haj

[2] Nigeria protests after Saudi Arabia deports female Haj pilgrims.

Strategic Inertia: A perspective on the Niger Raid – Randy Cheek


Strategic Inertia: A perspective on the Niger Raid

By Randy Cheek

Senior Analyst on Security and International Affairs

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 20 (October 2017) 

Senator John McCain, when asked if the result of the Niger operation was due to bad luck or bad strategy, responded “Both.”  The more we learn about the operation, the more failures in strategy seem to rise to the top.  It would seem the Niger operation was a victim of poor coordination and communication.  The part of the Niger mission that went wrong seems to have been designed ad hoc – on the fly.  While flexibility and timeliness are always necessary in any military operation, both add to the risk for tactical teams on the ground.

This is what we’ve been told so far.  On October 3, 12 US Special Operations Forces personnel were deployed with approximately 30 elite Nigerien troops from the Nigerien capital of Niamey to a small village Tonga Tonga, north of the capital.  The troops did not expect contact with enemy forces and so were lightly armed, traveled in unarmored pickup trucks and had no body armor.  After the conclusion of their mission mid-morning on October 4, the US and Nigerien troops were ambushed by at least 50 extremist forces on returning to their vehicles.  A small contingent of the US/Nigerien force was isolated from the main body, including Staff Sergeant La David Johnson who was eventually killed.  Three other US Special Operations Forces were also killed along with an unknown number of Nigerien forces.  The bodies of all US forces were retrieved, although Staff Sergeant Johnson’s body was not recovered until 2 days later.There is some confusion around the particular objectives of that mission.  Official reports suggest the team was sent to the region on a reconnaissance mission, while others indicate they were sent to establish contact with village elders.  Some indicate the troops were ambushed leaving the village to assist in a raid, while others suggest they were ambushed as they attempted to leave the village.

If the original mission was reconnaissance, it makes no sense for the troops to travel with light weapons in unarmed trucks without body armor.  There is nothing to be gained by putting them in such a vulnerable position.  If the original mission was to establish a strategic relationship with village elders, the circumstances make more sense.  A basic element of counter-insurgency (COIN) operations is to live and work among the local people.  That requires security forces to reject the safety (and separation) that comes from armor. It also seems clear that the force met with village leaders in Tonga Tonga.  The village chief was arrested shortly after the ambush.  If the ambush were the result of a redeployment to engage an extremist force, it would make little sense to arrest a village chief in a critical region.  However, if the chief delayed the departure to facilitate the ambush, then his arrest makes more sense.

In the larger context, what can we say about this mission?  One emerging truth is that we need to stop talking about destroying Daesh (Islamic State).  While Daesh’s caliphate has been destroyed in Syria/Iraq, the remnants have metastasized to the Maghreb and pan-Sahel where unoccupied and ungoverned lands give them room to regroup, rearm and re-engage.  We’ve seen the Islamic State of Greater Sahara (ISGS) emerge, in addition to Boko Haram, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the splinter group Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJOA).  It is prudent to assume that Daesh’s presence in the pan-Sahel will grow over the next few months, not diminish.

US forces are tasked with denying extremist forces established bases and preventing their ability to disrupt local governments and threaten peaceful people.  That seems a tall order, since AQIM has been operational in the region for more than a decade, Boko Haram has been active nearly as long and MUJOA has vacillated but never completely disappeared.  It is also clear that “destroying” Daesh is not something the West can ever hope to accomplish.  If Daesh (and other forms of Islamic extremism) is ever going to disappear, it will be as a result of action by the Muslim nations and peoples of the world.

It would be a mistake to attribute any of this to the Trump Administration – even worse to talk of a “Trump Doctrine” or “Trump Policy” for Africa.  The US presence in the pan-Sahel is a holdover from the Obama Administration.  It has not been terribly effective.  Trump doesn’t seem concerned about Africa, except as a market to exploit – that can be a source of both concern and comfort.  He’s been eager to wrap himself in the flag and the military when it suits his purpose, talking about “my Generals” in a way that makes many Americans wonder if he knows they are not his personal security force.  Africans will understand that concern quite well.  We analysts try to turn events into bellwethers and milestones.  But, sometimes they are just tragedies – missions that don’t turn out very well.  That’s what I suspect this will be – a poorly conceived and executed mission meant more to sustain a policy in need of review than have a significant impact on the regional security scene.  US policy in the pan-Sahel could benefit from a thorough review.  However, that’s unlikely in this political climate.

Dog Bites Man Vs Man Bites Dog: How The World Misses Africa’s Deadliest Terror Attacks – Alta Vermeulen


Dog Bites Man Vs Man Bites Dog: How The World Misses Africa’s Deadliest Terror Attacks

By Alta Vermeulen

Department of Political Studies and Governance, University of the Free State, South Africa

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 19 (October 2017) 

Imagine the hustle and bustle of a busy street in a capital city, on a Saturday afternoon. The activities in this street include workers commuting, people shopping, mothers taking a walk with their children, beggars on the street, children running, street hawkers selling anything from bananas to sunglasses. Suddenly the earth is shaken by a massive explosion and chaos ensues. Hysterical people run and scream, wounded and burnt bodies scatter the street, bewildered families dig through rubble with their bare hands to try and find their loved ones, smoke, dust and ashes are strewn across the street that a few moments ago, was the picture of everyday life. This is not a description of a movie scene, and you would think, if this really happened, just a few weeks ago, why don’t we all know about it? This simple answer will probably be, because it happened in Africa.

Many countries, shortly after the attack, announced their condemnation for the atrocious act. World leaders from the United Kingdom, the United States of America, France, Canada and Turkey all pledged their solidarity with the Somali people[i]. So, it might be presumptuous to claim that the world “missed” this attack. However, one cannot help to do what all humans are inclined to do: compare. According to the Somali government, the attack left at least 358 people dead, with an additional 228 people seriously injured[ii], thus this particular attack is the worst terrorist attack recorded in Somali history. Although the outcry in Mogadishu and Somalia itself has been considerable[iii], the rest of the world has only maybe noticed a blip on the radar of violence in Africa. Naturally Al-Shabaab is blamed for the attack, which some speculate was aimed at Somalia’s foreign ministry down the road. The destruction was intensified by the unfortunate fact that the concealed truck bomb exploded in close proximity to a fuel tanker[iv]. Al Shabaab has, however, not claimed responsibility for the attack yet – something which might in any case be redundant since Al Shabaab has vowed to increase attacks after both the Trump administration as well as the newly elected Somali president announced new military efforts against the group[v].

With regard to the international community’s reaction to this attack, we need to firstly admit that since the attack happened in a capital city, it is immediately easier for journalists to reach the scene of the attack, and to provide updates and reports on not only what happened, but also the aftermath of the attack. Unfortunately we also need to understand what is considered as news, and if this attack can even be deemed as”news”. This seems like a very brutal and heartless path to follow, but the fact is that the media will only report on that which the readers would want to read. If we want to define what “news” actually is, without being overly academic, the name implies something new, and connotes the presentation of new information. The newness of news adds to it a more uncertain quality which immediately serves as a separation from more carefully investigations of events as in history or other scholarly fields. Put simply, news also often addresses that which is seen as out of the ordinary, unusual or unexpected. Hence the notion that “Dog bites Man” is not news, but “Man bites Dog” is[vi].

It would be possible to assume that another terrorist attack in Somalia is a case of “dog bites man”. Somalia is one of the areas in Africa known mostly for its violence and efforts in countering anything from piracy to full blown jihadi terrorism. Only a week after the devastating truck bomb hit the streets of Mogadishu, another deadly attack was carried out just outside Mogadishu, with another 11 casualties[vii]. Sadly, yet not surprisingly, no world-wide condemnations were announced, no trending hashtags ensued across social media, and no international heavyweights, be that in the form of politicians, actors or musicians are Tweeting in outcry or support. It is simply another dog, biting another man.

[i] Al Jazeera. 2017. World reacts to ‘sickening’ Mogadishu bomb attack. Oct 16, 2017. Available at:

[ii] Al Jazeera. 2017. Mogadishu bombing death toll rises to 358. Oct 21, 2017. Available at:

[iii] The Guardain. 2017. Thousands march in Somalia after attack that killed more than 300. Oct 18, 2017. Available at:

[iv] The Guardian. 2017. Mogadishu truck bomb: 500 casualties in Somalia’s worst terrorist attack. Oct 16, 2017. Available at:


[vi] Park, R. 1940. News as a Form of Knowledge: A Chapter in the Sociology of Knowledge. American Journal of Sociology, 45(5), 669-686. Available at:

[vii] Al Jazeera. 2017. Mogadishu:  11 killed week after deadliest blast. Oct 22, 2017. Available at:


Exploring the Roots of Extremism in Africa – Professor Hussein Solomon


Exploring the Roots of Extremism in Africa

by Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 18 (October 2017)

Without doubt violent extremism is on the rise across the African continent as seen by the likes of Al Shabaab, Boko Haram, Ansarul Islam, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith), Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb as well as local franchises of Islamic State. Indeed, between 2011 and 2016, 33 300 fatalities have been caused by violent extremism. Beyond the deaths caused by the militants there is also the costs of stunted development opportunities as investor confidence wanes.

To understand the roots of extremism on the continent, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) embarked on a remarkable study entitled Journey to Extremism in Africa which was released in September 2017. This two-year study saw teams of researchers traversing the length and breadth of the continent from bustling cities to remote deserts interviewing recruits from the deadliest terrorist organizations. The underlying objective behind this study was to develop a ‘journey map’ from childhood to violent extremist. Specific attention was given to the ‘tipping point’ when a recruit decided to engage in violent activities himself/herself. More specifically the study provides the reader with insight into the family circumstances of the recruit, his/her childhood and education leading to an examination of religious ideologies, economic variables as well as how recruits to extremist organizations view the state and their citizenship.

Some of the key findings of the study include the following:

  • Those who had little or no exposure to people of other faiths and ethnicities were more like to join extremist organizations. This would suggest that exposure to the proverbial other in a classroom situation as well as the introduction of inter-faith dialogue amongst children early on could serve to minimize extremism.
  • Those who had an unhappy childhood and whose parents were not involved in their children’s lives were more vulnerable to extremism as they grow up. Often recruiters from extremist organizations serve as mentors and father-figures to vulnerable youth. Conversely, the role of the internet in radicalizing youth has less resonance in the African context.
  • Those whose education levels were low were more at risk to extremist overtures. This is reinforced by other findings in the study which found that multidimensional poverty, unemployment and underemployment all contributed to the decision to join a terrorist organization. The study also found that those youth who were studying or working were less likely to join a militant organization. The economic incentive to join is further exacerbated if one considers that 65 percent of recruits were paid by the militant organization – some even paid well above the local average salary.
  • Those most vulnerable to be recruited by militant organizations also exhibit a distrust towards government and are cynical towards the political and security establishment. Indeed, 78 percent of those interviewed expressed low levels of trust in politicians, the police and the military. The issue of corruption amongst these government officials was often cited by respondents. As a concomitant of this, respondents expressed little confidence in democratic institutions to deliver meaningful change in their lives. This led many of these respondents to look at extra-legal avenues to affect positive change in their lives. Conversely, those respondents who experienced effective government service delivery were less likely to be a member of a violent extremist group. Good governance, then, is a source of resilience.
  • Challenging rising Islamophobic rhetoric, the study found that 57 percent of the respondents admitted to little or no understanding of religious texts. Indeed, as respondents spent more time receiving religious schooling and being exposed to nuanced and sophisticated theological arguments they are less likely to be recruited into extremist organizations.
  • Perhaps the most damning finding of the study was that the ‘trigger’ which often pushes vulnerable youth into joining militant organizations was government action. 71 percent of respondents indicated that government action including the killing or arrest of a family member or friend prompted them to join a militant organization. This finding demonstrates the poverty of military-centred responses to violent extremism. What is needed is more sophisticated responses which stress inclusive governance, education, economic development and the restrained used of the military option.


Under the circumstances, it is no wonder that United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres declared, “I am convinced that the creation of open, equitable, inclusive and pluralist societies, based on the full respect of human rights and with economic opportunities for all, represents the most tangible and meaningful alternative to violent extremism”. Sadly, and despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, governments across the world are continuing to slash official development assistance, even while they increase military budgets. Countering violent extremism will not be resolved by military solutions alone.