Hope Quickly Gives Way to Despair in Africa
By Hussein Solomon
RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 3 (March 2017)
With the rise of Muslim-Christian conflicts on the African continent, I felt hope and optimism when I noted the “Freedom and Citizenship” conference hosted by Cairo’s Al Azhar – a venerable Sunni institution in the Islamic world. The aim of the conference was to promote peaceful co-existence between Muslims and Christians. Given the escalating tensions between Muslims and Coptic Christians in this troubled country, I could not think of a better place for such a conference. Who could forget the December 2016 bombing of a church in Egypt in which 29 innocent congregants were brutally killed?
At the conference the Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II called on all to combat “extremist thought with enlightened thought”. The head of Al Azhar Sheikh Ahmed Tayeb called for an ending of the mistrust and tensions between religious leaders. The hope I felt was quickly dissipated the very next day however when Sheikh Tayeb attacked those who advocated human rights and global peace and went on to condemn globalization as posing a threat to the “unique [read Muslim] character of different nations”. Sheikh Tayeb went on to declare that the West condones other religions’ terrorism whilst only highlighting acts of violence undertaken in the name of Islam. How, I asked myself, could a rapprochement occur between Muslim and other faith leaders when one of the bastions of Sunni Islam holds these views?
The sheikh’s statements made a mockery of Islam’s own history which contributed much to processes of globalization. As for leaders of the West condoning acts of violence committed by non-Muslims, is he unaware of the Canadian Prime Minister’s speech declaring that an attack on a mosque in Quebec was a terrorist act?
There are three other problems with Sheikh Tayeb’s statements. First, he ignores that Muslims remain the overwhelming victims of Islamist violence. This was borne out in Burkina Faso. At the very time that the sheikh made these statements, jihadists of Ansaru Islam attacked several official buildings in Baraboule and Tongomayel, killing the innocent in the process. The victims of Ansaru Islam’s violence are overwhelmingly fellow Muslims.
Second, the statement undermines the work of those Muslims seeking to promote a more peaceful Islam. In Niger, for instance, a local NGO – Action for the Renovation of Non-Formal Education (AREF) – seeks to assist Koranic schools with the development of a curricula stressing tolerance as well as incorporating vocational education. The message from one of Sunni Islam’s leading sheikhs is that tolerance is not a problem in Islam. The problem is with the West for portraying a violent Islam.
Third, the sheikh’s statement provides succour to the most conservative elements of the faith and frustrates efforts at reform. In Sudan, for instance, a courageous female journalist, Shamael al-Nur, wrote in her column published by Al-Taryar newspaper that Sudan’s Islamic regime seems to be more focused on how Islamically women are dressed as opposed to a failing health and education sector. She went on to note that only three percent of Sudan’s budget is allocated to health with the result that ordinary Sudanese are paying a horrible price. For her concern, Sudanese Islamists like Mohamed Ali al-Ghazouli has condemned her article as anti-Islamic and has called on the authorities in Khartoum to determine if it is a case of apostasy. Apostasy carries the death penalty in Sudan. Shamael al-Nur’s concerns regarding access to quality health care for her fellow citizens, a human rights consideration, has resulted in her being labelled as an enemy of Islam.
With leaders of the ummah like that of Tayeb and al-Ghazouli, an overwhelming despair and dread overcomes me as I contemplate the future of Islam.
Marco Arnaboldi was born in Italy in 1992. He received his BA in Arabic Language and his MA in International Relations from Milan’s Catholic University of the Sacred Heart. Throughout his learning, Marco has also been a visiting student at Universidad Pablo de Olavide, in Seville, Spain and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His academic and professional experience focuses primarily on political Islam and the contemporary history of the Middle East and North Africa.
Marco is currently an Affiliated Researcher at the Department of Political Studies and Governance at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa, where he studies militant salafism in the Maghreb and the Sahel, with special attention devoted to political stability in the region.
During the past two years Marco gained analytical and research experience writing and working for a number of think tanks, geopolitics journals and security consultancies in Italy and abroad. His work has been published or quoted by, among others, the Atlantic Council, the Italian Institute for International Political Studies, Oasis International Foundation, Reuters, Il Corriere della Sera, and Treccani.
Within the framework of RIMA, Marco is a Research Fellow dealing with insurgencies and political violence in North Africa.
Morocco Rejoins the African Union (AU)
By Hussein Solomon
RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 2 (February 2017)
It was in 1984 when Morocco chose to turn its back on the Organization of African Unity, the AU’s predecessor, when it chose to recognize the independence of the Sawhrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) – or what Morocco refers to its `southern provinces’. This conflict has its roots in 1975-1976 when Morocco annexed two-thirds of the Western Sahara following Spain’s withdrawal from the territory.
It is fair to say that the Western Sahara question has long remained as a festering sore within the OAU/ AU – with Algeria and the Southern African bloc strongly supporting its independence under the Polisario Front whilst other African countries were in favour of accepting the de facto status quo – seeing the territory as part of Morocco. Still others like Egypt opted to be neutral – seeking to offend neither Algeria nor Morocco. This was reflected in last month’s vote within the AU following Morocco’s request to rejoin the AU. 39 states voted for Morocco’s re-admission whilst 9 opposed it. Morocco’s return to the AU was nothing less than momentous after a 33-year absence and holds great benefit to the continent as a whole if managed correctly.
So how did Rabat’s return to the fold come about? Having left the continental body in 1984, Morocco believed it could offset its loss by strengthening ties with the West, the Arab world and the countries in the Mediterranean Basin. However, in a globalizing world where insecurity anywhere threats security everywhere, the Kingdom soon found that problems like terrorism in North-West Africa needed regional responses. This was not possible where Rabat was the only state on the continent outside the AU. The same could be said about economic cooperation. With the rise of the African middle class and consequent rise in purchasing power, it was foolhardy for Morocco to shut itself off from lucrative markets. On the issue of the Western Sahara, it made no sense to be outside the AU, thereby preventing Rabat’s voice to be heard on an issue of such strategic importance to itself.
Morocco’s re-admission into the AU however also reflects a realization on the part of the continental body that its approach was fundamentally unworkable, and hurt the people of the Western Sahara the most – many of whom live as refugees in deplorable conditions. Nor does diplomatic recognition of the SADR translate into an alternative reality – one where Morocco does not control large swathes of the Western Sahara. To put if differently, a permanent solution to the Western Sahara needs dialogue withRabat.
Interestingly this fact is something which is recognized by Minister Mohamed Beiset, a Polario leader and member of the Sahrawi delegation to the AU who declared that, “… it was better to have Morocco inside the house, inside the family, and to try to reach African solutions to African problems”. Minister Beiset went on to congratulate Rabat for joining the AU and expressed the hope for genuine dialogue and a peaceful solution to the Western Sahara question. Other African leaders should adopt the pragmatism exhibited by the Sahrawis. One possible middle solution could well be genuine autonomy being offered to the Sahrawis as opposed to the autonomy option of previous years which was an exercise to co-opt political elites by Rabat. How this dialogue and peace process is managed by the AU is therefore crucial. The fact that the AU has a new Commission Chairman, Chad’s Foreign Minister – Moussa FakiMahamat – bodes well since he enters the post without the baggage of his predecessor.
It is clear that the AU stands to benefit from Morocco’s return to the fold. Its north African sub-regional economic and security structure was dysfunctional from birth with the absence of Morocco. The addition of Rabat may lend it a new lease of life. More broadly, Morocco’s relative wealth and it integration into European economies may also serve as a catalyst for economic growth in its region. Politically, too Morocco can play a pivotal leadership role in the North African region given the instability besetting so many of its neighbours. From a security perspective, and given the rise of radical Islam on the continent, it is important to recognize that in some West African countries, Moroccan King Mohammed VI, is viewed as a caliph. The fact that he has been promoting a moderate Islam provides a counter narrative to that of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb as well as Islamic State and its regional offshoots.
Implications of the Muslim-Christian Education Gap in Africa
By Hussein Solomon
RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 1 (January 2017)
A recent study by the Pew Research Centre has revealed that there exists a considerable Muslim-Christian education gap in sub-Saharan Africa. Whilst Christians average six years of formal schooling, for Muslims the figure is fewer than three years[i]. Much of the reason for this gap lay in the colonial past on the part of the both the colonial authorities and Muslim communities. Western-style educational schooling in Africa was introduced by Christian missionaries. Colonial authorities were loath to allow these missionary schools to operate in Muslim-dominated areas in an effort to avoid religious conflict[ii]. In other cases Muslim parents fearing discrimination of and conversion to Christianity of their children prevented them from attending such schools. As David Bone[iii] writes, “It was the practice of some mission schools to educate only pupils of their own denomination, thus excluding professing Muslims. Even where Muslims were admitted, parents feared, with some justification, they would lose their children to Christianity and discouraged them from attending”.
Following independence, this education gap between Muslims and Christians has widened in various countries as the Pew Research Centre has underlined. A significant reason for this is the establishment of Muslim schools with Gulf funding where the Islamist message is propagated. Typically in such schools, the emphasis is on religious education and the Arabic language as opposed to secular subjects like mathematics and science[iv]. In the process, students from these religious schools were destined to fare badly in the world of employment opportunities. This, in turn, negatively impacted on their socio-economic status. Consider the following: Whilst 27 percent of the population in Nigeria’s Christian south live in poverty, the figure for the Muslim north is a staggering 72 percent[v]. In similar vein, whilst the poverty rate in Mali is 64 percent, the figure for the Muslim north is much higher than the largely Christian south. Timbuktu has a poverty rate of 77 percent. For Gao the figure is 78.7 percent and for Kidal is it a staggering 92 percent[vi]. Whilst the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita is US $10,000, the figure for Muslim Somalia is a pitiful US $100[vii].
Should we then be surprised that all these countries are experiencing terrorism as frustrated unemployed young people join radical organizations? It is not a co-incidence that the poorest regions on the continent are most afflicted by terrorism.
Whilst the international community is assisting Africa in its fight against domestic and international terrorism, the reality is that much of this assistance is taking a military form. Whilst African states do need this assistance, the reality is that much more resources needs to be placed in providing good education to arm the next generation with the necessary skills where they can find good jobs in the future knowledge economy. This is all the more pressing given the youthful demographic bulge that Africa experiences.
On the more positive side, a recent study demonstrated that the choice of school is increasingly determined by distance from home and cost as opposed to religion. In Nigeria, for instance, only 4.2 percent of Nigerians listed religion as one of the considerations in school choice[viii]. The international community’s concern about radicalization and recruitment into terrorist groups is legitimate. However, the terrorist threat posed will not be defeated by military might alone. International actors must take heed of this education gap and start investing in quality, affordable secular education in Africa.
[i]The Muslims-Christian Education Gap, Nigeria Today. 16 January 2017. Internet: http://www/nigeriatoday.ng/2017/01/the-muslim-christian-education-gap. Date accessed: 26 January 2017.
[iii]David Bone, Islam in Malawi, Journal of Religion in Africa. 1982. Vol 12(2), p. 136.
[iv]Hussein Solomon, Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism: Fighting Insurgency from Al Shabaab, Ansar Dine and Boko Haram. 2015.London: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 31.
[v]Ibid., p. 99.
[vi]Ibid., p. 68.
[vii]Hussein Solomon, Critical Terrorism Studies and Its Implications for Africa, Politikon. 2015. Vol. 42(2), p. 225.
[viii]Melina PlatasIzama,Muslim Education in Africa: Trends and Attitudes Toward Faith-Based Schools, The Review of Faith and International Affairs. 2014. Vol. 12(2), p. 46.
Understanding Boko Haram: Terrorism and Insurgency in Africa
Edited by James J. Hentz, Hussein Solomon
About the Book
The primary objective of this book is to understand the nature of the Boko Haram insurgency in northeast Nigeria.
Boko Haram’s goal of an Islamic Caliphate, starting in the Borno State in the North East that will eventually cover the areas of the former Kanem-Borno Empire, is a rejection of the modern state system forced on it by the West. The central theme of this volume examines the relationship between the failure of the statebuilding project in Nigeria and the outbreak and nature of insurgency. At the heart of the Boko Haram phenomenon is a country racked with cleavages making it hard for Nigeria to cohere as a modern state. Part I introduces this theme and places the Boko Haram insurgency in a historical context. There are, however, multiple cleavages in Nigeria: ethnic, regional, cultural, and religious, and Part II examines the different state-society dynamics fuelling the conflict. Political grievances are common to every society; however what gives Boko Haram the space to express such grievances through violence? Importantly, this volume demonstrates that the insurgency is, in fact, a reflection of the hollowness within Nigeria’s overall security. Part III looks at the responses to Boko Haram by Nigeria, neighbouring states, and external actors. For Western actors, Boko Haram is seen as part of the “global war on terror” (GWOT) and the fact that it has pledged allegiance to ISIS encourages this framing. However, as the chapters here discuss, this is an over-simplification of Boko Haram and the West needs to address the multiple dimension of Boko Haram.
This book will be of much interest to students of terrorism and political violence, insurgencies, African politics, war and conflict studies, and IR in general.
For more details concerning the book, here is the following link:
Why Western Efforts at Counter-Terrorism in Africa are Failing?
by Hussein Solomon
RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 4 (2016), Number 6 (November 2016)
Let us be frank. Despite the best efforts of various Western powers both individually and collectively to stem the tide of terrorism in Africa, they are failing. To put it differently, despite the millions of dollars spent on training Africa’s militaries, equipping them, providing them with intelligence and engaging in robust counter-insurgency operations, the terrorist threat is escalating in Africa. No fewer than 22 African countries are directly affected by terrorism and there are 3 terrorist attacks taking place every day on this blighted continent.
Part of the reason for the escalation of the terrorist threat no doubt relates the entry of new players in the African theatre. Consider here the case of Islamic State and its regional franchises from Sirte in North Africa to Boko Haram in West Africa and an off-shoot of Somalia’s Al Shabaab in the Horn of Africa. In my view, however, a bigger reason relates to Western efforts at privileging the African state in the war against extremists. Traditional Western efforts at counter-terrorism adopt a realist perspective with its concomitant notions of national interest which necessitates strengthening the `good state’ against the `bad terrorists’. In other words Western nations view African states as simply poorer and under-resourced versions of its Western counterparts. The central objective of Western counter-terrorism efforts then becomes to capacitate the African state.
The fallacy of this approach however is self-evident. African political elites have no sense of the national interest and they are predatory – designed to live against their people as opposed to with or for them. It is a sad truism that African citizens fear their own militaries as opposed to the soldiers of a neighbouring state. The implications for counter-terrorism are obvious. In Somalia, American shipments of arms to the Somali Federal Government in Mogadishu found its way into the hands of Al Shabaab through corruption in the ranks of the Somali National Army. The endemic nature of this corruption and its implications for the fight against the insurgents is also illustrated by the fact that one study has illustrated how 90 million pounds of British aid to Somali authorities were siphoned off and found its way funding Al Shabaab.
This nature of the state was also highlighted in the case of Nigeria’s Boko Haram and undermines the simplistic Western notion of the good state taking the fight to the bad terrorists. Boko Haram does not only exist outside the Nigerian state but also has allies and sympathisers within state structures. As one senior Nigerian military officer lamented, “The group [Boko Haram] is backed my powerful northern politicians who use the organisation as political muscle. We know who they are but the government is not ready to go after them and until those people stop supporting the group with funds, weapons and protection, we cannot defeat Boko Haram”. It gets worse. Former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan claimed that Boko Haram’s supporters are not only confined to politicians but also senior military and intelligence officers. So how does one fight a war when the enemy is both outside there and within your ranks? The short answer: you do not!
In Mali, the ease with which the Islamists defeated the Malian armed forces is intimately related to issues of institutionalized corruption and the politics of patronage. During President Toure’s tenure, corruption became institutionalized in the Malian armed forces. Recruitment into the armed forces required a relative at the level of a colonel or general. Skill sets or the necessary discipline did not seem to matter. Under the circumstances, should we be surprised that the Malian armed forces crumbled so spectacularly in 2012 at the beginning of the Tuareg/Islamist insurgency? French intervention was needed to ensure that Bamako, the Malian capital did not fall.
The predatory nature of the African state hardly occupies the minds of policy makers in London, Paris, or Washington. This is unforgivable given the vast literature on the subject. Consider here for instance, Jean Francois Bayart’s seminalThe State in Africa: The Politics of the Belly. In the process, Western states continued to treat their African counterparts as merely weaker versions of themselves. The emphassis was on capacity-building. The training of African militaries continued apace. Consider here the case of Mali’s Captain AmadouSanogo, who received extensive training in the US between 2004 and 2010. Upon returning to his country, he promptly staged a coup against the Malian government. Given the rapacious nature of African militaries, there is a real danger that military skills imparted by Western countries may well make a predatory African state even more predatory with new-found military skills and new military equipment compliments of a rather naïve West. In the process disenchanted African citizens may turn to Islamists in droves to protect them from a rapacious state. This danger was recognized by former US Ambassador Princeton Lyman when he warned, “The United States has to be especially careful that we do not become partners in a political process that drives people into the arms of Islamic extremists”.
It is self-evident that African states do not possess the wherewithal to fight the likes of Islamic State or Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or its local franchises. The West will need to assist African states for some time to come. However the West needs to leverage the aid they provide to such states with pressure for greater democracy and financial accountability.
Dr. Hussein Solomon is Senior Professor in the Department of Political Studies and Governance at the University of the Free State, South Africa and is Senior Research Associate of the Jerusalem-based Research on Islam and Muslims in Africa (RIMA).
Hussein Solomon, Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism in Africa: Fighting Insurgency from Al Shabaab. Ansar Dine and Boko Haram. 2016. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 62-63.
Ibid., p. 100.
Jean Francois Bayart. The State of Africa: The Politics of the Belly. 2009. London: Polity Press. 2nd Edition.
Solomon, op. cit., pp. 122-123.
Green Verses from the New Testament: Book 1: Series on Green Passages from Religious Texts
by Moshe Terdiman
Just two days ago I finished writing a book titled “Green Verses from the New Testament”. This book is the first one which includes all the verses in the New Testament dealing with nature or environment. This book is the first one in a series on green passages from religious texts. I published this book in a digital form through Amazon.
If you are interested in using religious texts in order to deal with climate change and its impacts, encourage environmental awareness, environmental protection, sustainable development, and interfaith environmental cooperation, this book is for you.
This book is the first in a series of books aiming at bringing green passages from religious sources to the general public as well as to NGOs, religious institutions, and individuals who would like to learn about the religious and moral environmental teachings which are included in the religious texts and to use it as a source of inspiration to act personally or in the public sphere on behalf of environmental protection and sustainable development.
This is the first book which brings to you all the green verses included in the New Testament. It includes a lot of verses concerning environmental issues such as: animals, creation, the role of mankind in the world, the relationship between god, mankind and nature, etc.
This book can serve as a source of study and reflection on the numerous religious and moral environmental teachings inside the New Testament. It can also inspire you to imply this study and reflection to your current life using the questions at the end of the book.
This book will be also used as part of the source material for an online course and workshop which these days I am working on its design on Interfaith Environmental Collaboration.
I hope that you will find it interesting and helpful.