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An AK-47 Illustration of Africans – Dr. Glen Segell

March 11, 2018


An AK-47 Illustration of Africans

By Glen Segell

(RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 6 (2018), Number 5 (March 2018

If I were to travel to Africa with a sketch pad and a pencil to make an illustration of Africans I would most likely end up with an illustration of an ethnic African wearing a Muslim taqiyah or keffiyeh head-dress and wielding an AK-47 assault rifle. The head apparel would differentiate Africa over the last 60 years. In the 1950s and 1960s the grandparents of today’s population would also have been wielding Ak-47 assault rifles but wearing a beret. Then it would have been the colonial struggle period of national liberation movements supported with atheistic communist ideology and movements.

Today they wield AK-47 assault rifles because radical Islamic movements have replaced the colonial masters. The wielders are against their own population rather than as nationalist struggles against foreigners. To be sure a reason is due to African nationalist movements having followed communism. When the Soviet Union collapsed circa 1990 so did the support mechanism for African dictators who migrated to democratic systems that also failed due to rampant corruption, mismanagement and lack of confidence in the state system. Failed states throughout Africa were the results.

The consequences were a vacuum that gave potential for the rise in radical Islamic groups in Africa since the 1990s imported as franchises from the Middle East. They coupled with the situation on the ground, African failed states, to become the breeding grounds for violent extremism. Because of failed or non-existent central or even local government the Islamic groups have filled the gap. They have become the social and local governance in political, cultural, social and even economic life. The mosque is social welfare, education and community hall thanks to generous donations from rich Islamic states like Saudi Arabia that follows a strict interpretation of the Koran known as Wahhabism.

The demise of atheistic communism also opened up the space for a radical religious thought among individuals. Here is the background to my illustration; that of a mosque filled with radical extremist Muslims labelled as Salafism. It is a revolutionary idea very appealing to victims or young people who reject the state and there were many who rejected corrupt dictators and failed democracy. It was not surprising that Boko Haram, Ansar Dine or al-Shabab emerged in authoritarian states as Islam was a symbol of rebellion for those oppressed or unjustly treated

So my illustration of Africans may not be representative of the millions of Africans that believe in Islam. It may be different from the more historical and traditional Islam in Africa that is practised by 43 percent of all Africans. Most African states and their citizens are friendly and have a reputation for religious tolerance. Most Muslims worldwide are also friendly and non-violent. It would however be an illustration of the Islamic extremist groups in Africa or Islamists that are the ones making headlines. World-wide Islam is not illustrated by assault rifles yet in Africa it is.

My illustration would be of radical trends in Islam that are becoming increasingly conservative in Africa. Recent examples are in East Africa in Somalia where the al-Shabab militia cut off the hands of two alleged thieves and in West Africa with clashes between the Nigerian Army and Boko Haram. Yet for every action there is an opposite action or reaction. A counter-extremist civil society group in Ghana has helped prevent more than 20 young people from joining the Islamic State. Yet this is also shaping an illustration of a Muslim in Africa because it is reactionary to extremist.

East and West Africa are already well known for the radical Islamists. North Africa is hardly Africa; it is so Middle Eastern. Now Southern Africa is on the agenda. Both Zimbabwe and South Africa are states cause for concern. Their leadership has recently changed on the aftermath of corrupt and protracted rule where their populations were significantly better off before their rule than after it. The former leaders have left states that are moving towards or are already failed states especially in local government. Into the vacuum may step religion such as Islam and with it Islamists and radical and extremist Islamic groups.

So my travel to Africa be it East, West, North or South would show a very similar illustration; that of an ethnic African wearing a taqiyah or keffiyeh head-dress and wielding an assault rifle. Owing to good design and durable components it would probably be the same AK-47 assault rifles of colonial struggle days. The more things change the more things remain the same! The only question yet to be unasked and unanswered is what will follow the Islamists in Africa? What headdress will the grandchildren of today’s extremist wear while wielding their ancestors AK-47 assault rifles?

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