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

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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

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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 http://www.huffingtonpost.co.za/2017/09/01/there-are-17-000-south-african-muslims-still-waiting-to-attend-haj_a_23193563/

[2] Nigeria protests after Saudi Arabia deports female Haj pilgrims. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/sep/27/nigeria-protests-saudi-deports-pilgrims

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

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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

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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: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/world-leaders-condemn-revolting-mogadishu-attack-171015193115791.html

[ii] Al Jazeera. 2017. Mogadishu bombing death toll rises to 358. Oct 21, 2017. Available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/mogadishu-bombing-death-toll-rises-358-171020223155870.html

[iii] The Guardain. 2017. Thousands march in Somalia after attack that killed more than 300. Oct 18, 2017. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/18/thousands-march-somalia-attack-truck-bomb-mogadishu

[iv] The Guardian. 2017. Mogadishu truck bomb: 500 casualties in Somalia’s worst terrorist attack. Oct 16, 2017. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/15/truck-bomb-mogadishu-kills-people-somalia

[v]Ibid.

[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:http://www.jstor.org/stable/2770043

[vii] Al Jazeera. 2017. Mogadishu:  11 killed week after deadliest blast. Oct 22, 2017. Available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/mogadishu-11-killed-week-deadliest-blast-171022104607855.html

 

Exploring the Roots of Extremism in Africa – Professor Hussein Solomon

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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.

“African Solutions for African Problems” and Sahel-West African Terrorism – Professor Hussein Solomon

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“African Solutions for African Problems” and Sahel-West African Terrorism

by Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 17 (September 2017)

In an ideal world, the protection of civilians lay with their governments and not with foreign actors. In an ideal world, too, classical notions that the state has the monopoly over coercive force within its territorial boundaries will also hold sway. We do not however live in an ideal world. On the 13th August 2017 a restaurant in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso was attacked by Islamist terrorists. 18 people were killed and 20 injured. The very next day in Mali an attack on the UN mission there killed seven. In recent years the Sahel and West African region has played host to a number of terrorist groups such as Boko Haram, Ansar Dine, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Murabitoun, and Ansarul Islam. States in the region have been unable to halt the bloodshed or the proliferation of these militant Islamist groupings.

In a globalizing world, insecurity anywhere threatens security everywhere. Understanding the importance of putting a stop to the Islamist cancer in the region, the US got involved in 2005 with the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Initiative (TSCTI). There is also a recognition on the part of the states in the region that they cannot individually respond to the transnational threat posed. Consequently Mali and Burkina Faso have joined forces with other Sahel countries–Chad, Mauritania and Niger -to form the G-5 Sahel grouping which is a 5,000-strong joint force which is to be fully operational in September 2017. The European Union plans to provide 50 million euros assistance to these troops whilst Germany and France has agreed to provide training and infrastructure to the G-5 Sahel force. This assistance on the part of Berlin and Paris also includes the supply of weapons, ammunition and military vehicles. Burkina Faso has already accepted Germany’s offer to train its soldiers and approximately 1000 German troops are already in Mali. French forces, of course, have been in Mali for some time, whilst an even larger deployment of French troops is in the Central African Republic.

There are some critics who have decried this Western involvement in the region stressing “African solutions for African problems” – that one should work through the African Union and its constituent Regional Economic Communities (RECS).In West Africa such a REC is the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Whilst this is indeed a noble position, African solutions are patently not working. The African Union’s proposed African Standby Force (ASF) has not gotten off the drawing board and ECOWAS’ security arm is dysfunctional. A brief review of recent history will suffice to underline the point.

The moribund nature of the RECs became all too apparent in 2012 when Islamists captured northern Mali. The UN Security Council passed a resolution – UNSC Resolution 2071 – on 12 October 2012 calling on ECOWAS to prepare an international intervention force and giving them 45 days to lay out detailed plans[1]. On 7 November 2012, West African army chiefs adopted a plan to expel Islamists from northern Mali. The plan was that 3,000 West African troops would target the main population centres in northern Mali. Nigerian soldiers were to make up the bulk of the force while Senegal, Burkina Faso and Niger contributed 500 troops each[2]. This military blueprint was subsequently passed by the ECOWAS regional heads of state. On 26 November 2012, this blueprint was formally presented to, and adopted by the UN Security Council[3]. France, meanwhile, undertook to provide `logistical aid’ to the ECOWAS force and began training the Malian armed forces with a view to retaking the north[4].

While cumbersome  diplomatic processes for authorisations and other necessities were taking place, the Islamists of Ansar Dine, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) moved rapidly southwards from their northern strongholds to capture the town of Konna – only a few hundred kilometres north of the capital, Bamako. Worse was the fact that Islamists, having consolidated their position in Konna, began their advance on Mopti, the last major town before reaching the capital. Clearly processes need to be streamlined for sub-regional, regional and international responses to deal with jihadists threats sooner rather than later. Commenting on this issue, Bill Roggio noted that “…any delay in taking action in northern Mali has given the jihadists an opportunity to indoctrinate, train, and organize recruits from West African nations, and then send them home to establish networks there[5].

On realising that if Mopti fell Bamako would be next, former French President Francois Hollande decided to act by launching Operation Serval in January 2013. This began with aerial strikes of the Islamists’ positions in Konna by French helicopter gunships and mirage jets of the French 4th Helicopter Combat Regiment of Pau, which were based in Burkina Faso[6]. Meanwhile, French soldiers based in neighbouring Chad and the Ivory Coast moved rapidly to protect Mopti while dislodging the Islamists from Konna and, eventually, Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu[7].

The pace of events clearly wrong-footed ECOWAS and the 15-member West African bloc had to scramble to send in a force to join the French. Eventually, with other countries like Benin pledging 300 soldiers, the ECOWAS force reached 4,000 and was deployed in northern Mali[8]. As ECOWAS did not have a proper airlift capability, the British sent two military transport aircraft to transport the ECOWAS troops and equipment into Mali[9]. If anything proves that the AU’s much vaunted Peace and Security Architecture, based on the RECs, is little more than a paper tiger, it is this Malian debacle.

Critics of Western involvement in the region, need to ask themselves who speaks for the victims of terrorism? If AU structures – continental and regional – are unable to stop the carnage, surely we need to look at alternative avenues to protect the innocent?

 

[1]‘Malians Protest Foreign Intervention Plans’, News24, 18 October 2012, http://www.news24.com/malians-protest-foreign-intervention-plans. Date accessed: 29 August 2017.

[2]Juan Cole, ‘France, ECOWAS Intervene in Mali to Halt Advance of Radical Fundamentalists’, Informed Comment, 13 January 2013, http://www.juan-cole.com/2013/01/intervene-advance-fundamentalists.html. Date accessed: 20 August 2017.

[3]Serge Daniel, ‘Mali Military Intervention Strategy Adopted,’ Middle East Online, 7 November 2012, http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=55438. Date accessed: 21 August 2017.

[4]`Mali Crisis: France to Give “Logistical Aid”, News24, 16 October 2012, http://www.news24.com/mali-crisis-france-to-give-logistical-aid. Date accessed: 24 August 2017.

[5] Bill Roggio, `US, UN Add Ansar Dine to List of Terror Groups,’ The Long War Journal, 21 March 2013, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2013/03/us_adds_ansar_dine_t.phph#xzz2tr56oE2c, Date accessed: 25 August 2017.

[6]Cole, `France, ECOWAS Intervene in Malito Halt Advance of Radical Fundamentalists’.

[7]`Africa, French Forces Target Ansar Al-Din’, Maghrebia, 13 January 2013, http://maghrebia.com/en_GB/articles/awi/newsbriefs/general/2013/01/13/newsbrief-01, Date accessed: 28 August 2017.

[8]Ibid.

[9]Ibid.

The Challenges Confronting AMISOM – Professor Hussein Solomon

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The Challenges Confronting AMISOM

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 5 (2017), Number 16 (August 2017)

August has not proven to be a good month for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Al Shabaab militants ambushed a convoy in the Bulamareer district in the Lower Shabelle region, about 140 kilometres southwest of the capital Mogadishu. 39 AMISOM soldiers were killed, including their commander as well as scores more injured.

This incident in August, however, is not something new – it is a deadly trend which began intensifying from January 2016 when Al Shabaab embarked on a dawn raid on the El Adde camp, near the Kenyan border. In this raid more than 100 Kenyan soldiers, who are part of AMISOM, were killed. In another attack near the central town of Halgan, Al Shabaab rammed a suicide car bomb into an AMISOM military base, then stormed inside and proceeded to kill 43 Ethiopian soldiers. Djibouti troops stationed at a nearby base, attempted to stage a counter-attack but were repelled by Al Shabaab fighters. This proved the sophistication and growing confidence of Al Shabaab’s asymmetric warfare.

These attacks are also growing more brazen – striking at the heart of the Somali Federal Government’s power – the presidential palace. A car bomb driven by an Al Shabaab suicide bomber was detonated outside the president’s palace, killing five Somali soldiers and partially destroying two neighbouring hotels. But it is not only the south, southwest and capital being targeted. One of the interesting facets of recent Al Shabaab attacks is their broad geographic scope as well as the ingenuity of the Al Shabaab fighters. The attack on Goofgaduud, 250 kilometres north of Mogadishu was quickly followed by an attack on the northwestern town of Baidoa. The militants detonated a roadside improvised explosive device (IED) to attack a truck carrying weapons and ammunition to the Somali military base at Baidoa – killing 11 soldiers in the process. They then proceeded to make use of the captured weapons to attack Baidoa’s military base, killing five more soldiers in the process. The attack on the truck carrying munitions also suggests that Al Shabaab may have informants inside the Somali security services.

There is a serious need for AMISOM commanders to go back to the drawing board and re-assess their deployment strategies, their perimeter defences, the quality of their intelligence collation and analysis. More broadly given the nature of the African security landscape and the threats confronting African governments and peacekeepers, African militaries need to embrace highly mobile 600 troop battalions as opposed to bigger brigades of 3,000 troops or a corps of 10,000 troops. There also needs to be an urgent discussion on the number of troops deployed. AMISOM was created in January 2007 with 3,500 troops. Its troop strength is currently 22,000. To put matters into perspective, between 1992 and 1993, the United Nations Operation Restore Hope in Somalia numbered 30,000 US and other troops and was infinitely better resourced than the current AMISOM forces. Despite, this, Operation Restore Hope was a dismal failure, unable to halt the spiralling violence following the ousting of strongman Siad Barre. So if 30,000 US and other troops with a budget three times the one allocated for AMISOM could not quell the violence following Siad Barre’s ousting, how could 22,000 under-resourced AMISOM forces be able to crush Al Shabaab?

The Somali Federal Government’s security forces meanwhile consist of 12,000 army personnel and 5,000 police officers. To put matters into perspective – at the height of his power – Siad Barre’s security services were in excess of 100,000 members. Of course, numbers alone do not quell insurgencies; it is also the quality of the troops and the overarching strategic framework in which they are deployed. On the latter point, it needs to be acknowledged that the interface between the different national contingents within AMISOM has not been good, neither has the interface between AMISOM and the Somali National Army been very effective. In a nutshell, command and control has been a problem whilst Al Shabaab’s unified command has clearly given it dividends on the battle space that is Somalia.

Under the circumstances, should the international community not think of a strategy of containment with regards to the Somali imbroglio?