Skip to content

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


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?

Politicians versus Practitioners: Who is really responsible for human rights abuses in the aftermath of terrorism-incidents – Dr Anneli Botha


Politicians versus Practitioners: Who is really responsible for human rights abuses in the aftermath of terrorism-incidents

By Anneli Botha

RIMA Occasional Papers, Volume 6 (2018), Number 4 (March 2018)

In the aftermath of an attack, the public understandably demand answers and action from politicians and security forces. Starting with blame as to why an attack hadn’t been  prevented in the first place, politicians promise action (for political reasons), and the public will hold both accountable if action is not immediate. Accepted action includes immediate answers as to what happened, how it happened and who were responsible, followed by swift action against those deemed responsible. A strong response is intended to be interpreted by the public as ‘being in control’ and not to lose trust in the security forces, while government wants to portray an image of strength to its countrymen and the broader international community. It is often also for this reason that government would claim victory. For example, President Muhammadu Buhari in a statement on Christmas Eve 2017, declared “the long-awaited and most gratifying news of the final crushing of Boko Haram terrorists in their last enclave in Sambisa Forest.” This was echoed on 7 January 2018 by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Yusuf Buratai, that his troops have won the war against Boko Haram. These declarations come exactly three years after President Buhari announced that Nigeria had “technically” won the war. While in early February 2018, Abdulrahman Dambazzau, the Minister of the Interior, described the group as “completely decimated” and that the group’s structure was degraded and its leadership dismantled. Minister of Information Lai Mohammed cited the “resumption of flights, bubbling nightlife, and football matches in Maiduguri” as signs normalcy has returned to the Borno State capital. Even more detrimental, Rogers Ibe Nicholas, the Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole in Maiduguri, declared Boko Haram “completely defeated.”[i] Just to be proven wrong by subsequent attacks, often achieving the opposite of what government intended.

Returning to deciding who should be blamed for human rights abuses. Although the public and politicians will exclusively blame security forces for what transpired, should responsibility for abuses not be shared by politicians who created conditions conducive to abuse? Understandably security personnel decided on the way to act, but being under unrealistic pressure to produce instant answers and bring those to justice without providing the support and necessary ‘tools’ should share the blame.

On a strategic level, driving and committing these abuses give terrorists the moral upper hand, even justifying their actions as ‘understandable’. From the perspective of the terrorists committing these offences – from the kidnapping of girls in Nigeria, suicide bombings in Somalia, etc. – some of the primary objectives of a terrorist attack include: Firstly, exposing the inability of the state and its security forces to protect itself and its citizens against attacks. Secondly, to manipulate the public through fear to put pressure on the governments in order to change their policies towards the organisation. Thirdly, through committing acts of terrorism, terrorists intend to provoke a response from government. In other words, by provoking a response – often an over-reaction – the State and its security forces can be categorised as inhumane and contributing to radicalisation and recruitment. Therefore, government ultimately plays into the hands of the terrorists/insurgents.

In addition to a potential provocation strategy, politicians need to uphold the image of being in control and defuse public pressure. Consequently, the pressure placed on the government to provide answers and act is being transferred to the security forces to deal with those responsible for the attacks. Practically, security forces first need to investigate in order to identify those responsible. However, in reality, the longer it requires security forces to take action is often being interpreted as a sign of incompetence of both the government and its security forces. Consequently, politicians place enormous pressure on commanding officers to act – without completing investigations or gathering reliable information identifying those implicated in the attack. However, neither the public, nor politicians and commanding officers – that are often politically appointed – grasp the complexity of terrorism-related investigations. Even a domestic terror attack, without any international links, can be challenging.

Giving in under pressure, security forces often respond without the required evidence by rounding up any potential suspects in the form of mass arrests, even arresting family members of potential suspects (again without evidence). For example, according to individuals already convicted in Cameroon for their alleged involvement in Boko Haram,  security forces rounded up people indiscriminately, often justifying it by unrealistic reasons or ‘evidence’. Without a criminal justice culture that allows a suspect access to an adequate defence in a fair judicial system, in a majority of cases usually leads to conviction. Military tribunals often held in secret (justified by security concerns)in which the burden of proof is considerably lower than in criminal court, contribute to unfair practices, leaving many that are in fact innocent in prison, often facing long sentences.

In addition to the consequences of wrongful conviction there is the question which agency should take the lead in countering and preventing terrorism: the police or military. Understandably, the police is not equipped or trained to fight a counterinsurgency, similarly the military is not equipped to deal with the public or lead a criminal justice response that is based on the collection of evidence, completing forensic investigations and arresting suspects. Recognising the very different mandates, the military can play a support role to assist the police in establishing control and stability to an area under the control of insurgents. However, once control has been established, the military should step aside and play a supportive role to the police. However, many countries on the continent historically provided more support to the military to secure regime security. Consequently, instead of investing in the police to fulfil its mandate, much needed resources and human investment did not end up where it was really needed. Addressing the public’s perception that those responsible for acts of terrorism do not deserve mercy, is in fact the primary reason for a country to be guided by evidence, the law and not emotions. It is the best strategy to prevent over-reaction as well as identifying and successfully prosecuting those responsible for the atrocities.

A successful prosecution depends on recognising that the law is impartial and should be followed throughout – from the beginning of the investigation till the end. A common mistake is to assume that the legal framework only applies to when the case goes to court. Therefore, the law is not always seen as relevant when it does not suit the investigation, and is consequently disregarded when the investigation or prosecution is confronted with challenges. It is especially under these circumstances that both investigators (police) and prosecution should be guided by the long-term objective (successful prosecution) and not short-term solution (file charges or bring the suspect to court). Through seeing and focusing on the ‘bigger picture’ people need to:

  • Prevent short cuts. Instead go the extra mile in securing that the investigation follows all leads and covers all angles.
  • Focus on the evidence and not perceptions. The presumption of innocence needs to be respected throughout the investigations in the minds of those involved. Therefore, investigators should not exclusively focus on evidence that fits into a pre-set expectation and consequently disregard everything else.
  • Follow operating procedures that respect the legal framework


Furthermore, it is essential to respect due process and the rule of law, not only in the country in which the offence was committed, but also in the countries where the suspects were arrested. In not following the rule of law and due process in the country with primary jurisdiction where the case will be heard, illegal procedures in other countries will threaten the entire legal process. For example, the prosecution of suspects arrested in Kenya to be prosecuted in Uganda was threatened under allegations of extraordinary rendition. This is particularly relevant in terrorism-related offences that would be put in the spotlight due to the nature of the incident.

Pressure is a natural consequence of terrorism, yet the manner it is channelled will ultimately influence the success of short-term measures and the long-term strategy against terrorism and radicalization. This requires strategic thinking on the part of government and its security forces not to play into the hands of the enemy. The focus of every member of the security forces therefore needs to be to realise that their actions have consequences that could harm or benefit the country’s counterterrorism strategy and vision. Government equally has a responsibility to be honest with its citizens and allow its security forces to take action, even though it might take time beyond its period in office.

[i]SonalaOlumhense, ‘The ‘defeat’ of Boko Haram’, Punch, 11 February 2018, available at (accessed on 14 February 2018).

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


The Problem with the Study of Extremism/Radicalization in Africa

By Hussein Solomon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terrorist Threat Set to Escalate in Africa – Professor Hussein Solomon


Terrorist Threat Set to Escalate in Africa

By Hussein Solomon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Architecture is the Second Conquest by Islam of West Africa

By Glen Segell[1]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




By Dr. Barend Prinsloo

North-West University, South Africa

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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






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


Rehabilitation and Reintegration of former al-Shabaab fighters in Somalia

By Anneli Botha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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