The terrorist peril in the Sahel
Despite regional and international anti-terrorism efforts, the jihadist threat in sub-Saharan Africa, especially in the Sahel region, is far from receding.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres raised the alarm during the UN General Assembly, saying: “I know we are all very concerned about the continuing escalation of violence in the Sahel and its expansion to the Gulf of Guinea countries.”
Jihadist activity is spreading from Mali to Burkina Faso, Niger and beyond, to Togo, Benin, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana.
During the last week of September and first days of October, extremists killed 17 people, including troops, in attacks in Burkina Faso. Twenty-five soldiers were killed and 60 unaccounted for after jihadist attacks on an army barracks in Mali.
The Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said the number of attacks by Islamic extremists in the Sahel has doubled on a yearly basis since 2016. The death toll in 2018 was 465.
Extremists with claims of affiliation to al-Qaeda or the Islamic State pursue their violent mayhem in many countries.
Jihadist activity is all too often combined with criminal trafficking in what the security analysis group Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project described as the “jihadisation of banditry.”
In 2017 Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Mali and Mauritania, with the support of France, started the G5 Sahel task force. Besides French and US forces on the ground, the United Nations operates a 15,000-strong force in Mali. However, US forces are disengaging and funds not easy to come by.
Across the region, leaders complain of unfulfilled pledges and plead for help from international financial institutions and the Arab world.
Rising terrorist activities south of the Sahara should be of concern to countries of North Africa and the rest of the world.
The alarm of the UN secretary-general is being taken seriously as Africa’s terrorism scourge is the source of problems with far-reaching effects, such as population displacement, illegal emigration and poverty.