West Africa and the threats of terrorism

Kenechukwu Obiezu

Kenechukwu Obiezu

As a continent, Africa faces many challenges. In recent years,  a particularly formidable challenge has been that of  violent extremism. In a handful of countries around the African continent, Islamist terrorists continue to wage violent campaigns against democratically elected governments.

These terrorist groups which boast sophisticated networks and weapons commit all manner of atrocities against civilians including women and children. In addition to weaking the security architecture in already fragile countries, they sow terror and seed conflicts   causing mass displacement of people, while abducting many to keep as slaves or soldiers.

In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that the experience of  many Africans in the last two decades has shown the  staggering distance terror can travel in disrupting lives and displacing people.

In Nigeria, the Giant of Africa, Boko Haram  mustered its forces for a full-scale assault on the state in 2009.In  the years that have followed, hitherto peaceful communities have been violently upturned  as conflicts have become an all too familiar reality for many Nigerians.

Now, with efforts to contain the terrorists typically failing, violent extremism has been gaining grounds in the continent, especially in West Africa. Countries like Mali and Burkina Faso have been violently upturned by terrorism alongside Nigeria. Outside of West Africa, Kenya and Somalia are battling their own forms of Islamist terrorism.

That violent extremism has become such a concern is typified by the encroachment of terror into countries that were hitherto terror-free. About two weeks  ago, in a predawn attack on an army post in the Kpendjal prefecture near Togo`s border with Burkina Faso, a group of heavily armed  gunmen killed about eight Togolese soldiers.

Security experts said the attack was likely carried out by a local al-Qaeda affiliate that is based in Mali but in recent years has spread South into Burkina Faso. The attack on heroic Togolese soldiers followed a   recent pattern. Groups linked to ISIL and al-Qaeda have carried out hundreds of attacks across the Sahel region of West Africa in recent years, focusing mainly on the landlocked countries of Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali.

Last month, Benin Republic, Togo`s coastal neighbour lost five soldiers when an army convoy struck an improvised explosive device. It marked a sharp rise in attack for the West African country near its northern border with Burkina Faso.

International partners led by France have spent billions of dollars and deployed thousands of troops to contain the attacks which began in Mali in 2012 before spreading into Niger and Burkina Faso. But the violence continues, especially in poor rural areas where armed groups blend in.

The insecurity has undermined democracy in countries where residents have become fed up with violence and rallied for change. In Mali, and Burkina Faso, the military have snatched power since 2020 promising to shore up security.

There has also been fears that al-Qaeda-linked fighters were working on plans to extend their attacks in the gulf of Guinea, particularly in Benin and Ivory Coast. Last year, seven members of Ivory Coast`s security forces died in separate attacks in the North of the country. The year before that, the country was hit by a cross-border assault that killed 14 security personnel in the same region.

For more than decade now, Nigeria has been hard-hit by the violence. It remains to be seen how events will continue to unfold. But there is only very little doubt that if the West Africa is to  the insecurity creeping upon it like noxious weeds,proactive measures  have to be taken to protect vulnerable communities and root out terrorists and their  networks.

Kene Obiezu,

keneobiezu@gmail.com

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