Impact On Dev. Prospects And Nationhood (2)


By Obadiah Mailafia 

The African Union (AU) Convention on Prevention and Combating Terrorism 1994 defines terrorism as “any act which is a violation of the criminal …which may endanger the life, physical integrity or freedom of, or cause serious injury or death to any person, any number or group of persons or causes or may cause damage to public or private property, natural resources, environmental or cultural heritage and is calculated or intended to: (a) intimidate, put in fear, coerce or induce any government, body, institution, the general public or any segment thereof, to do or abstain from doing any act, or to adopt or abandon a particular standpoint or to act according to certain principles; or (b) disrupt any public service, the delivery of any essential service to the public or to create a public emergency; or (c) create general insurrection in a State.”

Perhaps the 1992 definition by the United Nations could be regarded as being the more authoritative and more definitive one, given its universal appeal. The UN defines terrorism as an “anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi) clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby – in contrast to assassination – the direct targets of violence are not the main targets.”

For our purpose, therefore, we understand terrorism to mean all forms of violent action by clandestine and semi-clandestine actors aimed at achieving criminal, military, religious, political or other objectives, with such actions often directed at government and non-combatant populations with the deliberate objective of spreading fear, anxiety and terror.

Terrorism in the Sahel Region

Following the fall of the Libyan capital of Tripoli in early September, 2011, it was discovered that a gigantic cache of advanced anti-aircraft rockets were missing from a raided storage space in Tripoli. Among the missing weapons are the most advanced Russian surface-to-air missile, the SA-24, and an earlier version called the SA-7. Highly accurate, the heat-seeking weapons are easily launched from a shoulder or a truck bed and are able to take down low-flying aircraft. This confirms fears that the Gaddafi regime’s weapons had been smuggled into neighbouring Niger, Mali or Mauritania by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the terrorist network’s quickly growing arm in the Sahel, a region that has become an ungoverned haven for militant activity.

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“Long seen as a fringe branch of the global terrorist operation, AQIM can no longer be viewed as merely a local menace. This problem isn’t local,” says one analyst of terrorism in the Sahel.

“We’re going to see AQIM become more assertive, taking over entire areas and consolidating its presence. And we’ll see more armed actions against the Mauritanians, Algerians, Mali and Niger.”

A jumble of weak governance, rampant drug smuggling and deep-seated economic frustration, the region has long been a powder keg waiting for this kind of match — and it’s easy to see how the region’s vast deserts and rugged, remote mountains, which have allowed AQIM to fuel its own steady growth, could provide shelter to even the most hunted man on the planet. For the past few years, the group has used hefty ransoms from the kidnapping of Westerners to build its nest egg and has focused on ingratiating itself financially with rural tribes who feel marginalized by their governments. On the streets of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, a storekeeper said he was so poor that he would welcome Gaddafi “or anyone else who will give me money.” Though the exact figure of AQIM’s wealth is unknown, an average ransom runs in the millions. Last month, the group negotiated the release of two Spanish hostages for roughly $10 million.

The region “provides al Qaeda the optimum conditions it has traditionally sought — weak states, vast areas outside the purview of the government and disaffected ethnic groups,” says Barak Barfi, a New America Foundation fellow based in Libya. “It should come as no surprise AQIM has established bases in the area.”

Paul Melly, an analyst at the London-based think tank Chatham House who specializes in West Africa, says the group “has been able to operate with relative ease in the central Sahara,” physically difficult for small, poorly equipped national armies to control. To squash AQIM would be a formidable task, even for stronger armies. The group’s dominance in the region extends from its control of drug-smuggling routes across the Libyan border and throughout the region — which could potentially have been used to smuggle rockets too — and alliances with dangerous local terrorist organizations like Nigeria’s radical Islamist sect, Boko Haram, whose operatives train with AQIM in the Mali mountains.

  •Dr. Mailafia wrote this paper for the Governor of  Central Bank of Nigeria. Source: Time, Washington DC.

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