Opinion: What Lies Behind The Rise Of Jihadist Movements In Africa

Opinion: What Lies Behind The Rise Of Jihadist Movements In Africa

From TheConversation. Story by Charles Villa-Vicencio, emeritus professor,  University of Cape Town.

Africa arguably faces the biggest threat to political stability since the collapse of colonialism in the mid-20th century.

The threat comes in the main from the proliferation of militant Islamic groups in parts of the continent. These groups, which strike at the heart of African cohesion and nation-building, include al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb – in the northern and western Africa region covering Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya and Mauritania; Boko Haram in Northeastern Nigeria; al-Shabaab in Somalia; Mulathameen Brigade in Algeria; Ansar al-Dine in Mali; Séléka in the Central African Republic; and Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia.

Journalists, analysts and scholars provide crucial insights into the identity and practices of Africa’s rebel groups. But credible information is invariably a casualty of war. This requires people to exercise a high level of critical analysis to attain an unbiased understanding of conflict in Africa.

The consequences of the support by the West for oppressive African regimes needs to be considered. In turn, strident Muslim aggression needs to be understood in relation to the influence of Western-based Christian fundamentalist groups in Africa. Many devout Muslim believers see this as a muted form of the Christian crusades that endured for 200 years.

Some 800 years later, the current conflict is understood as a continuing fight for the purity of an Islamic belief. For them, defeat is not an option.

Understanding jihadist conflict in Africa needs to address at least the following five elements.

Ideological conflicts, dominant groups, economic dependency, toxic mix of religion and poverty, and dehumanisation of the other.

Ideological conflicts

The Sykes-Picot agreement, which entrenched European dominance in the Arabian Peninsula in the wake of the first world war, plus the West’s protection of the newly established state of Israel in 1948, resulted in a resurgence of Islamic extremism in global politics.

The effects of the Cold War escalated, and the African independence struggles resulted in a plethora of African coup d’etats, counter-coups and deep-seated tensions in the 1950s and 1960s. This ideological conflict soon mutated into resource wars and economic deprivation, manipulated by religion and culture, still today…

Read more at TheConversation.