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The Edge of Terror

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Africa's Terror Threat is Real

August 24th 2009

Africa Topics - Somali Militants
Somali militants

Over the past months, the narrative of Washington's "new direction" in world affairs blurred the clarity of the confrontation with the terror forces worldwide. Are we at conflict with a global threat? The administration, insisting on treating the issue locally, claimed otherwise.

But during President Barack Obama's July 11 speech in Accra, he said that "when there's a genocide in Darfur or terrorists in Somalia, these are not simply African problems,” explaining, "they are global security challenges, and they demand a global response."

This zigzag between local and global risk is confusing not only to the public but to strategists as well. If terrorism in Somalia is a global security challenge, then it is a global threat. And thus it is a global confrontation, call it war or call it anything else. Therefore, the response has to be global, security, military, political, economic, and ideological.

Responding to the jihadi threat throughout Africa must be continental and integrated with international efforts. The president should have drawn the attention of his audience to the trans-African jihadi threat commencing in Somalia with the al-Shabab, and thrusting through the immensity of the Sahel via Chad, Niger, Mali, and Mauritania. The menace is even wider as the Salafists (al-Qaida-like jihadists) threaten northern Africa via Algeria, Morocco, and even Egypt.

Unfortunately, neither the Cairo nor the Accra speeches described the terror threat in full. In the next few years, 50 percent of the continent will be involved in a full-fledged war with terror. That is not a little detail obstructing development; that is the main threat against social, economic, and democratic progress across Africa. The jihadists aren't just some extremists with local demand: they have an all-out agenda diametrically opposed to the modern democratic agenda and to U.S. efforts in international development.
In his speech Obama raised another point of confusion created by the administration: The ideology of the global threat. Since early 2009, (but also under the last two years of the George W. Bush administration) all reference to the existence of  ideology, doctrine, or school of thought of the foe, let alone its name, was scrapped out of the lexicon. The word jihad was banned along with all related words such as Islamism.

Until the Accra address, the Obama speech writers wanted the public to digest the idea that there is no ideological battle. But in front of an all-African legislative audience in Ghana, Obama resuscitated the unavoidable conclusion: That is why we must stand up to inhumanity in our midst. It is never justified, never justifiable to target innocents in the name of ideology. So is it or is it not an ideology, regardless of what one wishes to call it?

In Africa, we cannot convince the people subjected to Wahabi, Salafi, or Khomeinist propaganda that ideology has nothing to do with the massacre of black men, women, and children. But in Cairo, we didn't raise the issue. In Washington, we act as if we want it to go away by changing our lexicon. In the end, Africa knows all too well the nature of the ideological menace. It knows its name, its goals, and it has seen its work. The U.S. must catch up with the continent's deep and dramatic knowledge of the roots of evil.

Twice in his speech, Obama asserted that "we must start from the simple premise that Africa's future is up to Africans." Indeed, after the receding of Western colonialism during the last decades of the 20th century, who is obstructing Africa's global independence? What regional and international organizations are controlling the African vote at the United Nations, paralyzing the African Union when it decides to intervene against ethnic cleansing in Darfur, southern Sudan, and Biafra, or to solve civil wars in Cote d'Ivoire and Somalia?

The Arab League controls 10 of Africa's countries and the Organization of the Islamic Conference covers half of the continent. Both organizations are essentially commanded by oil-producing regimes and jointly colonize the African Union. NATO, the EU, the CIS, and the OAS have no membership in Africa. But OPEC's big boys determine at what price Nigerians, Ghanaians, and others must sell their oil. What I have coined as "oil imperialism" in my last book has been devastating Third World independence since 1973, when petrodollars pushed back against the West and intimidated weaker nations.

If oil regimes can exert influence in the world's most powerful capitals, how can poor African nations resist their domination?

Cutting Edge Terrorism Analyst Walid Phares is the author of The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad. He is the Director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a visiting scholar at the European Foundation for Democracy.


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