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Cabo Delgado: Unfolding pan-African crisis

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By WILLIAM JETHRO MPOFU

THAT terrorism is morphing from a political pandemic to a historical endemic in Africa can no longer be doubted.

What can be doubted is if Africa will not soon replace the Middle East as the hotbed of terrorism in the world. As I write, more than 16 African countries are battling serious terrorist insurgencies of different names.

The countries include Mozambique, Mali, Kenya, Uganda, Chad, Burkina Faso, Niger, Somalia, Nigeria, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The long list does not include countries such as South Africa and Tanzania that are understood by world intelligence organisations and other researchers as countries where terrorist masterminds sleep, keep low profiles, run businesses to raise funds and plan attacks in other countries. Behind the angry men in black hoods that carry weapons and behead people, destroy property and perform spectacular acts of cruelty and evil, and are called terrorists, there are masterminds, scholars, religious gurus, military strategists, ideologues, business moguls and funders, mercenaries and some rogue states that are the real terrorists.

What we get to see are runners and foot soldiers. It is in that way that terrorism is actually systemic and structural. Shooting at and eliminating individuals and groups of the foot soldiers and runners of terrorism does not even go near eliminating the growing system. Recent diabolic terrorist attacks in the province of Cabo Delgado (Cape of Delgado) in Mozambique are only symptomatic of a rapidly growing terrorist and extremist inferno in the continent of Africa.

The troubling African historical and political condition of failing states, tinpot tyrannies, corrupt factionalist and partisan regimes, ethnic fiefdoms, political and economic cartels, constitute fertile ground for the cultivation and irrigation of terrorist groups.

These groups are known to rise in their self-understanding as freedom fighters, fighters against tyranny and evil, rebels against some native and settler colonialism, and defenders of some betrayed traditions, cultures and even religions. Some arise from land and territorial disputes and project themselves as defenders of some motherlands and fatherlands of different kinds.

They claim grand causes that range from the struggle against tyranny and corruption to the defence of truth and God.

Much like in Cabo Delgado that provides rich pickings in gas and other mineral resources, terrorist groups always sprout and thrive where immense resources such as oil and other minerals are being harvested by multinational corporations and local political and economic elites in territories populated by poor and miserable local people that get infuriated by the “theft” of their wealth and pollution of the environment and destruction of plant and animal life by titanic profiteers. Most terrorist groups do not understand or carry themselves as aggressors and victimisers but they see themselves as victims and messianic liberators.

The terrorist insurgency in Cabo Delgado is rich not only in tragedy and sadness for Africans but also telling historical and political lessons to be urgently learnt, and the learning mobilised and utilised to prevent the spread of terrorism to the rest of the continent.

What is Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jamma?
The group that is presently terrorising Mozambique now calls itself Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jammah and has gone to be recognised by the United States of America’s State Department as a key affiliate of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

This group began attracting attention in 2017 when it started attacking rural police stations and commit murders. Before that, it was a collective of angry youths, small-scale fishermen, petty traders and illegal miners that were mobilised by their open feeling of neglect and marginalisation by the Mozambican government.

Some of their key initial militants were former police officers and expelled soldiers that were angry with government. In origin, they were mainly local Mozambican natives from the districts of Mocimba da Praia, Palma and Macomia. For arms, they first appeared with knives, axes, machetes, catapults and other forms of slingshots.

The government initially worried about them, but largely ignored them as a ragtag group of local malcontents that would soon die off. Now they have powerful and sophisticated guns, automatic rifles and mortar bombs.

Their recent ability to take over towns and overpower the national army is owed to sophisticated military skills that they have come to possess. Clearly their origins and growth is something that can very easily happen in any African country. They were neither formed by ISIS nor did they join ISIS, no. ISIS identified them and joined them, gave them military training, weapons, vehicles, religio-political ideology and a name. Otherwise they were originally birthed by local Mozambican, and African, socio-economic and political problems.

It is not only to simplify truth but also to ignore important reality to adopt the belief that international terrorists invaded and are settling in Mozambique. Some local political and economic grievances of ignored and marginalised individuals and communities created a social climate that incubated and produced terror.

In Mozambique, as it is in the rest of Africa, ISIS is identifying rich gaps and opportunities for its ambition to envelop the globe. In that way, African governments with their negligence, corruption and tyranny will create catchment areas and “recruitment reservoirs” for terrorist groups.

Most journalists and researchers that are presently writing on the terrorist insurgency in Mozambique have not sufficiently observed that besides converting villagers by use of force and fraud, Jamma is rapidly winning some Mozambican hearts and minds through the promise of freedom, equality and some, justice and power for the poor, immiserated, dispossessed and displaced of the country.

A pan-African crisis
I am not about to commit the easy analytical crime of isolating Africa for blame for the spread of terrorism in the continent. In fact, it is a relevant observation to make that like other problems terrorism is not exactly an African problem but one of the many problems that the world has caused and loaded onto the continent.

A small but meaningful illustration of this is that weapons that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) allies freely distributed to disparate groups of militants and rebels that were fighting Muammar Gaddaffi in Libya in 2011 have been found in the hands of terrorists in Mali, Chad, Nigeria and Niger, and no doubt some of the militants and their guns will be found in Mozambique. What I seek to lend emphasis to are African historical and political contexts and conditions that are permitting the spread and strength of terrorism in the continent.

What was the pan-African dream of a United States of Africa (USA) seven decades ago has collapsed to a nightmare of African divisions and disunity. What was a pan-African utopia has been replaced by a dystopia characterised by tyrannical and corrupt governments and disillusioned populations, parts of which are angry enough to be recruited by or recruit themselves into terrorist groups.

The failure of the countries of the continent to economically and politically stand together and speak and act as one have opened the continent up for external and much unfriendly winds. African disunity and interstate divisions have made Africa a fragile continent and reduced the people of Africa into vulnerable populations and individuals that do not enjoy the protection of their states or that of the continent in times of trouble such as state terrorism and extra-state political extremism.

The only strong unity that is noticeable is when African governments agree together to look aside and do nothing when some African governments practice terrorism on their populations.

The late Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere spoke a durable truth when he noted that the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) had collapsed into a club of tyrants that united in keeping power and protecting each other from the anger of their people.

The African Union (AU) seems not to have recovered from that degeneration. African multilateral organisations that include regional bodies such as the Southern African Development  Community (Sadc) are no different in their tragic political habit of looking aside when their member governments subject their people to state terrorism and extremism.

In 2018, after stealing an election by a combination of fraud and force, Emmerson Mnangagwa gunned down a number of unarmed civilians, injured and jailed many others in Zimbabwe.

Yoweri Museveni, as late as January 2021, had some unarmed Ugandans shot dead in the streets. African countries looked aside and delved into what South Africa has normalised as “quiet diplomacy” which is in political effect actually to do nothing to condemn state terrorism of some African governments. The state terrorism of some African governments and their leaders has given some acceptability to terror on the continent.

To allow a government in Africa to slaughter unarmed civilians for political reasons is to permit and normalise terror.

As extra-state terrorism escalates in Mozambique, other African countries seem reluctant or unable to intervene, among many other reasons being that African countries such as Mozambique are on their own as the AU and some regional bodies have not legally, politically and militarily been brought up to intervene in the crises of neighbouring countries.

African bodies have not made it a culture to intervene in terrorist crises in African countries. Individually, African countries that frequently unleash state terror on their populations or systematically and habitually ignore the state terror of other countries are not structured to fight terror.

In actuality, terror, especially state terror, has been naturalised and normalised in Africa to an extent that the shooting of a group of civilians for political reasons has become part of the African political weather.

Outside the cover of the AU and Sadc, it is not easy for any individual African country to intervene militarily in Mozambique because of the genuine fear of the revenge of terrorist groups that would export terror to that particular country. What would be desirable is a pan-African military solution that does not expose one or two African countries to being identified as new targets of attack by terrorist networks.

However, Africa does not presently enjoy enough unity and determination to produce a pan-African solution for problems in any individual African country. As that happens, it is the ordinary and poor people of Africa that find themselves exposed to state and extra-state terror.

The true pan-African struggle against terrorism should offer not tolerance for any forms of terror in Africa, including state terror.

Students of the phenomenon of terrorism such as Barry Davies have repeatedly made the observation that most terrorist foot soldiers and runners are otherwise what were good citizens of their countries that suffered torture, abuse, humiliation and did not enjoy the protection of their governments and the world until they felt stateless and nationless, and became ready to take their own lives and those of others.

State terrorism does directly produce extra-state terrorism and one of the pan-African ways of curbing the spread of terrorism in the continent would be to stop tyrannical regimes that terrorise citizens in their countries.

Zimbabwe: How to recruit for terrorism
The terrorist mindset of individuals and extremist sensibility of groups is neither natural nor normal. Terrorists are not born or destined as such, but are produced and conditioned by some experiences and realities of a social, political and religious specificity.

One of my principal observations and arguments is that African governments are largely going to fuel the spread and stay of terrorism on the continent. Such native colonialism and state terrorism as that which has been normalised by the government of Zimbabwe are going to be African political and social weaknesses that will work to supply, out of persecuted citizens, ready vessels for terrorism.

When citizens of a country are continuously made to experience that they have no share in the economy and polity of a country, they lose an essential sense of nationalism and its essential accompaniment of the passion of patriotism that must position them to love and defend their country and its state.

From the Robert Mugabe regime to the present Emmerson Mnangagwa establishment, Zimbabwean lives have been made not to matter.

In fact, the Zanu PF government from the end of settler colonialism to date has worked as a native colonialist regime that has expelled the majority of Zimbabweans from mainstream political and economic life using, among other evils, the weapon of state terrorism.

In the book Excelgate: How Zimbabwe’s 2018 Presidential Election was Stolen, Professor Jonathan Moyo, a former government minister, reveals how a combination of fraud and force has been used in Zimbabwe to systematically rig elections, ignore the political will of Zimbabweans and render positive political change impossible.

Free, fair and credible elections in Zimbabwe are presently impossible and opposition party politics are a waste of time as Zanu PF will cling to power by fraud and the bullet.

The ruling party has tyrannically monopolised political life and power in the country in the true manner of how native colonialist regimes operate. How the economy has been monopolised by the President, his family and friends is reported in a recent publication of the Maverick Citizen on Cartel Power Dynamics in Zimbabwe. Literally all major industries in the country from mining to the sale of fuel and food are under the octopus grip and monopoly of the President, his family and an elite clique of friends locally and internationally.

Some smaller businesses, like local taxi companies and cross-border transporters, are being banned to allow companies owned and controlled by people connected to the President and his family and friends to gain monopoly. Over the decades, civil servants including teachers, doctors and nurses, the army, police and the intelligence have been impoverished and immiserated. Unsurprisingly, recent United Nations surveys have observed Zimbabweans in general to be some of the unhappiest people in the world. This happens as the government is advancing legislation to compel Zimbabweans to be patriotic or face prosecution.

Such countries in Africa where governments operate as native colonialists and practice state terrorism with impunity are without doubt going to be recruitment havens for terrorist organisations and extremist groups that promise liberation, equality, justice and power.

When citizens do not experience any ownership and/or belonging to the polity and economy of any country, they become willing converts for any force that promises them the ability to fight back even by illegitimate and evil means. Terrorist movements are exactly that, the refuge of disempowered, dispossessed and angry people.

Besides their identity and reality as merchants of death, almost all terrorists are salespersons of some hope and destiny. The same way that communists of the previous decades gave colonised, oppressed and angry Africans guns, money and military skills to fight settler colonial regimes, the terrorists will reach out, and successfully so, for Africans living under native colonialism.

Great disorder under the heavens
Things are bad. Not only bad for Mozambique, but the whole African continent and its troubled people. All signs, historical and political, point to the dark prospect that Africa is soon to replace the Middle East as the hotbed of terrorism and the festivals of cruelty and evil that come with it. The simplicity of glibly mourning the colonisation of Africa by terrorists from elsewhere should not blind us to political, economic and social conditions that Africans have created to fertilise the continent for terror. We are headed for dark times, and indeed bloody times.

Western countries will bring boots on the ground in the name of the responsibility to protect besieged Africans. Mercenaries and private security companies with their enduring profit motives will populate the continent in numbers and some of them will grow more powerful than governments. Some terrorist organisations will infiltrate governments and political parties until Africa gets some governments that covertly or overtly side with terrorist networks.

Terrorists are known to create proxies and clients out of political parties and governments. New Pan-Africanism that will involve the solidarity of African multilateral organisations with the common people of Africa, not just member governments and political regimes in power, will be called for.

The struggle against state- and extra-state terrorism is in actuality one struggle that will not be won in instalments but in full. What chairman Mao Zedong meant by the words: “There is great disorder under heaven? The situation is excellent”, is that even dark and bloody times are an opportunity for thought and positive action.

This upsurge of terrorism in Africa might be an opportunity for imagining and actioning another Africa that would be free of native colonialism, state terrorism and extra-state terrorisms of all kinds. It is political wisdom and right that should not be ignored any longer that problems of terror, state or extra-state in any African country are an African problem.

To continue to standby in the name of respecting the sovereignty of other African countries when terror consumes them is to unwittingly continue to defend colonial borders that settler colonialists left behind, and it allows native colonialism to thrive in Africa as some individual states turn rogue.

*About the writer: Dr William Jethro Mpofu is a researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a senior research associate of Good Governance Africa (GGA), and a founder member of Africa Decolonial Research Network (ADERN).

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