Spotlight: Africa could become an Islamic State caliphate base, ISS warns Security Council

ISS called for a greater council presence in Africa and a strong political centre to fight terrorism.

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) has warned the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) that Africa could be the future base of a caliphate for the Islamic State militant group. Islamic State, also known by its Arabic acronym Da’esh, was founded in 1999 and gained global prominence in 2014 when it drove government forces out of key Iraqi cities.

ISS Senior Researcher Martin Ewi told the council in August that at least 20 African countries have directly experienced the group’s activity. More than 20 others are used for logistics and to mobilise funds and resources.

‘The presence of the Islamic State today in Africa is deep and concerning,’ Ewi said, with affiliates in regional hubs that have become corridors of instability. None of the African Union’s five geopolitical regions has been spared.

Three months after the UNSC briefing, Ewi says the situation remains dire, and no major steps have been taken to address the threat. He was invited to give evidence by China’s permanent representative to the UN, Zhang Jun.

Terrorism had political, economic, social and ideological roots, he told the council. There is irrefutable evidence that many young people joined Islamic State because of poverty and unemployment, with the terrorist group exploiting poor communities for recruitment and support. Islamic State also benefits materially or financially through collaboration with herders, bandits, kidnappers and artisanal miners.

Ewi’s evidence was reported in detail by the Associated Press and the Washington Post. The UNSC chair said its members had spoken highly of the ISS’ expertise. Jun described the briefing as very informative and thought provoking. ‘We appreciate the value brought by your analysis and suggestions from the perspective of Africa. It will provide important reference to the work of the Council on international counter-terrorism cooperation.’

The Cabo Delgado situation merits a UNSC visit to show solidarity and enforce international law

The Lake Chad Basin is the biggest Islamic State area of operation. The Sahel has become ungovernable, and Somalia remains a terrorism hotspot in the Horn of Africa. Although recent attempts to destabilise Uganda had failed, the Allied Democratic Forces – ­an Islamic State affiliate – remains a threat. Islamic State has wreaked havoc in some regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mozambique.

Inconsistent state responses and international double standards made things worse. After an international coalition defeated Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the terror threat moved to Africa. But no alliance was formed to defeat the group on the continent, Ewi said.

He pointed out that UNSC resolutions were not implemented in Africa. ‘Most terrorists that are blacklisted do not know that they are blacklisted,’ he said, and called on the council to work more closely with the African Union and regional economic communities.

A political centre is needed to fight terrorism, with civil society providing a link to communities on the frontline. The UNSC needs to show its presence in Africa, with situations like Cabo Delgado meriting a council visit to Mozambique to express solidarity and enforce international law.

Other factors driving Islamic State’s success in Africa include natural resources, which form the basis of an illicit trade that finances terror groups. And many African governments ignore or deny early warnings about terrorism threats or believe that half-hearted local measures will do the job.

‘Sovereignty is used to shield the threat until it incubates into an uncontrollable intensity,’ Ewi said. ‘The international community is then called upon to help when the threat has gotten out of hand. We are seeing this phenomenon playing out in Benin and Togo, and in Mozambique and Nigeria, where the threat was misdiagnosed and the response not appropriate.’

There is also an overwhelming reliance on military strategies, often leading to human rights abuses and failure to deliver enduring stability. Peace support operations in Somalia, the Lake Chad Basin, the Sahel and Mozambique are yet to show results. Another factor is the gap between efforts to deal with transnational organised crime and terrorism, with those tackling these related threats not speaking to one another.

Africa needs a robust and comprehensive continental strategy to defeat Da’esh, Ewi advised the UNSC. The strategy should focus not just on military responses but combine political, economic, social and security measures to end terrorism in Africa.

For more information, contact:

Martin Ewi, ISS: [email protected]

Related content