The African mind has always been a religious mind. In homes and villages African are historically brought up to be religious and African religion held sway before the arrival of Christian missionaries and Islamic traders. Many older Africans were introduced to the practices of African religions from childhood. It was a cultural thing for parents to initiate their children to native spiritual worship and introduce families to the role ancestors play in the preservation of offspring, guardian of their souls and security.
Hence when Middle Eastern religions, specifically Christianity and Islam were imported by Christian missionaries and Muslim traders it became easier in the continent than any other place in the world except China and North Korea because the African mind has always been a religious mind. Resistance to Islam in the 18th century, specifically in Nigeria’s Middle Belt halted Othman Dan Fodio from extending Islamic reach beyond the Benue-Niger confluence by force. The resistance curtailed and contained militant Islam to regions above the Benue-Niger confluence. Despite this, Muslim traders spread Islam beyond the confluence without the use of force.
Progressively both religions have contended for the mind and soul of the African. It has been surmised that the density of churches and mosques in Africa out strips the density of churches and mosques in the rest of the world combined. The more the African becomes religious, the less moral rich he or she becomes. In other words, Middle Eastern religions may have captured the African mind but have not succeeded in creating the type of morality that the traditional African religions created, nor the social cohesion which traditional religions taught. In other words Middle Eastern religions have not succeeded in creating positive morality in the African. Instead they have succeeded in poisoning it and imprisoning the African mind to foreign neo-colonialist control. You reap what you sow they say and nowhere is this adage more prominent than in the African continent. We have sown to mind control and reaped the whirlwind. These religions have come to bite the continent as they degrade performance, create social and political upheavals in most African countries. In this Part II of this article we unravel the sources of these upheavals in the continent.
In Part I of this article we suggested a coordinated response from African countries against the rising tide and trend of coordinated Islamic terrorist activities around the continent. We brought to focus the third dimension in African politics, the shift from nationalism to tribe-based coup d’états and finally to the use of religion. This has led to coordinated terrorist activities by Muslim terrorists and to a lesser extent Christian fundamental converts. The Muslim jihadists were shown to have been influenced and tele-guided mostly by Al Qaeda. There is no clear spiritual leader for the amorphous Christian terrorists operating in Uganda, the DCR and CAR, nor for the emerging Christian militant groups in Kenya and Nigeria. Also we note that porous international borders in African countries ranging from the Maghreb to West, Central Africa and East Africa which has facilitated spreading of terrorist activities. Furthermore the exponential growth in foreign education by African students to Islamic countries such as Sudan, Malaysia, Turkey and Cyprus have provided the fundamental flames for new converts to engage in reckless and often brutal terrorist activities. The African child has failed to separate religion from responsibility and to free themselves from a war that is not theirs, embracing the war on terrorism.
When George Bush declared in September 2001 that “you’re either with us, or against us” many African leaders sat on their hands. African countries refused to declare war on terrorism, noting that they would not declare war on their own citizens. Unfortunately those same citizens that were protected failed to understand that that statement was meant to polarize the world into two camps – ‘they versus us’. It came to be known quite quickly that “they” means Al Qaeda and its supporters and ‘us’ anyone in the ‘civilised’ world. If you are one of them you could not be civilised and if you are part of ‘us’ you are civilised.
It soon became quite clear to some that George Bush’s declaration was not just against Al Qaeda but a declaration of religious war. From that September 11 declaration it has become more and more difficult for well-meaning persons globally to remain as either witnesses or bystanders. Young Muslim converts radicalised by Islamic preachers in Europe, North America and the Middle East read this statement that they have to align with their ‘brothers’ in arms. The statement also implied that there are consequences for not joining one side or the other. There was no room left for anyone to sit on the fence or be a bystander in this never ending war between religions and cultures, between the Judaeo-Christian religion and Islam and indeed every religion. Drawing inference from history none of the two contending cultures is African. The Western culture and Christianity is as un-African as Islam is un-African.
In Part II of this article the objective is to shed further light on the groups, their spread and how lack of coordinated efforts by African leaders has provided easy climate for the terrorist groups to flourish and look attractive to unemployed and mind controlled gullible Africans in search of quick wealth.
As we watch one country after another attacked every week, African countries with reasonable Muslim populations remain vulnerable to destabilisation. Indeed the systematic attacks of African fledgling democracies could derail good intentions of some governments where radical Islam has infiltrated.
Apart from the ten countries mentioned earlier with current conflicts, other countries such as Ghana, Tanzania, Niger, Chad, Cameroons, Tunisia, Morocco, Gambia, Benin Republic, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Madagascar, Mauritius, Ivory Coast and Senegal are highly vulnerable to attacks from coalition of terrorists.
The web and circle of African Islamic terrorist groups has origin in North Africa and links to Al Qaeda. The coalition of terrorists in Africa can be traced to several groups operating in various countries and they all have links to Al Qaeda starting from North Africa. In the Maghreb, terrorist activities are spearheaded by AQIM or Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). AQIM was founded by Mokhtar Belmokhtar in Algeria. Its main goal can be read from its logo which consists of the globe, an AK-47 and a flag rising from the globe to signify interest to establish global Islamic Caliphate by force of arms. In Algeria AQIM is a Salafi-jihadist militant group whose objective is to overthrow the Algerian government and establish an Islamic state in Algeria. AQIM’s modus operandi is kidnapping for ransom through which it raises funds. Some analysts estimate that they may have raised substantial financial support well above $50million within the last decade. AQIM derives its membership from tribes in the Maghreb, specifically Tuaregs, Moroccans and the Berabiche tribe in Mali. Its membership drive used to be concentrated to North African countries but has since been expanded to new territories such as Mauritania and West Africa. AQIM was involved in the Malian uprising.
In West Africa the Jihadists come under MUJAO which is a splinter group of AQIM. MUJAO is known by various derivative names including the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA), Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, or Jamāʿat at-tawḥīd wal-jihād fī gharb ʾafrīqqīyā.
In Nigeria, the terrorist groups Boko Haram and Ansaru have direct link to Al Qaeda, AQIM and MUJAO. Ansaru is a splinter group of Boko Haram. These groups participated in the Arab spring and fought in Algeria, Egypt, Libya and Mali. They also have sympathisers from Mauritania. Ansaru is led by a so-called Abu Usamata Al’Ansari and supported by Muhammad Mamman Nur (a Cameroonian). The outfit wjocj calls itself ‘Ansaru’ appear to have made Kano and Cameroons its headquarters. The name Ansaru or “Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan,” means Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa. They believe in fighting and sacrificing for Allah’s cause and hence its name and motto “Jihad Fi Sabilillah,” meaning it is fighting and sacrificing for Allah’s cause. Ansaru distrusts Boko Haram leadership and modus operandi which it describes as being inhuman to the Muslim Ummah. One of Ansaru’s key objectives is derived from this objections to Boko Harams method of operation and it vows to restore sanity and “the lost dignity of Muslims in black Africa”. Its main objective is to restore the Sokoto Caliphate and indeed the Islamic Caliphate to its former glories by first restoring the dignity of Islam in Nigeria and the Cameroons. The Sokoto Caliphate was originally founded in 1804 by Othman Dan Fodio. At its height of power the Caliphate included the Cameroons, Niger, Chad and other West African countries. Like the Boko Haram logo which shows the Koran with guns, the Ansaru logo also shows the Koran with guns on both sides and with the inscription “There is no deity but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger”.
In Kenya, the major terrorist group Al Shabaab (meaning “Youth”) who was credited with the Westgate mall bombing in September is also directly linked to Al Qaeda. It appears to have most sympathisers from “little Mogadishu” a suburb of Nairobi and also from Mombasa. In May 2014 it has extended its terrorist activities to public places, buses and crowded open markets. Its aim is for Kenya to withdraw its troops from Somalia. Kenya has a large population of Somali refugees and recently ordered them to refugee camps. Unfortunately this has not yielded the expected results. Successful bombing in Nyanya by Boko Haram may have informed Al Shabaab to diversify its strategy to also include disruption economic activities and create insecurity. Al Shabaab also aims to topple the Somali transitional government and replace it with an Islamic government and impose Sharia. Al Shabaab’s leadership has changed over the years. Al Shabaab’s first leader Adan Hashi (alias “Ayro”) was trained in Afghanistan by the Taliban. He was killed in 2008 in a US missile strike and was replaced by Sheikh Mukhtar Robow (alias “Abu Mansur”) who also was replaced by Moktar Ali Zubeyr (alis “Godane”). Al Shabaab’s current leader is Ibrahim Haji Jama Mee’aad (alias “al-Afghani”). It is alleged that Eritrea as well as other Arab nations provide funding for Al Shabaab. Al Shabaab also funds its terrorist activities through kidnapping for ransom.
In Central African Republic (CAR) membership of the coalition of terrorist is formed by the Seleka rebels led by General Nouredine Adam. According to Reuters, Seleka (“coalition”) initially a coalition of Muslim and Christian rebels seized power on March 24, 2013 in the Central African Republic and focused their abuses against the majority Christian population. This act set off a wave of revenge attacks, killing thousands. Seleka leaders were forced to resign under international pressure in January 2014 but Christian militias known as “anti-balaka” have emerged to retaliate and have intensified attacks against Muslims.
Who are the anti-balaka? The predominately Muslim rebels Seleka toppled the president of the Central African Republic, Francois Bozize in March 2013. Due to mass killings and abuses while they were in power a Christian self-defense militia known as ‘anti-balaka’ was created. In other words, the CAR has been divided along religious lines and attacks by one group often results to revenge attacks by the other group. The CAR terrorist activities has raised the eyebrows of Muslim Jihadists as evidenced from recent utterances of a Muslim German convert Denis Cuspert who also is involved in fighting with Syrian rebels against the Assad regime.
Denis Cuspert, the German-Ghanaian ex-rapper known as ‘Deso Dogg’ is alleged to be inciting Jihadists to expand their terrorist activities to the CAR. This link (Denis Cuspert) to Ghana in West Africa is worrying. Cusper now goes by the name Abu Talha al-Almani. Cusper is a radical new convert to Islam. He is said to have been offended with what he calls “the slaughter of Muslims in the Central African Republic by largely Christian militias”. He calls for a response from jihadist to turn their attention to the Central African Republic.
Cuspert is known to have “directly called on Boko Haram, the Islamist extremists wreaking havoc across northern Nigeria, to enter the country (Central African Republic) and “strengthen, enlarge and expand your battlefield. I call you to support the brothers and sisters who get slaughtered and humiliated in Central Africa,” he says. “They get slaughtered, raped, eaten and maimed!” Later, he calls on mujahideen in Algeria, Libya, Mali, Somalia and elsewhere to come to their defence. “My brothers and sisters, the jihad in Central Africa has now started!” (Andrew Katz, @katz).
Anti-Balaka meaning ‘anti-machete’ is an umbrella term referring to various vigilante groups currently engaged in armed resistance against Seleka rebels, in the north of the CAR. Anti-Balaka was formed during August 2013. Analysts describe them as a combination of several militia groups. Anti-Balaka derives its membership like the Muslim terrorists from youths, school children and the unemployed. The anti-balaka was reportedly formed by former President Bozizé. The aim was to fight banditry. Its membership also includes who served under Bozizé in the Central African Armed Forces (FACA).
Currently the anti-balaka militia groups include the Front for the Return to the Constitutional Order in Central Africa (FROCCA) and Association of Central African Farmers (ACF). While the FROCCA is constituted by mainly ex-army officers that are loyal to the former president, it also has members from local vigilantes fighting against continued violence by Séléka. Anti-Balaka’s headquarters is most likely in the Bora district and has strong following from Sibut. Its political wing is led by Patrice Ngassona a former Minister for Youths in the CAR. Joachin Kokate also an ex-minister under ousted president Francois Bozize is reported to tbe the military coordinator of ani-balaka.
According to Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC) “Balaka” is a Sango word for machete. “Anti-balaka” means “invincible”. Hence fighters from the group rely in addition to arms on charms. They believe that power is bestowed by the charms on whoever wears them. Most of the fighters can be seen with charms hanging from their necks.
Noting this trend for loose coalitions of Christian militants like the anti-balaka seeking revenge in the Central African Republic, it makes sense why the Nigerian federal government and North eastern states have not budged when pressed to arm local vigilantes to fight back against Boko Haram. However, vigilante groups are forming in Borno state as evidenced from the Rann and Shuwa village retaliation against Boko Haram.
In Sudan, a loose coalition of nomadic militant groups gave rise to Janjaweed (Sudan). The Janjaweed formed from the Arabic word ‘janjawid’is include three Arabic words which mean “man”, “gun” and “horse”. The Janjaweed to date have operated mostly in Darfur region in western Sudan and Eastern Chad. In the recent past particularly within the last three years we have witnessed increased activity by off-shoots of this group in Nigeria through the Fulani nomads. In Sudan, the United Nations consider that the Janjaweed comprised of Sudanese Arab tribes the Guhana (camel herder), Lambo and the Baggara (cattle herder) people. Janjaweed opposes the predominantly sedentary Darfur population and the fight is over grazing grounds and this problem is also echoed in recent multiple Fulani attacks in many parts of Nigeria including Benue, Niger, Kogi, Adamawa, Nasarawa and surrounding States in Nigeria. The attacks in Nigeria are also over grazing lands. In South Sudan they are in conflict with the Sudan People Liberation Army (SPLA) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is awash with militant groups mostly mixed in religious allegiance. Many of the militant groups in the DRC originate from the conflicts in Rwanda. They include the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) which was formed by Rwandan Hutus associated with the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The group includes soldiers from the former President Juvénal Habyarimana’s army and Interahamwe militia. They regrouped in the DRC after being defeated by Rwanda’s current President Paul Kagame’s army. The FDLR’s objective is to one day return to power in Rwanda. The UN security sources estimated the number of FDLR to be around 3,000. At one point in 2009 the size was well above twice this number. The FDLR’s armed group FOCA (Forces Combattantes Abacunguzi) is active in South Kivu.
Another militant group allied to the FDLR is led by Michel Rukunda and called the Republican Federalist Forces (FRF). This group also operates in South Kivu. The group claims to defend the interests of the Congolese ethnic Tutsis the Banyamulenge and some Mai-Mai groups. The third militant group is the Mai-Mai fighters. They believe in the use of charms and magic water to protect themselves against bullets. This is religion versus science. Their membership is formed from young men in many villages armed by elders to defend their villages. The fourth militant group in the DRC the PARECO (Congolese Resistance Patriots) or Alliance of Patriots for a Free Sovereign Congo (APCLS). These are secular militant groups formed with the objectives of gaining political power either in the DRC or in Rwanda.
The fifth militant group in the DRC is the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP). This group is led by Laurent Nkunda. Laurent Nkunda was put under house arrest by Rwanda in 2008. He was replaced by Bosco Ntaganda who also has been indicted by the ICC for war crimes. CNDP became a political party with most of its fighters joining the Congolese army. There is a remnant of CNDP which has resisted integration to the Congolese army.
The sixth militant group in the DRC the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC) is active in North Kivu. The group is led by General Gad Ngabo. This group recruits along ethnic lines and routinely crosses the Congolese and Uganda border for its operations.
The ICC has indicted a reasonable number of the war lords in the DRC for crimes against humanity and use of child soldiers. For example Germain Katanga a former commander of the Front for Patriotic Resistance in Ituri and the splinter group Popular Front for Justice in Congo (FRPI/FPJC) is on trial at the ICC. These two groups are active in south Ituri. They have been a menace to UN and government forces which are deployed in this area.
Ethnic tensions in the Enyele area of DRC led to the formation of Enyele/Independent Movement of Liberation and Allies (MILIA). The group is led by Ondjani Mangbama. Initially the fight was over fishing rights. However it is observed that tensions in this area dates back to colonial era erupting further during the Mobutu Sese Seko era. MILIA in the recent past has attacked Dongo and moved on the provincial capital Mbandaka disrupting supplies to Kisangani in the East.
Historically militia groups in Uganda are less diverse and also fewer in number than the groups in the DRC. To understand the intentions of these militia groups, historical evidence is required. Some of the not far distant armed groups in Uganda include the Holy Spirit Movement led by Alice Auma Lakwena a reactionary Acholi woman as a response to Yoweri Museveni’s rule. During the early 1990s Jamil Mukulu a Ugandan rebel founded a Muslim militant group. Jamil’s confusion and use of religion to achieve his objectives led him to convert back and forth between Islam and Catholicism. Jamil’s group later joined the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU). This group was known to have harboured supporters of Uganda’s post-independence president Milton Obote. Jamil Mukulu’s group is known to have crossed over to the DRC in the 1990s with over a thousand men. Although thought to be dormant, the group has been accused in the not far distant past of attacking the NALU/ADF training grounds near Beni.
The Acholi rebellion against President Yoweri Museveni still derives inspiration from religion. Currently Joseph Kony also an Acholi Christian leads the Lord’s Resistance Movement. Both of these warlords derived their inspirations from religion and believed they were immune to defeat and that God would fight on their behalf and give them victory over the State. The militia crossed into DRC in the mid-1990s and has remained in the Beni area of North Kivu. “Joseph Kony founded the “Holy Spirit Mobile Force 2” in northern Uganda in 1987 after a rebel group by the same name was crushed while opposing President Yoweri Museveni’s government. In 1989, Kony renamed the militia the Lord’s Resistance Army, claiming that his objective was the establishment of a Christian-inspired theocracy in Uganda”. Although the LRA moved to Southern Sudan, the 2005 peace agreement between Khartoum and South Sudan in addition to the ICC indicting Kony forced the group to move to the DRC, specifically in the Garamba National Park. Although relatively inactive as at 2014 and a shadow of itself, the group has been weakened further by dividing into small groups. Dense jungle and ease of mobility by the group on foot across the Uélés districts of north eastern Congo, the east of the Central African Republic (CAR) and parts of Southern Sudan makes it hard to isolate and eliminate the group. Time and international pressure could be the undoing of the LRA. The LRA is ruthless, uses child soldiers and forced recruitment of child soldiers. It also abducts girls as porters, wives and sex slaves just like Boko Haram. Its terror method includes mutilations, cutting of ears, lips and overt terrorism of civilians.
As ECOWAS countries converge in Paris to agree on a unified response to Boko Haram in West Africa, there should be realisation that the insurgency has spread beyond West Africa. Hence an AU response should be pursued as well by African leaders. The trend towards sectarian militia Muslim and Christian groups is dangerous to say the least. This trend needs to be arrested before it degenerates to levels that cannot be contained other than an African regional war. Some may even venture to warn that is an alarmist statement. However events on ground in Nigeria, Cameroons, Chad, Niger, Algeria, Egypt, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Uganda and Somalia show that the circle and web of terror is being closed by terrorists. This web of terror is from North Africa to West Africa and from West Africa to Central Africa and from Central Africa to East Africa and back to North Africa. This web and circle of terror needs to be broken. Only a unified response can achieve this.
Part III of this discuss will address deterrents and how break the web and circle of terror.
By Prof Johnson I Agbinya
Writes from Melbourne