Why jihadists are thriving in West Africa?3 min read

Why jihadists are thriving in West Africa?


West Africa has a growing jihadist problem and here’s been a surge in violent. While the region has seen violence like this for years recently things have taken a turn for the worse. Groups with links to al-Qaeda in the Islamic state have been waging, larger more sophisticated attacks and are expanding into new territory. By all accounts they’re thriving making West Africa the new front in the fight against Islamic extremism. The situation is so bad the UN has warned of an impending disaster. To understand how jihadist groups first appeared in West Africa, we have to look back at two historical events. The first is the Algerian Civil War, in 1992 the military staged a coup in order to prevent the Islamist party from winning in a national election launching the country into a brutal conflict. Eventually Islamist fighters fled the country seeking refuge in the deserted areas of northern Mali there they began to rebuild engaging in criminal activity and aligned with local rebel groups. The other significant event is the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya in 2011. Gaddafi’s regime had been a big benefactor of northern Mali where the population felt neglected by the Malian government in the south and the pastoral economy had been decimated by drought.

So when Gaddafi’s regime collapsed, northern Mali lost its main economic backer and at the same time fighters and weapons from Libya flowed into the region. Both of these events gave rise to what happened next. In March a month-long military coup created a power vacuum that allowed rebels to capture large areas in the north of Mali that rebellion has since been hijacked by Islamist militants. The French military intervened and reclaimed the north from jihadists in a matter of days but they didn’t defeat them.
In Burkina Faso alone half a million people are currently displaced and the recent surge of violence is forcing thousands more to flee their homes. And while some of these groups have adopted the branding of international terrorist organizations like the Islamic state or al-Qaeda, they’re still extremely local organizations. That’s actually part of the reason why these groups have been so successful.

They thrive in areas where there is either a weak government or no government at all which allows local conflicts to arise which they can then exploit. In some cases they provide protection and social services to these marginalized communities gaining their support and in turn allowing them to spread their ideology. But there’s another reason to climate change. 70% of West Africa’s population depend on agriculture and livestock for a living. Persistent droughts have threatened that way of life and so militancy is one answer for a lot of young men. Another reason these groups have gained a foothold in the region is because the militaries in Mali and Niger and Burkina Faso are weak and that weakness has a long history of power tussle between civilian and military.

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