(Asamnew D. Gizaw)

ISIL represents the greatest terror of our time. It can also be a grand threat to countries that are located in the potentially volatile region of the Horn of Africa. The region, which has recently shown positive developments in economic and security spheres, can relapse into civil war and interstate conflicts if radical elements in the region forge alliance with the super terror group of ISIL. Current situations of al-Shabab’s distress as a result of African Union forces and financial constraints, inter alia, can lead to al-Shabab and ISIL’s marriage in their quest of establishing Islamic Caliphate in the region. Religious, economic, and political grievances in the countries of the Horn of Africa, which of course have been swept under the carpet, have the potential to propel the countries into a total chaos.

The unusually heavy presence of American and local security forces in Kenya and Ethiopia for President Obama’s visit gave the clear message that al-Shabab or terror is still present in east Africa. A map that ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) once released made Ethiopia part of its caliphate together with Kenya, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia, among others, to form the Habesha Emirate.

In light of the proliferation of suicide bomb attacks and the gunning down of innocent civilians, it seems that no country can proclaim itself to be immune from ISIL attacks. Reports of people from Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan joining ISIL, the suicide bombings and gunning down of innocent civilians here and there, should serve as a wake-up call to countries of the Horn of Africa.

It is a region with multitude of ethnicity, plurality of religions, unresolved and ongoing conflicts, and wider displeasure with the state of good governance, human rights, and democracy. The region has witnessed decades of violent conflicts, both interstate and intrastate, and has barely healed itself from the aftermath. Terrorism can propel it into a total chaos. The region might be the next and potentially ideal for duplicating ISIL’s achievement in Iraq and Syria.Photo - Islamic State executions

Somalia has been the home of al-Shaba, a terror group affiliated with al-Qaeda. The group has sustained heavy loss of territories, fighters and finances over the last six years. Nevertheless, it has resorted to carrying out isolated heinous attacks against innocent civilians in neighboring countries of Kenya and Uganda. Despite the fact that its number of fighters has been halved by operations of African Union forces, al-Shabab can still rebound and reorganize itself for a conventional warfare.

Both ISIL and al-Shaba have allegedly common enemies, the US and its allies. Both terror groups have the ultimate goal of establishing a state that is going to be ruled by fundamental expression of Sunni Islam. These factors, together with its constraint of finances, might drive al-Shabab towards ISIL. This will bring ISIL right to the Horn of Africa. Cash and fighters flow from ISIL will have the potential of destabilizing the volatile region of the Horn of Africa.

Libya can also be a springboard for ISIL, especially if current efforts of the UN fail to bring agreement between the two rival governments in Tripoli and Tobruk. ISIL will find the safe haven to project its expansion and attacks in the region. The availability of light and heavy weapons compounded by a divided country will make Libya a threat to the rest of Africa. If Libya is engulfed by the expansion, ISIL will try to move down to Chad and the Sudans. This will again bring the super terror group right to the Horn of Africa.

Chad has a strong army well-trained by the French and the Americans. The army spearheaded the operation against Boko Haram that greatly diluted the strength of the terror group. If ISIL assumes dominance in Libya, Chad’s army will be the next to take up in a fight. Although an open war with Chadian army might be difficult for ISIL, suicide bomb attacks might be probable in light of the unconventional tactics of the terror group. ISIL might try to instill instability in the country where about 53% of the population is Muslim, by playing with the government ban on women not to wear the Islamic full-face veil (burqa) after suicide attacks in the country’s capital on June 15, 2015 which claimed 38 lives. United States’ State Department in 2012 reported a slow but steady increment of membership in Wahhabist or Salafist associations in the country.

ISIL has the ambition of scraping the boundaries among Libya, Egypt and Sudan and hence establishing the North African branch of the caliphate. Its plan seems difficult taking into account Egypt’s formidable army. However, if ISIL by any means gets stronghold in Sudan where there are radical elements which approve actions of ISIL, it will be a grand threat to the security of the Horn of Africa. President Al Bashir has on a number of occasions confirmed that ISIL and Boko Harm as serious threats to his country.

The other threat might be from within the countries themselves when ISIL succeeds in winning over sympathizers and subscribers. For example, Kenya’s handling of terrorism that antagonizes the Muslim population in the country might drive Muslims to join terror groups. The heavy handedness of Ethiopia in jailing alleged Muslim terrorists who allegedly propagated the idea of establishing Islamic state in the country can also have a contrary effect. In these cases, suicide bomb attacks and gunning down of innocent people cannot be ruled out.

What can be done?

An immediate solution is bolstering and enhancing the security apparatus of the countries. Gathering and interpreting intelligence on activities of the terror groups deserves due consideration. In this regard cooperative arrangement among the countries’ intelligence services should be nurtured.

Ethiopia and Kenya must use their influence in the African Union (AU) to make the continental organization tackle terrorism within the continent. Consequently, AU can ramp up its efforts of dismantling al-Shabab from Somalia thereby doing away with a threat to countries in the Horn.

The seemingly distant threat in Libya can also be dealt with through the AU. AU must play its part in bringing agreement between the two rival governments of Libya by including the different rival factions in the country. If Libya can have a unity government, then it is possible to deal with ISIL and its affiliates in the country. AU might even consider sending Special Forces from member states.

Regarding threats from within, a way of preventing ISIL brainwashing propaganda must be found. An awareness raising education must be given by Islamic religious institutions. It should be underlined that the Islamic State is anti-Islam in that the terror groups’ deeds are not sanctioned by Islam.

Another point is addressing real or perceived discrimination (to the followers of Islam) based on religion and other grounds like economic and political power. Such real or perceived discrimination might compel people of the faith to sympathize with or join ISIL. So respect for freedom of religion is an important part of the solution.


Guest Author

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