ISIL in Africa
Illegal armed groups are opportunistic by nature. They usually start their operations and recruit followers in countries where there is poverty, corruption, religious conflict or ethnic strife, and where the security forces are unable to keep the public safe and illegal formations under control.
The rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) in the Middle East was a textbook example of this trend. Since the occupation of Iraq by US forces in 2003, the region has been stuck in a vicious cycle of conflict, sectarianism and regime change. It is in the shadows of this crumbling landscape that ISIL first began to emerge, nourished by the increasing frailty and incompetency of Arab states in revolt or at war.
Over the last few years, regional and global powers, aided by non-state actors, managed to eliminate ISIL from most of Iraq and Syria. Today, ISIL does not control any major city or township in these states and many of the group’s fighters in the region are either dead, in captivity or on the run.
Despite the collapse of its so-called “caliphate” in the Middle East, and the killing of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Syria, however, ISIL remains a growing and evolving threat in other parts of the world, especially in Africa’s restive Sahel region. The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), the prodigy of ISIL there, is going from strength to strength, bolstering its membership and carrying out attacks.
There are several reasons for ISIL’s ongoing success in this vast region that runs west to east across the continent from Senegal to Sudan.
Most of the states that have territory in the Sahel are grappling with the destructive effects of climate change, poverty, food shortages, ethnic conflicts and lack of effective democratic governance. There is little opportunity for the people in the region to receive an education and find work that would allow them to sustain their families.
Moreover, they live in fear of being attacked by one of the numerous local armed groups that are active there. This is causing many to embark on perilous journeys across the Mediterranean to reach Europe’s shores and seek sanctuary there. All this creates an ample opportunity for terror groups like ISIL to expand their influence over the region.
Burkina Faso, for example, is on the verge of becoming “another Syria”, according to the UN’s food agency.
The landlocked West African country has long struggled with myriad political, economic and humanitarian problems, but terror was not a significant threat there until early 2015. Since then, however, fighters linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL have taken advantage of the government’s inability to control vast areas in its north and east to infiltrate the country.
Excerpted from: ‘ISIL is not dead, it just moved to Africa’. AlJazeera.com