Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab: Implications for the West and Africa
Since African countries gained independence, most African countries have failed to establish effective government institutions to provide better services of their citizens. Many African countries have faced a number of serious challenges, including poverty, mismanagement, underdevelopment, conflicts and corruption. Structural problems of Africa such as wars and conflicts have damaged political and economic growth in Africa. After 2000, a new social and political transformation has emerged in African societies. The new radical organizations have began to play more active role in shaping political, economic and foreign policies of the African governments. The emergence of the new radical organizations has also posed new threats for the African countries and the strategic interests of the West. Particularly, the Boko Haram in Nigeria and al-Shabaab in Somalia have become growing organizations since 2000.
Nigeria and Somalia are the two important countries in the region of the Sub-Saharan Africa. While Nigeria is a strategic country producing oil, Somalia is a gateway for the Red Sea and the Arabic Peninsula. Both countries are of high importance of the strategic interests of the West. Since African countries gained independence, the international actors have not lost their interest in the strategic countries of Africa, such as Nigeria and Somalia. Though Nigeria and Somalia have significant natural resources, they have faced significant challenges, such as poverty, mismanagement, military coups, and the activities of the radical organizations. The attacks and policies of Boko Haram in Nigeria and al-Shabaab in Somalia not only threaten peace and security in these countries, but also posed new threats and challenges for the West.
The first and the most important threat for the West emerged by Boko Haram and al-Shabaab is that they have threatened economic interests of the Western companies in African countries. The second threat is that the radical organizations have rejected the legitimacy of the governments and attacked the official buildings of the government. However, the West has provided economic, political and military support for the governments of Somalia and Nigeria to keep the friendly regimes in power. The collapse of the friendly regimes in power would create a number of significant new threats and challenges for the Western powers. The third threat is that radical organizations also damage strategic collaboration between the neighboring countries. It is necessary to increase economic relations among the neighboring countries to eliminate poverty and underdevelopment. The structural problems of Africa, including poverty, corruption, mismanagement, and underdevelopment have led to the emergence of social divisions and the marginalization of the society. Changing new security dynamics in Africa after the 9/11 attacks have also contributed to the increasing power of the radical organizations in Nigeria and Somalia.
There have been internal, regional and international dynamics forcing the group of al-Shabaab. More significantly, internal divisions, long-standing war and conflicts, clan conflicts and poverty are the most important reason for the increasing power of the Al-Shabaab in Somalia. In addition, the intervention of outside actors in the internal affairs of Somalia and neo-colonial policies of the Western powers towards Somalia are making contribution to the growing of the al-Shabaab in the region. The failure of an effective central government has become one of the most important factors behind the emergence of al-Shabaab.
It can be argued that internal dynamics are the most important factors forcing the activities of Boko Haram in Nigeria. Economic development, creation of job opportunities and development of infrastructure in Nigeria and Somalia can be a strategic solution to eliminate the radical organizations. Without solving internal challenges in Africa, the violent attacks of the radical organizations in Nigeria and Somalia would not have been stopped and they would continue to gain their legitimacy in the society. It can be said that poverty, corruption, underdevelopment are the most important factors creating and strengthening the radical organizations in Africa. Furthermore, the oppressive policies of the former colonial powers in Africa paved the way for the destabilization of political and economic stability in most African countries. The legacy of colonialism is still fresh and being a huge dynamics on the birth of radical organizations. For instance, Britain, Italy and France were actively involved in political affairs of Somalia and established their own political and economic systems in the country and created a complicated political system in Somalia. The complexity of the colonial administration in African countries created in the 19th and the 20th centuries has also continued to destroy relations between the African countries.
The both radical organizations have shaped their identity according to the social, economic, political and religious structure of their countries. The main aim of the Boko Haram and al-Shabaab is not to support Islam or to spread over the religions. The aims are especially political not religious motivation. The radical organizations have a strong intention to exploit the religions to recruit the supporters and to gain legitimacy through the exploitation of the religions. Therefore, the both groups do not have Islamic identity. The both groups fight against the governments and aim to topple the existing governments and establish a new state. There has been a struggle for power among the different powers or tribes in Nigeria and Somalia to gain control over the state and benefit more from the strategic resources of the states.
There have been questions in analyzing the activities of these radical groups in the West. Biased analyzes and comments on the radical organizations in Africa made mostly by the Western thin tanks and scholars have reduced the credibility of the academic analyses in the West. The West needs to understand the origins of the radical groups and the internal dynamics of these countries. The definitions of the West on the radical organizations include prejudices. For instance, the most Western think tanks and scholars have used the definitions of “militant Islam”, “Islamic Terror”, and Islamic Terrorist Organizations” to depict the groups of Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab. Especially, the 9/11 attacks on the US have brought significant changes in African politics. After the attacks, many African countries have adopted security-oriented foreign and security policies as a result of the pressure of the US and the UN and the number of the academic publications including the biased comments and analyses regarding the religion of Islam has begun to increase. These prejudiced approaches have weakened the credibility of the Western scholarship in the world. It should be noted that terrorist organizations do not have any religious identity and they only carry out their missions through violence to reach their aims.