Dilemma of Combating Terrorism in Eastern Africa

To combat any issue in the realm of human affairs, it is often prudent to search for its roots. Having a proper understanding of what causes terrorism is paramount in addressing and defeating it. This post looks at some plausible causes of terrorism and evaluates the strategies that have been used so far.

This posts holds that terrorism may be caused by myriad of issues. In eastern Africa, it may be caused by historical marginalization of particular social groups from resource sharing and decisions making relating thereto. In other words, it may be caused by a disgruntlement over what the marginalized groups perceive to be denial of a greater role in their destiny.

These groups often feel as though they are in the fringes of public policy decision making. They feel as though their opinions over their lives are being drowned out by those whose power is greater than theirs. At such points do such groups feel that they need to exert some form,of pressure until their political objectives are met. Therefore this post looks to terrorism as a virulent and violent form of protest at some perceived injustice.

Admittedly, not all forms of terrorism fall under this category. Like soldiers of fortune who profiteer from war mongering, there are those bellicose and avaricious individuals that look to terror as a means of livelihood; professional terrorists if you may. However these individuals are in the minority in the bigger global terrorism scale.

Terrorism should be viewed through the view of evolving warfare. The world is experiencing less and less of direct military conflict. This means that non-conventional warfare has taken center stage and must be viewed as a reality in international politics. Cases of terror attacks have been on the rise and appear to be accelerating, especially in eastern Africa.

As a means of warfare, it is often adopted in situations of acute imbalance of military power. This is where one party to the conflict is outnumbered and outgunned by another or other parties to the conflict. It aims to heap pressure on the stronger party to make concessions in favor of the weaker party by targeting non-military/soft targets such as civilians. The logic is, no government – as party to a conflict – will countenance the decimation of its population and thus it is hoped, by the terrorists, that the government will yield ground. But does it work? In other words how have eastern African governments responded to terrorism in the regions?

One thing is apparent in the regional, there is no clear strategy of tackling terrorism in the region. However Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia have all responded in a similar manner to terrorism threats. They have all engaged Somali terrorist groups militarily in Somali with mixed results. On the one hand, Somali based terror groups such as al-Shabaab have been routed out of key towns such as Mogadishu but at the same time terror attacks have increased.

Therefore, how can we reconcile military achievement on the battle field and contemporaneous terror attacks? Is the military option a viable stand-alone strategy against terrorism? Should governments consider negotiating with such groups?

First, a stand-alone military option is not viable. In fact it may play into the hands of the terrorists more than eradicate them as it has the effect of legitimizing their claim in the eyes of would be sympathizers. In this post, it has been suggested that terrorism is a tool often used by political groups that perceive they are marginalized and thus spin their propaganda in this way. Therefore, if the military option is used exclusively, it gives these terror groups propaganda ammunition for recruitment which means a rise in radicalization.

Secondly, negotiating with the terrorist is also not viable. Negotiating with such group would also give them legitimacy and will validate their violence means for political ends. It will also encourage other groups to use the same means as a political bargaining tool which would be detrimental to national security.

So what would be the solution? This post suggests that terrorism cannot be defeated by force alone. There needs to be a comprehensive anti-terrorism policy that looks into nabbing terrorists but also addresses the root causes of discontent that would lead new recruits to join the ranks of terrorist groups. This dual approach could prove effective in addressing terrorism for long term peace and security in the region.

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