The growing threat of jihadist terrorism in Africa was underscored this past weekend with a suspected Islamist attack on the village of Chicuaia Velha in northern Mozambique. The attackers hacked at innocent villagers with machetes and burned houses down as they went. When it was all over, they had killed a total of twelve people and forced many more to flee northward across the Tanzanian border. The majority-Muslim northern province of Cabo Delgado, where the attack took place, has experienced several Islamist attacks of this kind over the course of the past year, with three in just the past month.
The group responsible for the past year’s increase in terrorism, and the likely perpetrator’s of this past weekend’s attack, is known by locals and officials as “Al-Shabaab.” They have no known connection to the Somali Al-Qaeda offshoot of the same name, but it is not unlikely that they have been in communication with them or other terrorist groups. The Somali Al-Shabaab, for instance, is known to have played a central role in the formation and training of the Nigerian jihadist organization Boko Haram – a group that has critically destabilized Nigeria’s northern regions and carried out numerous attacks throughout the country.
It is crucial to think of the attacks in Mozambique in a continent-wide and global context. The problem of jihadism should be viewed primarily as a singular phenomenon, containing organizations and individuals who have some particular differences but roughly the same ideology, as opposed to focusing on each individual group as entirely different entities. This is not to say that the specific differences between these groups do not matter. They can matter a great deal. It is just that framing the crux of the issue as a broad phenomenon of global and continental jihad gives counterterrorism officials a stronger base understanding to work outwards from. And thus, it allows them to develop more effective strategies in getting to the root motivations driving the specific groups their countries are dealing with.
Applying this framework to the attack in Mozambique reveals the need to counter the terrorist presence there in addition to the other African nations who are facing Islamist terrorism threats.
The threat posed by Islamist extremism in Africa is on the rise, and these countries cannot adequately defend their citizens without the military training, weapons, and intelligence sharing provided by the United States. Currently, we provide a generous amount of support to African countries. But we could certainly do more, and it is crucial that we at least maintain the present level. Despite this reality, unfortunately, the Trump Administration has chosen to scale back on aid to Africa in favor of a greater focus on combating the rise of China.
It makes sense for American foreign policy to prioritize fending off the one country on Earth that challenges our hegemony, but there is compelling reason to believe that it would be unwise for us to turn our backs to the situation in Africa. By providing the direct aid that African countries like Mozambique desperately need, President Trump would not only increase our diplomatic capital, but he would also serve our own national security interests. Ensuring that terrorist organizations don’t gain a strong foothold in vulnerable countries allows us to prevent their attempts at establishing safe havens to plan attacks on American soil.
This strategy would also strike hard at the morale of Al-Shabaab and other terrorist groups throughout Africa. They would be forced to operate with the knowledge that once they attain a certain level of clout, the Americans will take the necessary steps to disempower them as much as possible.
Continuing to provide substantial aid to Africa will also conveniently play into the Trump Administration’s main focus on countering an ambitious China. The Chinese have been steadily increasing their presence in Africa, both economically and militarily, and the United States must provide these countries with an alternative if we are to maintain the current influence we have there.
The case of Mozambique is just one example of the larger, pressing issue: a growing extremist terrorist threat throughout the African continent. It is critical that the United States give the necessary support to those on the ground who are fighting back – for the continent’s safety and for our own.