Our main contributor, in this summer issue of Africa Update, is Dr. Aliou Sow, Maitre de Conferences of African and Postcolonial Studies at Cheikh Anta Diop University, Dakar, Senegal. Dr. Sow is a Former Minister, Mayor and Member of Parliament. He has also been Chair of
The National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee of the Republic of Senegal.
Dr. Sow points to the disintegration of post-Gadaffi Libya, economic disenchantment on the part of the youth- seeking what they hope would be greener pastures across the Mediterranean - and the manipulation of immature minds by hard core terrorist operatives. His recommendations includehumanitarian intervention, at the individual and local levels, through mentoring programs, as well as expanded educational and vocational training programs.
This is an abridged version of the original article. We thank Dr. Sow for sharing his insights.
Professor Gloria Emeagwali
Chief Editor, Africa Update
"African Youth and Terrorism: Political Perspectives and Solutions"
Cheikh Anta Diop University (UCAD)
Between 2015 and 2016, about 250 people have been killed in France during terrorist attacks. The overwhelming majority of the terrorists are of African origin including the Maghreb, even though most of them are French citizens. Young Africans rush to Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Northern Mali, etc. to wage war against those who are described as pagans, infidels, enemies or miscreants by the Jihadists and other Salafists. They join ISIS troops, Boko Haram, Shibab, or Al Qaeda, to name but a few of these rebellious groups. The reasons, conditions and purpose behind those mass enrolments, this contribution intends to analyze. The troubled African youth appear to be the weakest puppets for bloody mass killing strategists.
In contemporary Africa, instead of being perceived as the key solution to complex problems and new challenges, the youth are generally represented as sources of problems, if not the main problem itself. The consequences of such political and socio-economic approaches cannot but lead to the weakening of the whole system when it comes to addressing the challenges of postcolonial African states.
Though Africa is an attractive continent with huge potential, it does not gain enough profit from its assets.. This is what Professor Emmanuel Nnadozie sums up when he reminds us that ‘The continent has huge domestic resource potentials but requires capacity to tap it fully’ . In fact, these capacities are to be built by the younger generation. It is the youth that will resolve Africa’s problems. This is what Abdoulaye Wade promoted in his political writings when he claimed that « La disponibilité de notre jeunesse a plus de valeur que les milliards de l’étranger. », before linking the close relations between the future of a nation to the quality of its youth. As he pointed out « Dis-moi quelle jeunesse tu as, je te dirai quel peuple tu seras. » ’ . Even though Wade has always been an acknowledged committed youth promoter, the unconscious use of the possessive pronoun ‘notre’, ‘our’, is telling enough to inform about the extent to which African leaders consider the youth, be they good or bad, as being a human tool at their own disposal for any of their purposes.
In this paper, the concept of African youth concerns young Africans (maximum age of 35 years) living in Africa or of African origin and descent, whether living out of Africa, holding multiple citizenships, or not, and being Muslim or not. In short, the extension of the concept covers broadly and in a rule-of-thumb manner, young people with a direct or indirect link in terms of origin, with Africa. But the emphasis will be mainly put on victims of inappropriate social integration or victims of cultural exclusion or discrimination.As a result, the focus will be put on how young African people in rural, suburban and urban areas behave to satisfy their legitimate aspirations.
The impact of extremist and xenophobic speeches on the socially excluded youths and better-off ones who feel frustrated by the numerous injustices they are exposed to in the West, particularly in France, and the role of local and national leaders and the international community in dealing with such challenges will also be overtly and covertly addressed.
The African Youth’s State of Mind and the Perceptions of Islam
The youth are mainly victims of political exclusion in Africa. They are considered to be the big problem and not the key solution, by their own respective governments. Out of the continent, especially in the West, they are rather seen more as threats than as partners who can promote mutual interests. Many polls reveal that there are more Muslims that understand and tolerate the West and their culture and beliefs, than the other way around.
Africa has specifically become a new target for many violent religious and neocolonial attempts at domination. This reality is a global part of the postcolonial situation. It is described by Ramon Grosfoguel as follows:
‘One of the most powerful myths of the twentieth century was the notion that the elimination of colonial administration amounted to the decolonization of the world. This led to the myth of a ‘postcolonial’ world. The heterogeneous and multiple global structures put in place over a period of 450 years did not evaporate with the juridical-political decolonization of the periphery over the past 50 years. We continue to live under the same ‘colonial power matrix’. With juridical-political decolonization we moved from a period of ‘global colonialism’ to the current period of ‘global coloniality’.
Among the new challenges, one must consider seriously the population increases in Africa, in comparison with the rest of the world. By 2030 the world population will increase by 15% (rising from 7 à 8,5 billions). About one billion of them will be living out of their native countries while the current immigration population will still be 200 million. It is important to underline that 60 % of the world population will be concentrated in African and Asian cities.. . If we take into account the importance of annual money transfers from African migrants, most of whom are young, we will conclude that one of the main motivations to live abroad is economic. Running far away from poverty or undemocratic ruling systems is indeed a means to seek luxury, quick social success and prestige. The quest for prestige or social revenge against those who seem to have unfairly acquired the control of national resources and the key command to success make the weak-minded youth easy prey for building criminal or terrorist networks (drugs sellers, human traffickers, prostitutes, robbers, etc.).
The consequences of climate change on agriculture and many other economic sectors in sub-Saharan African countries, the re-emergence of dictatorial regimes in the Horn of Africa and the Maghreb, the highly exacting rules and norms of migration systems within Africa and even in countries which belong to the same regional or sub-regional organizations , prompt many a young African to take all types of risk to make it through in life or join any underground organized force.
Worldwide, immigrants transfer at least 500 billion dollars per year to their home countries. The world GDP without the criminal economy (5 to 20 % of the world economy, meaning 1. 800 billions US dollars in the lowest hypothesis) is about 70 trillion US dollars, i.e. 10. 000 US dollars per inhabitant of the world while one billion people are living under extreme poverty. These figures reveal first and foremost the capacity of the informal, criminal and terrorist economies and networks in terms of enrolment of youths after having plainly brainwashed them as the weakest social links. The failure of the formal economy to host the youth, leads the latter also to explore and test any opportunity.
Parts of those failures are mainly due to those leaders in postcolonial African states, who keep the continent in poverty despite its very important resources and potential, as Parselelo Kantai warns. According to Kantai, over the past decades, Africa has lost, at least, $ 1 trillion in illicit financial flows, a sum far exceeding its collective debt, aid and foreign investment inflows. Kantai’s points out that:
‘The African state had been pathologised: indebted, impoverished and inherently unstable, it was the sick man of the global village, almost permanently in the isolation Ward for its capacity to self-harm. The profligacy of the continent’s Big Men was the main trigger for these suicidal tendencies. Murderously suspicious of opponents and wary of their neighbors, they typically over-spent on military equipment, anti-riot technology and torture paraphernalia. Unable to control the costs of their ballooning bureaucracies, turned as they had been into the ethnic vehicles of patronage that kept them in power, they begged, borrowed and pinched from the productive economy.’
Yet, Kantai committedly suggests some radical solutions:
« In short, they spent more than they earned in a cycle of diminishing returns, misplaced priorities and lost opportunities. And they were low on money for politics, they raided the pantry and made away with the development budget, depriving the women and the children of the most basic necessities. This was the doomed premise on which the drama of the post-colony was organized. Thus the Age of Tutelage. Sovereign nations on humanitarian aid-drips in need of salvation. Or shock therapy. Or salvation by shock therapy. »
After recommending a strong therapy as a solution, he calls for ‘saving the post-colony from itself’.
Libya and Morocco are for Black African youths the bridge between their countries and the wealthy West.For a long time, Libya’s attraction of unemployed youngsters was used by the late Ghaddafi as a tool and an opportunity to blackmail the European Union. Many a time, the Libyan leader requested from Europe a two-billion euros annual funding to better control illegal African migrations through his country, in accordance with human rights requirements. He meant to build roads through the desert to put an end to the thousands of deaths caused by illegal and uncontrolled trekking through the desert by poor youths. Instead, Ghaddafi’s regime would stimulate proper job opportunities in Libya and their countries of origin.
But today most young Africans, travelling to Europe via Libya are generally overexploited, enslaved, victims of racism if they survive being tortured or killed in prisons that show no respect for human rights.. From their respective countries to Libya or the Lampedusa coasts, Italy, via Agadez, Niger, the luckiest young trekkers can spend months and months or even years. More often than not, the surviving youths are the eye-witnesses of harsh deaths of their companions in the desert or the sea if not in Libyan prisons.
Many of these illegal migrants fell easily and very often in traps set for them by terrorist organizations waging wars against one another in Libya, since the death of Ghaddafi. As a dire consequence, the Libyan civil war n hinges on the control of natural and mineral resources and political power. In spite of the ongoing insecurity, the badly informed youths still rush to Libya in order to reach Europe. Failure to arrive at their final destination, frustrations and lack of means to fund their trip back home give them no other choice than adopting a radical posture: as a consequence they join willingly or unwillingly the terrorist groups. In these five last years, many young people from all walks of life, from peaceful , democratic Senegal, have joined terrorist groups. They spend their time using social media to call for terrorist attacks and boast of their new status as Islamist soldiers. Some are killed in the battlefield and others are reported to have joined Syria as new members of Daesh. Many of them influenced by Koranic school teachers, some of whom are in jail now, joined Boko Haram in Nigeria via Nige, r before the dismantling of recruitment networks by an efficient cooperation of French, American, Senegalese and Niger intelligence services. Many of these youths were planning terrorist attacks in their home country as other volunteers of different origins had done in Mali, Burkina Faso, Tunisia, Morocco, Côte d’Ivoire, Algeria, Somalia, Kenya, etc.
If such terrorists can emerge from the peaceful Senegalese interpretation of Islam, with its very well organized Sufi orders (muridism, tijania, khadriya, etc.), what about those countries torn between religious, ethnic conflicts, extreme poverty and dictatorial rule in West, East and North of Africa? The same question can be raised about the Horn of Africa, especially Somalia, or Eritrea where the only alternative left to people are to join by force the national army, or smuggle out themselves as illegal immigrants to any destination.
Next to those young Africans with challenging attitudes, there have been others, more conscious of their patriotic duties against terrorists. These have emerged as watchdogs for security and peace in their own countries, as young Cameroonian volunteers did against Boko Haram. In collaboration with the army’s special forces against terrorism, they organized themselves in brigades to monitor all suspicious presence or behavior in their cities or villages.
In 2016, 118,000 young Africans arrived illegally at the Italian coast along with Syrians and Iraqis forced to do so by ethnic, tribal, religious wars and other terrorist attacks. The figures were the same in 2015. In 2016 in addition to 3,100 in 2015, 3,200 illegal immigrants lost their lives at sea.
Populist, extremist, racist, xenophobic and sexist discourses, that reject Africans, Arabs and Moslems, particularly young ones, have emerged in the West.Differences no longer enrich mutually but instead generate exclusions, hatred and conflicts. In a politically incorrect approach, Donald Trump declared his total rejection of Moslems and migrants in USA, in this melting pot nation. This paved the way for him to become the Republican presidential candidate, out of seventeen other candidates, and then eventually the President elect of USA. Each of his blatant attacks against Moslem communities and illegal migrants is sustained with a vibrant round of applause and votes.
In France, when National Front party leader, Marine Le Pen links terrorism to those who ‘blacken’ her Christian white country - asserting that even if all Moslems are not terrorists all terrorists are Moslems- no native French firmly went against her. One can assume that Barack Obama’s refusal to use the term “radical Islamic terrorist” is the best position to avoid inciting peaceful citizens to violence or terrorism .
In Africa, mosques are generally full of young people. An oversimplified explanation would be that it is because they are the majority in number. Mosques, as explicated by the Islamic religion, represent also a social refuge for those who are in economic disarray. People hope to meet there their Supreme God and fulfil their expectations. Not only is it a way to Heaven, the reversed reality of their poor conditions, but a place for addressing their quest for a better life.
According to Bakary Samb , the best way to fight terrorism is prevention through education rather than intervention.
New Economic Development Strategies and Peace Building Perspectives
The highest growth rates in the world are found in Africa. Some of these data, range from 6 to 10%, (Senegal: 6.6%, Côte d’Ivoire: between 9 and 10%, Rwanda: 10%, etc.). In 2016, Africa’s general growth rate is expected to reach 3%, thus doubling the growth rate of Europe . In a sub-region like West Africa Franc CFA currency zone (UEMOA zone of eight countries), the rate for 2016 is about 6% even though most of the bulks of illegal migrants for economic reasons originate from that zone and head for Europe via Agadez (Niger) and Libya.
The challenges with which African youths are confronted are very important and originate from a set of sectors.Two of these are the fields of education and vocational training. African youths need adequate education that can make them competitive agents as well as universal citizens. That is what the Senegalese government understood by creating nationwide early-child education schools called ‘cases des tout-petits’, which are modern kindergartens based on African traditional values, and open to Western cultures. It is a pre-school system which aims at preparing good citizens who are very early skilled and capable of taking part actively and usefully in the development of their nation and continent in the foreseeable future. Both cultural and religious values are promoted in universal contexts of learning and doing, so the kids will be able to act in their youth and adult lives as universal citizens.
Along the line of this general education policy for the schoolchildren, a sub-program known as ‘Sponsor a child, an act of solidarity’ was created for role models to be godfathers or godmothers of the future leading generation.
The objectives of the program are very important in terms of peace building strategies and promotion of peacefully conscious open-minded and tolerant people. The major ambitions of the project are to promote a system of solidarity with the child from conception to the age of six, so as to create for him or her, the conditions required to facilitate good care for a better future. What is generally expected from the godfather or godmother is his or her willingness to support the biological parents, and particularly the mother for a better care of the child.
The project intends to help open a saving account for these children; improve the sanitary and nutritional state of the children from 0 to 6 years, the breast-feeding mothers and the pregnant women who have been followed and still follow the child to his registration in the early childhood school hut then in the elementary school. And for the constitution of the savings for the children, it operates according to the stages that follow:
- the opening of the account is free and is made with a five thousand CFA (10 US dollars) for the first deposit;
- the accounts are monthly fed by the godfathers or godmothers of the children, still called donors, by a minimum amount of two thousand five hundred CFA (10 US dollars), or by an annual deposit of thirty thousand CFA (60 US dollars);
- the accounts can also be fed by other people such as relatives (parents) or people of good will according to their possibility;
- the accounts open for the children are frozen for their benefit until they register at the elementary school;
- the child under whose name the account is opened can be the beneficiary, the day of his registration in the elementary school with a maximum withdrawal of sixty dollars a year in September for the preparation of the school year. The mother or the father or even the guardian can withdraw money from the same account.
In these culturally rooted modern pre-schools are run many pedagogic activities such as training community mothers ‘bajjenu gox,’ public talks, home visits, enrollment in the Registry office (civil status). Accounts are also opened for the children with the savings system, the organization of game sessions and, last but not least, the program follow-ups and evaluation.
As far as the promotion of the religious messages is concerned, instead of a crude propaganda based on the personal temper of the preachers, the Moroccan solution about the training of Imams is to be given as a good example of peace-building alternative. Not only it develops a better preaching of peace for black African countries mostly of the Sahel like Mali, but it encourages brotherhood life and that is why it must be dynamically supported by the international community and generalized all around the world. Many Muslim preachers just know by heart the Kuran, the Islamic holy book (letter perfect and sound perfect) without Arabic linguistic skills for a better and more positive understanding of the holy message.
In addition to that, many of them sometimes convey the cultural representations of non Moslems placed in ancient contexts at the beginning of Islam, and very different from the present context. Thus, they refer to them with the terms used at that time , instead of laying the emphasis on the message of tolerance and respect of religious differences. They lack also the necessary pedagogic approaches and techniques of mastering the Islamic book and its requirements, the suna rites (behaviors, reactions, answers to questions, words, etc. of the Messenger of Islam), the interpretations of the religion by the many different orders within it and the external cultural influences or even the Arab history and civilizations and the conditions of introduction, implementation, expansion and expressions of Islam in Africa before, during and after colonial cross-cultural contacts with the strategies of Christian missionaries to promote their religion. For this, the developed nations in collaboration with the United Nations Organization need to create a global funding system for such initiatives and many more of the kind.
Among a welter of realistic and urgent solutions, the world has to promote those developed by former President of the most Muslim-populated country, the archipelago of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono who thinks that tolerance-building must be the kernel of the world’s 21st-century agenda as the nation-building issues were at the top of the 20th century’s priorities. His offers revolve around four main remedies:
–to strengthen the various dialogues already taking place, such as the UN Dialogue Among Civilizations, the Saudi initiative of an Interfaith Conference, and the Global Inter-Media Dialogue (launched by Indonesia after the crisis following cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad);
- –to make political and religious figures speak out forcefully against discrimination and intolerance – which they do not do often enough;
- –to bolster the forces of moderation worldwide by teaching tolerance and moderation to children in school from a very early age as it is done in Indonesia where Muslim students in school exams are asked questions about the Christian celebration of Christmas and the Hindu tradition of Nyepi (a day of silence in Bali);
- –to ensure that the world’s civilizations can all benefit from globalization by promoting good education systems, which will put marginalized societies on an equal footing with the West in deriving the benefits of globalization so as to make the whole humanity witness the reality of all civilizations prospering together in a fair way.
Employment is also a big economic and security challenge in Africa. It requires a crucial management strategy, which starts at school with appropriate curricula, and ends up in the public sector or in private enterprises. Developed countries need to promote good governance, equity and transparency and attractiveness in investment policies to boost employment opportunities. But even if the economy makes steady progress in countries, which are not dependent on oil production and other minerals with the current low returns on the barrel since 2015, the mentality according to which wealth and success are located abroad favors risky trips. What is uncommon in the attitudes of some young people and the support of their families is the lawless use of public funds dedicated to micro credits for personal or collective projects. In many cases, economic circumstances do not dictate their choice of illegal risky migration or connection with terrorist groups.Many African governments had created public funds agencies with simplified procedures and very easy requirements to meet for getting one’s project selected. Most of these funds, instead of promoting youth self-employment, have been badly used to fund illegal migration and personal failures, some of which resulted in making the victims very weak and easy prey for terrorist organizations. Families also collect funds for the migration of the younger ones.
Africa needs to shape new citizens, who are well trained and determined to build up the nations in which their dreams can come true as poorer nations in recent years succeeded to do. This African pride is mandatory for any step forward.
By celebrating the African past and legacies, the back to basics attitudes in the cultural field and the promotion of civic, patriotic and panafricanist values can be efficient responses to young people’s mental weaknesses. With such approaches, religious tolerance and genuine values and principles and the importance of interreligious dialogue and partnership will be easily strengthened.
In the trend of the Third Black Arts World Festival organized in Dakar Senegal in December 2010 and the official opening ceremony of the African Renaissance Monument in the same year, April the 3rd was chosen as the African Renaissance Day to be celebrated every year by all nations, nevertheless since the beginning, even in Senegal it is not respected as announced.
Even the universally acknowledged New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) adopted by the African Union and backed up by all its economic and financial partners and on the behalf of which the country chairing its Orientation Committee, Senegal is convened on a regular basis to G8 and G20 summits has not resulted yet in addressing efficiently the youth plague in Africa, especially in this context of massive illegal migration flows and rise of religious extremism of all forms.
It is such types of collective failures, which stems from the lack of political willpower and commitment. Fortunately the positive economic perspectives and the continuous democratization processes should probably lead to a more peaceful and terrorist free continent.
From this reflection, it can be argued that the political and economic challenges are to be addressed very early in the citizen’s life and they must not be put aside until they have the right to vote and their ballots start interesting the politicians or when their expectations can no longer be met by public policies.
‘…Africa’s promise lies in its robust markets and hundreds of new companies, the measurably improved management and returns of its massive commodities, its growing service industries and educated consumer classes, and its rapidly improving infrastructure and sub-national governance. But the words of hopeful politicians no longer need to be trusted; the order book of bullish investors has spoken.’
As a result, whatever one may think of the terrorists’ masters and guides whose lives and convictions are based on holding and promoting by all means beliefs against what is accepted in official Islam, which attitudes can be assimilated to the definition of heresy, it is important that one refrains from endeavoring to try to explain their ethical, political and religious dictatorial violent and bloody conducts as mere results of their ignorance of what pure and original Islam.
The strategies of the terrorists and their capacity of recruitment, enrolment and brainwashing of psychologically weak young people stand far beyond are beyond all those oversimplifications of their struggles crowned with bloody successes.
African youth and today’s challenges are all the more about terrorism as economy and security are so intermingled that one cannot tell the one from the other.
Good education and creation of long lasting job opportunities are remedies on which any national policy or partnership between the developed countries and Africa must put the focus as top priorities. It is the best and most efficient way to build a safer and a better world of peace, security and self-fulfillment. As the saying goes with Bob Marley, ‘A hungry mob is an angry mob’ . The latter can easily be violent and impatient for every single expectation and can easily become easy targets for any force or organization. Terrorists are aware of such a situation. Prone to making the worst of a social or economic evil and knowing that identity exclusion leads to social explosion, they exploit all modern failures in community integration to gain ground and sow the seeds of hatred, threats, revolts, revolutions and wars all around the world along a line of the opposition between believers and non-believers as they are labeled.
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