Coastal West Africa: Newest Target in the War on Terror?

Burkina Faso’s “Man-Made” Conflict Spreading to Togo

West Africa, with the G5 Sahel Countries (who have been working with France to fight groups they’ve identitfied as terrorists) of Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad. Togo, one of the smallest countries on the continent with around 14 percent of its population being Muslim, is to the south of Burkina Faso.

The Togolese army has admitted to mistakenly killing seven youngsters (reportedly aged 14-18 years-old) who were returning home from from Eid al-Adha celebrations on July 10 in the village of Margba.

Here’s what the military said:

“This tragedy occurred against a backdrop of consistent intelligence reports of threats of infiltration by armed gangs with intention of carrying out terrorist attacks against localities in the northern part of Togo…Given the imminent danger, and determined to ward off any hostile action that might endanger the population, the command of Koundjoare Operation reinforced the surveillance and control of the area by land and air. It was during these operations that an aircraft on night patrol mistakenly targeted a group of people it mistook for a column of moving jihadists.

This operation was part of larger Togolese efforts to suppress any movements or potential movements from armed groups coming from Burkina Faso.”

I suppose we could say that they at least gave an admission, which is not necessarily common practice for militaries.

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What is still not known:

How will the Togolese now help these children’s families? What’s to ensure that this won’t happen again? Although it’s not certain whether the Togolese children were killed by drones, Togo and other African countries that fear growing threats from militant groups are investing in more drones, increasingly from Turkey. Given the high risk for civilian fatalities from drones, how will they ensure that civilians will not be harmed?

What has become of this wider region is a tragedy. Ravaged by colonialism; and then the continued imperial efforts that undermine and destroy any hope for building a strong society; led by corrupt leaders who are willing to bow down to colonial masters. It seems as though everyday folk don’t stand much of a chance.

This is why it’s important to keep talking about all of this. After all, it is a region that is home to many of our bothers and sisters.

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Violence Spilling Over

We’ve covered the West’s involvement in the Sahel region previously—particularly in relation to Mali and Niger. Now we see that the problem is spilling over into other countries too, like Togo.

Back in May, eight Togolese soldiers were killed in what the government deemed a “terrorist attack,” one that could be the first of its kind, with the violence essentially spilling over from Burkina Faso.

On Tuesday, at least 15 soldiers were killed in northern Burkina Faso due to two landmine blasts (the second group being a rescue team coming to help the others).

This was apparently one day after an attack that killed six civilians and “four security auxiliaries.” The government claims that 40 percent of the country is outside of their control.

A week prior, there was another incident in which soldier and security auxiliaries died.

Honestly it’s difficult to keep track.

The War on Terror in Africa: Beginnings

What makes this tragedy so outrageous is that, to a certain extent, this conflict has been made to order.

According to Brown University’s Cost of War project, Burkina Faso was assessed as being under a relatively low threat for such violence as of 2009.

But they claim this changed when “the United States laid the groundwork for increased militarism in the region…[by]…providing security assistance to the country in 2009.” As the article notes, the situation is now out of control, and civilians are caught in the crossfire:

In the early 2000s, U.S. strategists justified counterterrorism assistance in the relatively peaceful Sahel by warning that a radical group in Algeria with links to Al-Qaeda could spread throughout the region. Today, Burkina Faso is enveloped in an escalating conflict in which government forces, militant groups, and state-backed informal militias all terrorize civilians. In 2020, there were at least 1,000 attacks, massacres, and other violent incidents linked to militant Islamist groups across the portion of the Sahel that spans Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger – a sevenfold increase since 2017. Rather than addressing the root causes of this violence – including poverty, lack of development, and anger at government, corrupt elites and neocolonial activities by Western nations – Burkina Faso’s government has militarily targeted the Fulani, whose members it accuses of being or supporting terrorists. The Fulani are semi-nomadic herders who live across West and North Africa and who have, since long before the colonial era, practiced Islam and sent their children to Koranic schools.” (Savell, 3)

What the article asserts is that in buying into the War on Terror, the local government has overlooked the fundamental problems that create local instability. As we all know, basic grievances such as poverty tend to cause people to resort to desperate measures in order to survive and provide.

It is worth quoting Brown’s Cost of War project at length here; I’ll bold the key parts:

Since Burkina Faso entered the U.S. government’s Trans Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP) more than a decade ago, the Burkinabe state has acted on the premise that waging a ‘war on terrorism’ is the best, and indeed the only, way to respond to Islamist militant violence. It has carried out this war with U.S., European, and other foreign resources and based it around a U.S.-sponsored logic centered on capturing or killing those identified as “terrorists” and conducting military operations in spaces that could potentially harbor militants. This approach is not self-evident; militant violence need not be treated as a problem to be battled with a domestic war. In fact, historical research shows that governments have been more effective in curtailing such violence when they deal with the social and political sources of people’s grievances. Sahel analysts argue the region’s conflict is rooted in domestic political crisis, so identifying the problem as one of terrorism is a fundamentally flawed presumption. Yet Burkina Faso has adopted the framework of counterterrorism, and in doing so has targeted and abused a minority group, the Fulani, as well as justified undemocratic governance.” (Savell, 19)

The article makes it clear that without US funding, Burkina Faso’s response to local problems would be far less militarized.

Readers of the Muslim Skeptic who have been following our articles on Africa—and surely others as well—will be aware of the colonial nature of the West’s involvement within the continent. They may try to conceal it by say, placing the headquarters of AFRICOM in Europe, but it is evident nonetheless.

Around half of Africa is Muslim. Imagine if this resource-rich continent—one that the world fights for—were controlled by level-headed leaders who had a genuine interest in the betterment of the population at-large. They could be a powerhouse.

For now, the US, Russia, and China vie for power and influence over it. France struts around, cutting deals like a mafioso and warring around with the best of them.

More here (twitter post above here)

Is the War on Terror Spreading?

In April, following up on the 2019 Global Fragility Act (GFA), the US announced which countries would receive aid. Along with Libya, Mozambique, Haiti, and Papua New Guinea, this includes Coastal West Africa: Togo, Benin (significant Muslim minority), Ghana (significant Muslim minority), the Ivory Coast (around 44% Christian, 37% Muslim), and Guinea (around 89% Muslim).

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The GFA is supposed to strengthen relations between the US and target countries through providing country-specific aid, solutions that will help provide stability, and long-term solutions to fundamental problems on the ground.

That sounds great and all, but of course we have to hope it happens as cleanly as promised and that it actually gets to the root of the problems within these countries. However, we’ve discussed the dangers of outside help before.

Here’s what the US has said about it’s general intentions for the GFA; let’s bold the most questionable parts:

“This bill directs the Department of State to establish the interagency Global Fragility Initiative to stabilize conflict-affected areas and prevent violence globally, and establishes funds to support such efforts.

The State Department shall devise a plan for the initiative, including its organizational structure and goals. The State Department shall lead in foreign policy, diplomatic, and political efforts. The U.S. Agency for International Development shall lead in development, humanitarian, and non-security policies. Other departments and agencies, including the Department of Defense, shall provide support as necessary.

The State Department shall select priority countries and regions that are particularly at risk, and report to Congress 10-year plans for each. Each plan shall include information including descriptions of goals, plans for reaching such goals, and benchmarks for measuring progress.

The State Department shall report to Congress every two years about the initiative’s progress. The Government Accountability Office shall consult Congress every two years about opportunities to assess the initiative and recommend improvements.

The bill creates the Stabilization and Prevention Fund to support efforts to stabilize conflict-affected areas, including areas at risk from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or other terrorist organizations.

The bill establishes the Complex Crises Fund to support programs to address emerging, unforeseen, or complex challenges abroad.”

What types of challenges can be defined as “complex”?

Along with what are deemed as terrorist threats, will the Department of Defense also be involving itself in those “complex challenges”?

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if this actually helps nations like Togo, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you. Perhaps this is just another way for the US to wield control, even if some of those involved have good intentions.

It is reported that Togo will receive around two billion dollars over ten years as part of the GFA.

Let’s take another look at that map.

Coastal West Africa is essentially the area neighboring the Sahel, the heart of the War on Terror in Africa.

Just consider the kinds of resources these countries have: natural gas; sweet crude oil; iron ore; gold; petroleum.

Now that Togo witnesses violence starting to spill from the Sahel into their country, we must ask ourselves if this too ultimately plays to the advantage of the US.

News on Africa often goes under the radar, but it really shouldn’t—especially for Muslims. Along being host to a large number of Muslims and a rich Islamic history, it’s also a place from which resources are used by virtually all of us. It’s a place that has persistently had to struggle to free itself from outside occupiers who take what they can and leave behind more than a mess. They leave behind desperation.

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