Terrorism in Africa

The UN General Assembly in January 2006 (Resolution 60/43) defined terrorist acts as “criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes.”

Terrorism is a global problem. However, it tends to affect Africa the most, partly because of the continent’s insufficient military support and persistent economic hardship, which has attracted many young people to extremist groups.

Though terrorism is still a relatively recent phenomenon in Africa, the speed at which it spreads across the continent is alarming. There is no denying that things are rapidly spiralling out of control, from Boko Haram in West Africa to Al-Shabaab in East Africa to Islamic State in North Africa.

The African continent has suffered greatly from these tragedies; some analysts worry that things could worsen if immediate action is not taken.

Africa has seen increased terrorism attacks due to a lack of social cohesion, poor institutions, corruption, bad governance, and poorly functioning economies that lead to poverty and increased unemployment.

Effects of Terrorism in Africa


Terrorism is the major reason behind the increasing numbers of people being forcibly displaced from their homes and countries in Africa, particularly the eastern, northern and western regions.

In Nigeria, the notorious terrorist group Boko Haram is constantly creating terror in the country’s northeastern region, sacking villagers from their homes and plunging them into unending misery and uncertainty. The insurgency has displaced over 2 million people who have crossed international borders to neighbouring countries or relocated to other safe places within their countries of origin.

Economic crises

Terrorism is an enemy of advancement, economic growth and development, and it cripples the economy and makes Africa unattractive to potential investors.

In the east of Africa, al-Shabaab is wreaking havoc in Somalia, destabilising public institutions and damaging modern infrastructures, thereby crippling the country’s economy. Armed conflict between al-Shabaab and the Somali army – including associated human rights violations – has resulted in massive civilian displacements within and outside Somalia.

Attacks Africa’s greatest resources

Africa is blessed with many resources, but the greatest of Africa’s resources are the youths.

Terrorist groups target young people, especially impoverished communities, to recruit into their cause because they are full of energy, zest and passion; this is a direct attack on Africa’s future, engineering these youths’ great potential for massive destruction.

The brain drain of professionals

Peace and security are the bedrock of a thriving economy.  Nobody wants to be in a place where they don’t feel secure and safe.

The growing trend of terrorist attacks has resulted in the increased migration of professionals to safer climes where they can thrive.

Reduction of human per capita

Terrorism has resulted in the death of Africa’s workforce, further crippling the GDP of African countries.

In 2015, there were 381 terrorist attacks targeting civilians with 1394 fatalities, while in 2020, there were 7,108 attacks with 12,519 fatalities in Africa.

Way forward

You can’t talk about terrorism without mentioning the institutional problems of Africa.

As such, solutions to terrorism in Africa should be approached from an institutional perspective.

Part of the root cause of terrorism in Africa stems from religio-cultural institutions.

For example, Boko Haram opposes the Westernization of Nigeria, which it blames for “Nigeria’s culture of corruption”, and demands establishing an Islamic state.

That is a very tight rope to walk.

However, it is important to borrow a leaf from the book of Arab states of the Persian Gulf like UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia etc.; these states have had huge success in keeping terrorist attacks at bay while the rest of the world is on fire.

Take, for instance, UAE, a country where Islamism is the predominant religion in UAE, there is still relative freedom of religion, and terrorist attacks have had minimal success.

What policies do they have in place?

What systems are working for them?

How can they maintain relative internal peace and ward off terrorist attacks?

If sustainable peace is the goal, then it is high time we adopt the holistic approach of the UAE.

Let’s consider these holistic approaches:

Promoting Inclusion and Compassion

The UAE is at the forefront of initiatives to spread Islam’s values of inclusivity and compassion while combating the causes of extremism from the ground up and eradicating the ideologies that breed radicalisation.

Top UAE officials and religious figures continue to denounce violent extremist ideology publicly and draw attention to its dangers.

The General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments collaborates closely with UAE religious leaders to stop violent extremist preaching at UAE religious institutions. It keeps an eye out for potential infractions.

Hedayah, the Global Center for Excellence in Countering Violent Extremism, is based in the UAE. It is a “think and do” organisation that offers communities and governments worldwide resources to advance tolerance and understanding and strengthen their ability to combat extremism and terrorist organisations’ recruitment efforts.

Secular and religious leaders from around the world convene at the UAE-based Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies to advance Islamic peace and discover solutions to Muslim problems.

The Abrahamic Family House, a brand-new interfaith facility built in Abu Dhabi, is dedicated to fostering understanding between people of all faiths and worldviews. The facility will include a church, mosque, and synagogue.

Countering Extremist Propaganda and the Exploitation of Web and Social Media

The UAE has long recognised the threat posed by extremist ideology. It has adopted several strategies to stop radicalisation by regulating religious discourse within official institutions, on public forums of religion, and in the media. The religious education curriculum has also been deliberately and thoroughly developed. It includes conventional curricula in Qur’an Memorization Centers run by the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments and Islamic education classes in the formal school system.

The UAE and the US established the Sawab Centre in March 2015 as part of their ongoing efforts to combat extremism, particularly on social media. The Sawab Centre houses a joint digital communications hub that uses social media platforms to amplify credible voices speaking out against ISIS, refute false claims made by extremists, support the work of the Global Coalition, and identify and correct religious misunderstandings.

Countering terrorism funding:

The UAE has made significant efforts to develop anti-money laundering systems through legislation in the battle against terrorist financing. The UAE also collaborates with other Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs) and international organisations, such as the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF), which supports financial information collection and analysis programs, to monitor and dismantle terrorist financing networks.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security:

The government’s security apparatus kept an eye on alleged terrorists in the UAE and prevented prospective terrorist strikes within its borders. To combat terrorist financing, the UAE’s customs, police, and other security services strengthened border security.

Overall, the UAE’s security apparatus proved capable in investigations, crisis management, and border security. Its personnel were trained and provided with the necessary tools to identify, prevent, and deal with terrorist situations.

The UAE and US share law enforcement intelligence to combat international criminal groups and terrorist organisations. UAE ports of entry employed an internal name-based watchlist system to identify those who were forbidden from entering the nation or were wanted by UAE, which was populated by local immigration, deportation, prisons, and security agencies. INTERPOL and GCC watchlists were incorporated into the UAE’s internal watchlist.

The UAE Ministry of Interior implemented a face recognition system employing cutting-edge technology to monitor the country’s borders, vital infrastructure, and valuable assets. The biometric software scans images of individual faces for analysis and identification, and it employs delicate cameras to capture people’s faces. People standing close to, far from, moving, or still can be scanned and captured on camera, whether in motion or standing still.

The Gulf Cooperation Council nations and the UAE actively collaborate to strengthen border security, interoperability, and regional stability. The GCC-POL was established as part of efforts to work together to combat terrorism.


United Arab Emirates – United States Department of State

Combating Terrorism and Extremism (mofaic.gov.ae)

Counterterrorism | UAE Embassy in Washington, DC (UAE-embassy.org)

Maintaining safety and security – The Official Portal of the UAE Government