May 31st 2014

Al Qaeda's Growing Influence in Central Africa

by Daniel Wagner

 

Daniel Wagner is the founder and CEO of Country Risk Solutions and a widely published author on current affairs and risk management.

Daniel Wagner began his career at AIG in New York and subsequently spent five years as Guarantee Officer for the Asia Region at the World Bank Group's Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency in Washington, D.C. After then serving as Regional Manager for Political Risks for Southeast Asia and Greater China for AIG in Singapore, Daniel moved to Manila, Philippines where he held several positions - including as Senior Guarantees and Syndications Specialist - for the Asian Development Bank's Office of Co-financing Operations. Prior to forming CRS he was Senior Vice President of Country Risk at GE Energy Financial Services. He also served as senior consultant for the African Development Bank on institutional investment.

Daniel Wagner is the author of seven books: The America-China Divide, China Vision, AI Supremacy, Virtual Terror, Global Risk Agility and Decision Making, Managing Country Risk, and Political Risk Insurance Guide. He has also published more than 700 articles on risk management and current affairs and is a regular contributor to the South China Morning Post, Sunday Guardian, and The National Interest, among many others. (For a full listing of his publications  and media interviews please see www.countryrisksolutions.com).

Daniel Wagner holds master's degrees in International Relations from the University of Chicago and in International Management from the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Phoenix. He received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from Richmond College in London.

Daniel Wagner can be reached at: daniel.wagner@countryrisksolutions.com.

Earlier this year, the Afghan Taliban called for an end to violence against Muslims in the Central African Republic, where ethnic cleansing has been occurring since the government was overthrown last year. The highly unusual commentary on events so far removed from Afghanistan is significant for the Taliban, demonstrating that it considers itself to be a de facto state actor and has influence on groups allied to Al Qaeda (AQ). Doing so is, in essence, a call to arms for jihadists to descend on the CAR.

The symbolism that lays behind the Taliban statement is significant, and may prove to have a profound impact on the future outcome of the CAR conflict and beyond. In conjunction with Boko Haram (which has proven links with AQ in the Islamic Maghreb) and Somalia-based Al Shabab (which joined AQ in 2012), AQ threatens to establish a presence in the CAR. It is believed that up to 80 percent of Seleka fighters originally came from Chad and Somalia , which would indicate an orientation and predisposition to subscribing to AQ's ideology and tactics. Seleka's lack of a clear ideology and direction should make it more susceptible to influence from strong external groups such as AQ.

Judging from the gains made by both Al Shabab and Boko Haram over the past year, the CAR and its neighbors should be concerned. Al Shabab has significantly increased its attacks in Kenya, while Boko Haram has taken credit for the high profile kidnapping of school girls and ongoing attacks on schools, churches, and government facilities throughout northern Nigeria. Both organizations have made a mockery of the militaries of these countries, which appear to be powerless to do much about it.

If established governments in Kenya and Nigeria -- with substantial anti-terrorism assistance from the U.S. and other governments -- are unable to stem the AQ tide, is there any reason to believe that the CAR government, which is in reality little more than a name, will be able to effectively counter a Seleka allied with AQ?

The CAR is in a rotten neighborhood, surrounded by four other failed states -- Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan and South Sudan. The two Sudans are linked geographically to two other failed states -- Eritrea and Ethiopia, which are linked to Somalia. Chad is linked to Niger, which is linked to Burkina Faso and Mali. It is easy to envision the CAR becoming the glue that helps tie them all together to become, what I will call the Coalition of African Failed States (CAFS). That is what France, the U.S. and UN are so desperately trying to avoid.

The prospect of these countries' success is regrettably being reduced by the month. The CAR was and remains a failed state, and the current environment provides little justification for optimism that a positive change will occur in the near or medium-term. The CAR may become a template for radical political change in Africa, with militant Islamist extremists gaining greater power throughout the central part of the continent. If that were to occur, the CAR would become a magnet for extremists and a hub for non-state actors -- in essence, the Pakistan of Africa, where porous borders and ungovernable terrain make the country a haven for a range of militant jihadists.

Given the rather limited success achieved thus far in that fight, the odds would appear to be in AQ's favor. We should expect a difficult year throughout Africa, from Algeria to the CAR, where AQ and its affiliates already have a strong presence, or are in the process of establishing one. It is certainly possible that AQ will emerge to become the dominant force in the CAR, and that it will metastasize to surrounding states. Should that happen, the CAFS could indeed become a reality.



Daniel Wagner is the CEO of Country Risk Solutions.


 


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