Book review: Terrorism in Africa – New Trends and Frontiers


A total of 1500 members of the SANDF have been deployed to Mozambique’s volatile Cabo Delgado as part of a Southern African Development Community (SADC) mission to the troubled area. This is in response to a jihadist uprising in the area which has recently discovered rich gas resources. South Africa recently registered its first casualty, 31-year-old SANDF soldier Corporal Tebogo Edwin Radebe, a special forces operator who was killed in an ambush by insurgents in the east of Chai Village in Cabo Delgado.

Accusations have emerged that South Africa’s involvement is half-hearted, underfunded and lacking the necessary air support to the detriment of the lives of the deployed soldiers. A recent publication, Terrorism in Africa: New Trends and Frontiers, may prove an invaluable guide for those involved in combatting the upsurge in jihadist insurgency on the African continent, thereby avoiding a Southern African Vietnam.

Africa, a long-suffering continent, emerging from decades of decolonisation, despotic and corrupt leadership, and a neo-colonial scramble for Africa, is facing a new threat in the form of Islamic extremism manifest as violent terrorism. For the foreseeable future, the advent of violent terrorist groups and their inexorable march down to the south of the continent is the biggest threat to the continent’s sustainable development. Terrorism in Africa: New Trends and Frontiers, a collaboration between the Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow, Russia), the University of the Free State (Bloemfontein, South Africa), and the University of Haifa (Haifa, Israel), is a welcome and timely addition to the arsenal needed to combat the pernicious threat of terrorism on African soil.

Terrorism is of course not new to Africa, being an integral part of Africa’s decolonisation drive. However, in its current form, it is particularly threatening to Africa’s quest for modernisation, democratisation, and economic well-being. The book, via its twelve contributors, seeks to discover the root cause of the alarming growth of terrorism in Africa. Rather than just label the problem as one of Islamic radicalism, it delves into the nature of the problem and offers possible solutions. The various authors discuss topics such as poor governance, authoritarian rule which has distanced government from its people, rampant corruption, the use and misuse of social media by government and terrorists, government indifference, poor service delivery, underfunding of armed forces, the use of mercenaries and of course the Islamic nature of most of the terrorist groups involved.

Further exacerbating the problem is Africa’s standing in the geopolitical hierarchy. The evidence presented removes any doubt that Africa is a mere afterthought to the great world powers. Powerful northern hemisphere countries exploit Africa ruthlessly for its mineral and natural wealth with a keen eye to its potential as a growing market to peddle their manufactured goods. They show little regard for the environment, wildlife or indeed the well-being and aspirations of ordinary Africans. Only the African elite benefit from lucrative trade deals and the wholesale sell-off of Africa’s natural resources, leaving the majority of Africa’s population destitute and desperate. The first world must take responsibility for a good proportion of Africa’s current woes, and they have an obligation to be part of any enduring solution.

However, not all can be blamed on indifferent, exploitative, and uncaring economic superpowers. African leadership has historically and comprehensively failed to deliver on the promises of those who freed the continent from colonialism. They have betrayed the legacy of the liberation struggles and dashed the hopes of millions of Africans who hope and deserve for an end to exploitation and the beginnings of prosperity. Despotic leadership, inept governments combined with rampant corruption and non-existent service delivery has created the atmosphere of desperation from which many with no job or prospects flee into the arms of terrorists. Ironically, here they can find some degree of self-pride, comradeship, a purpose and even paltry economic prospects.

The book takes a holistic approach to exploring the solutions and countermeasures needed to combat the inexorable expansion of terrorism to all parts of Africa. What is certain is that there is no pure military solution and governments will only be able to use force to temporarily regain lost territory and populations. Once they have recovered control through the military, they would be wise to vigorously pursue non-military interventions to regain the trust of the alienated population. This is well-nigh impossible for kleptocratic authoritarian regimes which have distanced themselves from the people they govern or misgovern. Governments must use the temporary advantage brought about by military force to provide a better life for all by attending to the local economy, good governance, and service delivery. This is obviously a tall order for many African regimes who, wracked with ineptitude and corruption, are prone to rely solely and usually unsuccessfully on the military to restore order.

Conspicuous in the line-up of contributors are members hailing from the Western countries or China, all of whom have a major stake in the continent. The book is far from being the last word on terrorism in Africa but can lay claim to be the first word of its kind. In many ways it is a unique collaboration and a valiant effort to discover the cause, extent of the problem and then offer possible solutions. It is a book that can be used by others to build upon and hopefully it will be the first in series which considerably adds to the body of knowledge of an under-researched subject.

Terrorism in Africa: New Trends and Frontiers.

Moscow: Institute for African Studies

Haifa: University of Haifa

194 pages

Available as a free download—

Written by Dr David Brock Katz.

Katz obtained his Doctorate in Military Science and is a Research Fellow at Stellenbosch University in the Faculty of Military Science.