African countries should be prepared for an influx of jihadists if the so-called Islamic State (IS) is driven out of its prized cities of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.
Already, a line has been drawn in the sand. A coalition of some 35,000 Iraqi armed forces, including about 5,000 paid Peshmerga warriors, Sunni Arab tribesmen and Shia paramilitary forces backed by the US and other forces, are taking on the war-hardened Islamic state fighters in Mosul. Iron is mixing with blood in the sand.
IS burst onto the international scene in 2014 when it seized large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq. In June 2014, the group formally declared the establishment of a "caliphate" — a state governed in accordance with Islamic law, or Sharia, by God's deputy on Earth, or caliph, to which Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared himself one and urged all Muslim from all four winds of the earth to pledge allegiance to him.
The group has become notorious for its cold and clinical nature, including mass killings, abductions and beheadings. IS, though, has attracted support elsewhere in the Muslim world. It is estimated that about 8,000 Africans are amongst the ranks of IS fighters in Iraq and Syria.
Now under pressure, IS may lose its territorial holdings in the Middle East, but like the proverbial Phoenix, it will rise from the ashes, mutate and survive as they did after the Anbar awakening of 2007.
That is when IS’s war machine was virtually decimated but managed to reincarnate under Al-Baghdadi to become the most vociferous and lethal jihadist group ever seen, with the ability to strike and instil fear in any country around the world.
This is where Africa comes in. We learnt the caliphate’s plans for their next phase from a long-time IS operative speaking through Internet-based audio services. In one interview, he is quoted as saying:
“While we see our structures in Iraq and Syria under attack, we have been able to expand and have shifted some of our command, media and wealth structure to Africa.
"As we speak now, Sirte in Libya is the third most important command post for IS after Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq...”
IS has managed to knit together a network that stretches from Aleppo in Syria to Abuja, with Libyan borders as the perfect launch pads for regional attacks. That IS is seeking sanctuary in Africa is not a dream, it is a reality.
My crystal ball tells me that Africa will face no more complex challenge in the near future and test its moral fibre and resilience than when this Jihadist group starts building its African chapter on the body parts of its African victims.
And soon we will start experiencing their cynical carnage inside our countries as we used to see being done in their occupied territories in the Arab world and some European countries like France and Belgium.
This is not a Mayan prophesy and neither am I reading a horoscope. It is a real doomsday scenario that is approaching us.
If we Africans have been thinking that we have progressed beyond the old dangers of armed conflict, disease and hunger, we haven't seen nothing yet.
It seems we are succumbing to the witch’s brew and we are taking along drunken stagger towards a Jihadist group that will ride and trample on our backs mercilessly.
Recently, IS’s Arabic newsletter Dabiq published its warnings to Africans and what awaits us, and this is an excerpt from these warnings:
“[T]o the filthy coward non-believers, and to the holders of the Christ emblem, we bring you good news which will keep you awake, that a new generation of the Islamic State … that loves death more than life … this generation will only grow steadfast on the path to Jihad, stay determined to seek revenge and be violent towards you…”
This will be the biggest threat that Africa has faced for years. So far, sections of Africa have been incorporated in the wider Islamic caliphate and some countries dubbed caliphate provinces.
For instance, the region that includes Sudan, Chad and Egypt has been named the caliphate province of Alkinaana; the region that includes Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Uganda as the province of Habasha; the North African region encompassing Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Nigeria, Niger and Mauritania as Maghreb, the province of the caliphate.
Unknown to many, for more than four years the Islamic State has been cobbling together a shadowy and diffuse network with branches and cells in many countries in Africa to allow itself time to incubate.
Intelligence picked from its operations has information that, many youths who apply to join the caliphate now are being told to remain in their countries and rather wait to be told what to do there.
Africa is a home to myriad radical Islamic groups, ranging from those supporting the idea of the wider Islamic caliphate to anti-imperialist in Somalia’s Al-Shabaab and Salafist groups in Mali. We will soon start seeing all of these groups pledging allegiance to Al Baghdadi, when the Islamic State start asserting their might vociferously.
Many Boko-haram, Al Shabaab, Malian and Mauritanian fighters have been sported in Sirte — Libya, the caliphate’s African command post. A few months ago a Jihadist group operating between Kenya and Somalia calling itself Jahba Africa, swore their allegiance to the Islamic State and its Caliph Al-Baghdadi.
In its present fragile economic and political state, it’s doubtable if Africa will be able to marshal, the military, political and social response to the threat this Jihadist group poses on Africa.
With its sophisticated recruiting network and propaganda machine, the Islamic State has been taking advantage of popular protests, sense of alienation from the wider societies they live in, disillusionment, failure-to-belong, poverty and joblessness among the youth to recruit and this has made our continent a veritable fertile ground for recruitment and radicalisation of its young people.
For someone deeply unhappy with his life in Africa, won over by the mirage of some distant society ruled fairly according to God's laws and not man's, joining the ranks of the caliphate can be an attractive proposition.
Here, a person is let to believe that that is somehow serving a greater or higher cause, in this case something presented as "the nobility of jihad (holy war)".
For example, a simple tribute posted on the Internet site used by IS sympathisers — after the death by an American drone strike of one of the top leaders of this Jihadist group — saw a boost in the numbers of young people applying to join the caliphate.
“After a journey filled with sacrifice, gallant knight Abu Mohammed Al Adnani joins the convoy of martyr leaders…”
Now, as the allied forces pound IS positions in Iraq and Syria, hundreds of African and Arab fighters are being sent back to Africa. No one describes this situation aptly as W.B. Yeats in his poem the “Second Coming”:
The blood dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere…
The dark drops again, and now I know…
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last…
Ivan Bantu is a criminologist based in Kampala, Uganda.