The sudden, but not totally unexpected power grab by the Taliban in Afghanistan may seem a distant event from Africa, but leaders and security experts are thinking of the repercussions on a continent plagued by extremist militia inspired by the Taliban and its admirers.
The Taliban, a child of the Mujahideen, walked into Kabul without firing a shot after weeks of running over provincial capitals and regained control of Afghanistan, 20 years after they were toppled by an America-led coalition.
The immediate impact for Washington was embarrassment and shock at how the US coalition-propped government of Ashraf Ghani capitulated, precipitating a chaotic drawback of the US military with shocking scenes at the Mohamed Karzai International Airport as Afghan civilians hung on to a taxiing plane in a scramble to leave the country.
For Africa, after the evacuation of the few expatriate workers in the country, there is real danger in the possibility of militant groups that borrow from Taliban ideology to draw inspiration from their “win” as well as the imminent rise in illicit narcotics trade.
“We cannot rule out co-operation between Taliban and groups like al-Shabaab because their ideological foundations are similar. Most present and past leaders of al-Shabaab actually trained in Afghanistan and besides being inspired, they will try and emulate what has happened in Afghanistan,” said Dr Mustafa Ali, chairman of Nairobi-based think-tank, Horn International Institute for Strategic Studies. “This presents a particular security threat for the region.”
Mr Ali told The EastAfrican that Kenya, a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, should go back to the UNSC and insist that they label al-Shabaab a terrorist group. Nairobi has tried before to have al-Shabaab subjected to the same sanctions as the Taliban, al-Qaeda and ISIS (Daesh) but was vetoed by the US and UK on the grounds it could hurt access for humanitarian aid.
Terrorists operating in the region, including Fazul Mohamed, were associated with al-Qaeda then led by Osama bin Laden, a Saudi Mujahideen in Afghanistan, who at some point found refuge in and lived in Sudan.
Fazul, under the direction of al-Qaeda, masterminded the August 7, 1998, twin bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. He was later killed in Somalia and Sudan was slapped with sanctions for harbouring Laden. Those sanctions were lifted only last December.
“We should not forget how we got here. Not least the 1998 al-Qaeda attacks in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as it enjoyed shelter in Afghanistan,” Dr Martin Kimani, Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the UN tweeted on Monday. “Forgetting is putting aside the urgent relevance of the counterterrorism architecture established by the UN Security Council.”
Dr Kimani emphasised the need for urgently placing declared IS and al-Qaeda groups such as al-Shabaab under sanctions.
Some experts, however, argue that al-Shabaab has evolved from a religious extremist group to an organised economic and political outfit. But isn’t that what happened with the Taliban too?
Dr Ali says that countries in the Horn of Africa must see the Taliban takeover as a threat to their security as it could inspire terror groups.
“I am hoping that this time round the Somali government is not going to say ‘No’ to these efforts, because even they should look at what has happened in Afghanistan and see that Somalia is in danger of being overrun by al-Shabaab,” he said in reference to Mogadishu’s resistance to tough sanctions against al-Shabaab.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, in a commentary this week in the Financial Times, suggested that Western powers may have been “bruised by their Middle East and Afghan experiences,” making it harder for them to commit to addressing security problems and their causes in Africa. He argued that Africa needs assistance to address insurgency, including economic opportunities, and not just military support.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said there will be a more “positive” administration, promising to safeguard the property of foreign missions and rights, and eliminate foreign fighters and drugs trade.
But the world has been here before.
In 1996, after taking over, the group stormed a UN facility and assassinated President Najibullah Ahmedzai. In 1998, they stormed the Iranian consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif and killed an Iranian journalist and eight diplomats.
As Afghanis and foreigners jostled to flee Afghanistan, the US on Thursday saluted Uganda, Albania, Canada, Chile and Mexico for agreeing to take in asylum seekers being evacuate. The US and Uganda had been denying media reports that they were in talks to have Uganda host 2,000 refugees.
Meanwhile, Kenyan tea exporters are also closely watching Kabul, as Afghanistan makes up 30 percent of Kenyan tea market. “It could take a hit in the short term, but if there will be sanctions against Afghanistan, Kenya might not be able to export its tea,” Dr Ali noted.
By press time, there was no indication of isolation of Kabul.
The IMF has frozen country accounts and if this is drawn out, Dr Ali says it could fuel a return to poppy cultivation, and the return of the heroin trade.