A few days ago, an Islamic State-affiliated group bombed a church in eastern Congo, killing and maiming scores of people. Over the years, IS and al-Qaeda-affiliated terror groups have increased their murderous footprint in sub-Saharan Africa.
Terror groups are active in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso in West Africa. In East and Central Africa, the jihadists are present in Somalia, Mozambique and Central African Republic. Somalia, more than any other African country, has bled the most. Last year, a terrorist bomb outside the Education ministry in Mogadishu killed more than 100 people and injured countless others.
There is a common denominator in all these countries where terrorists are gaining ground. They are all characterised by weak governance, corruption and poverty.
Stateless, chaotic nation
For example, after the Siad Barre dictatorship collapsed in 1991, Somalia became a stateless, chaotic nation. The intelligentsia fled, as did skilled people, leaving poor citizens to fend for themselves, and to face the growing influence and carnage of terrorist groups.
Somalia should be a cautionary tale to Africans. When a country collapses under the weight of thievery and mismanagement, those left behind to suffer the consequences are poor citizens.
Another characteristic of terror-stricken countries is endemic thievery. Africa has never really taken thievery of state resources seriously. But this vice is an existential threat.
When you pocket money meant for roads, hospitals or schools, you create poverty. The cost of living for the poor goes up. Increasing numbers of people cannot get affordable housing. The economy stagnates, resulting in multitudes of unemployed and underemployed youth.
These frustrated youth either slip into crime or opt to drown in the Mediterranean trying to escape to Europe. Then, as if on cue, terror groups move in, offering false hope to these desperate multitudes.
African intellectual expression since the 1960s has tried to explain Africa’s underdevelopment by many theories. Some theorists, influenced by Walter Rodney’s book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, see Africa as a victim of a Western conspiracy.
Others have blamed “colonial schooling “which, as one scholar argues, emphasises learning of “useless” history such as “who Shaka Zulu’s mother was” at the expense of critical thinking. Such argument conveniently forgets that sciences are taught in addition to history.
Still, others see Africa as a victim of the struggles between the West and East. One self-styled radical, Arikana Chihombori, sees Africa’s progress as being determined by the development partner it chooses — China or America. I am yet to see a country that developed by merely by playing off the West against the East.
The cause of our developmental predicament and attendant crises such as poverty and terrorism has always been misgovernance and thievery. We know the solution.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator