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Jihadism in Africa and the counter radicalization Moroccan model 0

Marrakech – International terrorism and Jihadism are issues and challenges that undermine stability and the wellbeing of the African continent. In fact, more than 70 terrorist attacks took place resulting in more than 1500 victims in one year. But what characterize Jihadism in Africa? How can we fight against this threat? Read the analysis of Prof. Mohammed Benhammou, President of the Moroccan Centre for Strategic Studies (CMES).

Today’s world has evolved in an environment characterized by incertitude, where insecurity and instability has imposed as structural elements. Africa has faced different factors of fragility since independence and has been concerned more than other places about this environment. International terrorism and Jihadism are issues and challenges that determine stability and the wellbeing of this continent. We observe a long term installation of this phenomenon in the half north of the continent, especially in the Sahel. Political and economic deficit of this continent’s countries is a weak link in international fight against Jihadism.

No country of Sahel and West Africa is protected from the negative impacts of Jihadism. This sub-region has been a target for several months of terrorist acts in form of suicide bombings or armed attacks. Also, countries that were untouched by terrorism have witnessed their first bombings, while others are becoming more and more regular targets.

In fact, more than 70 terrorist attacks took place resulting in more than 1500 victims in one year. 10 African countries in total have had deadly bombings that caused five victims or more. The majority of these attacks took place in the north-east of Nigeria as well as Cameron by Boko Haram, which remains the most active organization with regard to the number of its deadly attacks. Certain countries in 2015 have experienced their first attacks of wide scale: it is particularly the case of Chad with 3 suicide bombings as well as Burkina Faso.

All these facts and figures show an unprecedented scale conducted by terrorist cells in Africa. Thus, the pattern noted in recent years accelerates with real risk of general destabilization where no large scale action is taken to combat this phenomenon.

Jihadism in Africa is characterized by:

Fragmentation leading on the operational side of the large number of movements with more or less clear objectives. Some of them derived from scissions, others were created from a certain nucleus yet none was created from scratch.

– Ambiguity in these movements’ vocations, which arise at a moment as holders of universal jihadist ideology, and another moment as freedom movements.

– Strong interconnection between these movements and banditry…

– Geographical expansion to almost half the north of the continent (North Africa, west of Africa, Sahel, east Africa, north-east). It has become acircle moving from Somalia in the east to Nigeria in the west and to Libya in the north.

Fighters’ high mobility between these different movements reflects a strong interconnection between them. In some cases, certain factions pledge allegiance to several movements.

Observers have found evidence of coordination between these movements. According to various sources, the three major movements (Al Shabab, AQIM and Boko Haram) link up strong ties. These movements are not static in nature. It is about flexible trajectories that undergone evolution yet a transfer so as to reach the current situation. Similarly, these movements will not stop evolving and transfer into other objectives and expressions adapting therefore to geostrategic changes.

Ansar Dine→ Touareg rebellion

Boko haram → North-east of Nigeria with Muslim majority facing the evolution of Pentecostalism which becoming increasingly dominant in the country;

Ansar Baït Al Maqdis → Jihad against Israeli occupationand the Egyptian state;

IS in Libya, AQIM: political insurgency in Algeria following the activism of G.I.A (Armed Islamic Group).

This evolutionary and adapting characteristic refers to deep roots of this phenomenon particularly, weakness of states, failure linked to national structure, socio-economic fragility… Element of identity is pivotal to explain the expansion of this phenomenon. However, it is the result of tangible historical elements. Several observers and specialists have focused on religious radicalism especially Islamic radicalism as a new phenomenon in the continent, constituting the main intellectual and ideological base for jihadist terrorism.

Yet, radicalization expresses a more general phenomenon that is the return or the emergence of the religious factor in Africa, which reflects a real citizenship crisis. According to some studies, this return occurred due to failure that affected political, social and economic institutions of African states in 90s. Some religious platforms were established thanks to the support of some certain states. As a result, they could be alternative institutions to where entire populations turn to. The crisis of postcolonial state has worsened since 90s thanks to structural adjustment programs and droughts. This crisis, continuing to be serious, provided the basis for radicalization and its means of expression specifically terrorism. Armed movements have found the needed combatants and mercenaries as well as the ideological background that allow them to keep their forces mobilized. We have also emphasized on the external factors particularly the effect of sub-regional upheavals, which are considered as geopolitically external to the continent even though they have taken place. We talk particularly about « Arab Spring ». The latter has been seen, as its name indicates, like an Arabic-Middle-Eastern phenomenon and not as an African phenomenon.

More specifically, Sub-Saharan countries could not escape the consequences of the Libyan conflict, which can be considered as the primary source of Jihadism in the region.

Recruiting Jihadists

There is an important literature reflecting investigations on the recruitment process of these African terrorist organizations. Conclusions show diversity of recruitment processes reflecting multiple factors attracting terrorist organizations. A study of profiles and backgrounds of recruits of terrorist organizations puts forward an unprecedented development. If these individual backgrounds presented signs of similarity before 2012, they have been since then characterized by a great diversity. We find people from different social statuses, men, and women. Poverty and social exclusion cannot constitute exclusive justification for Jihadism. Even well integrated people in society as well as former criminals can join the rows of these movements.

During 90s and 2000s, recruitment was particularly entrusted to professional group of people. Recruits attend a classic process of training and militarization through religious teachings and technics. In the last years, we have witnessed the emergence of the lone wolves phenomenon. Thus, candidates of Jihad no longer need aid in structural disciplines in order to rally in war zones or prepare a bombing. Recruitments are very easy and quickly organized via the Internet, and especially through social media. Small networks made of few individuals facilitate their departure. In Sahel, terrorist organizations draw their recruits from the way of work of mercenaries. Recruits are often attracted by the lure of profit. Organizations also benefit from lack of stability and the outbreaks of separatism and refugee camps. Hard and difficult life conditions and lack of perspective make it easier for terrorist organizations to attract young people.


The staggering expansion of terrorist activity in Africa implies the existence of an underlying economic and financial system allowing activists to continue and to strengthen. It is necessary to comprehend funding mechanisms of terrorist activities to understand the modus operandi of these organizations to counteract and eradicate security threats. Studies carried out until now show us that resources of terrorist funding in Africa are diverse and comes in many forms: we find sources that are direct, indirect, legal, illegal…

This funding is made with certain easiness compared to other regions in the world. This vulnerability can be explained by the following factors:

  • Concerned states inability to fight against money laundering and to control the movement of suspected capital.
  • Climate of political instability and communal violence, which allows certain complicity between different groups and centers of influence.
  • Weakness of regional and sub-regional mechanisms to fight against funding of terrorist activity.
  • Informal structure of African economies enabling non controlled circuits. According to different international reports, informal economy constitutes over 50% of GDP of some countries especially in western African
  • Weakness of surveillance in border areas allowing all kinds of trafficking to prosper, allowing primarily to transport arms.

 It is important to note that certain sub-regional institutions have taken important initiatives regarding the fight against this funding. It is the case of ECOWAS, which put forward a concerted action plan to combat terrorism in 2013. The institutional instrument of the Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering established in 2000 has been able to refocus its action towards the question of terrorist funding.

Several studies conducted by various institutions and organizations on the issue of funding of terrorism show a variety of forms of funding. Therefore, we can find punctual funding regarding terrorist operations limited in time and space. In addition, we can find funding as sustainable logistics aiming at supporting the life and the functioning of the organization (salaries of combatants, travels…). We can also mention a kind of « investment » funding which consists of funds distributed by terrorist movements for social services and charity in order to strengthen their appeal and facilitate the recruitment of followers and fighters. Studies also focused on the channel of non-profit organizations, which constitutes an ideal façade to fund terrorism.

In Africa, this instrument is favored given the weak control, social needs, and the communitarisation of territories, which fosters this kind of organizations. This method of funding should draw attention to Africa. There are also other types of funding that need further monitoring. These methods include lucrative commercial activities that can be formal, informal, legal, illegal, etc. profits are also diverted to fund these groups.

In order to conceal the identity and the origin of the funds and their destinations, transnational circuits are followed, which requires a strong international coordination.

Contrabands and various types of trafficking constitute a real source of funding in African.

Counter radicalization: Moroccan model

One of the most effective ways to combat Jihadism is to prevent it. Whilst it is the fruit of religious radicalization, it will be wise to look into the means to combat extremism by trying to destroy the root cause of this evil.

In this regard, many witnesses point to the relevance and the effectiveness of the Moroccan experience in this domain since it has started to yield tangible results.

The kingdom has also adopted a holistic and multidimensional approach and did not simply confine to measures that are purely security-oriented in order to eradicate extremism.

The Moroccan model is first of a translation of the outcome of a historic development. In the heart of it, there is the monarchy, an institution both spiritual and temporal allowing a virtuous synergy between religion and progress. Commanding the believers allowed to thin down inherent gaps between the religious and the political.

Management and organization of religious field is a necessity to prevent all deviations related to interpretations of sacred texts. This experience has developed around several units that compliment one another within the framework of a strategy implemented for over a decade:

Institutional unit: this component is concerned with administrative and legal reorganization of responsible ministries as well as councils of Ulama. The sector of Habous was reorganized through the establishment of the High Council of Habous.

Educational and doctrinal unit: it is this aspect that interests us the most. Efforts were directed towards the consolidation of the unity of the Malekit doctrine in the kingdom.

Theological teaching was reformed so it can form scholars able to combine religion and openness to modernity. This policy, drawn from historical tradition was able to give this outcome. Today, the kingdom is considered as a symbol of tolerance as well as that of theological expertise that can provide a reliable alternatives to rigid religious doctrines, which constitute the base for Jihadists ideology.

I should like to recall that a great number of African and European countries benefit directly from this experience through forming and training Imams from these countries (Mali, France, Nigeria, Gabon…). Mohammed VI institute for the training of Imams stands as a leading institution in this domain.

The benefits of this strategy are important in combatting radicalization. The expansion of extremist ideologies in Morocco is so limited. To give an example, a number of preachers who ensured the spread of Jihadists ideas have publically and voluntarily called into question their ideas. Today, they adopt a less rigid and more tolerant discourse.

Foreign terrorists returnphenomenon

If there is a phenomenon that bears on the international relations right now, it is really the international terrorism. One of the most stressful dimensions of terrorism today is its mobility and permanent delocalization that perfectly illustrates the risks linked to the return of foreign terrorists.

The attacks of 2015, particularly in France and Tunisia have shed light on the extent of the threats which the fighting jihadists return constitutes.

If this problem is particularly mediatized as far as the European states (Belgium, France, Denmark) are concerned, it does not spare the African states at all.

It arises as a real threat for some of North African states where about a hundred of nationals find themselves in Iraq and Syria. It arises, maybe, with less acuteness for the Sahelian states of which some nationals fight in Sahel and West Africa.

In fact, if we take the mapping of jihadism, we realize that the majority of African jihadists in Syria and Iraq come from North Africa: Morocco and Egypt. These countries have to show extreme vigilance by attacking first the recruiters who facilitate the recruitment and travel of trainee-jihadists. In this context, Morocco has been one of the most active countries in this domain thanks to a profound work of the intelligence services which made possible the dismantling of several terrorist cells. Tunisia, a victim of several deadly attacks this year, has made a lot of progress trying to limit the damage.

As far as the Sub-Saharan states are concerned, the problem does not lie exactly in the fighters return, but in their cross-border mobility. Because of borders porosity and the states weak supervision of their territories, the candidates to jihad do not find any difficulties to cross the borders and change allegiance according to circumstances. The risk is amplified here especially by the complicity with certain ethnic and tribal groups but also by the interconnections with the different criminal groups. These complicity and interconnections, because of the flexibility they provide, made the Sub-saharian states incapable of controlling these serious threats.

On the other hand, we could say that certain Sub-Saharian states have been the first to suffer from the phenomenon of terrorists return. Indeed, the civil war in Libya from 2011 has seen the participation of Chadian and Nigerian fighters as mercenaries. These fighters themselves helped jihadism gain in importance later in Sahel and North Africa by investing a good number of tense areas and rebel zones.

What are the African answers to this threat?

First of all, it is necessary to be aware of the significance of the phenomenon and its geostrategic and security impacts. In the light of this, the exchange of information arises as the optimal means to be able to have a clear and most precise idea of the number of fighters, their nationality, and their ranks within jihadist organizations. Certainly, some reports provide data, but they still lack precision. A better coordination of data would definitely make possible the taking of action adapted to the degree of threat.

A regional and international mobilization is necessary in order to best supervise border areas and master the mobility of jihadists flow. So, several tracks can be explored:

Institutional cooperation: setting up legal and institutional mechanisms necessary to the strengthening of supervision. It would involve the creation of continental or sub-regional anti-terrorist police with adequate means.

  • Setting operational coordination through mechanisms of technical and logistics support.
  • Mechanism of exchange and cross-check of information on foreign terrorist fighters among different concerned states.


From the previous elaboration as well as the data in the chart on the terrorist attacks in Africa, we can put forward certain following conclusions which would be the object of reflection during the Forum:

  • The staggering increase of terrorist attacks is mainly the work of Boko Haram and to a lesser degree of Shabab.
  • The geography of terrorism in Africa expands at an unprecedented rate including countries such as Burkina Faso, Chad, and Cameroon …
  • We also raise the question on the interaction among the internal, sub-regional, and international logics of the expansion of terrorism in Africa. If we take the example of Boko Haram whose activity becomes regional hitting countries such as Chad and Cameroon, we are in front of an overlapping of several logics :
  • National: linked to the twists and turns of the national construction of the Nigerian state in all its regional manifestations.
  • Sub-regional: linked to the cross border extension of its action trying at once to secure its rear base and confront the regional alliances made against this organization.
  • International: by pleading allegiance to ISIS, Boko Haram becomes part of the Universalist jihadist logic.
  • At the end, the terrorist threat is global, the answer must be global

By Prof. Mohammed Benhammou, Professor at the Mohammed V Rabat-Souissi University and international expert on security and terrorism. He is the President of the President of the Moroccan Centre for Strategic Studies (CMES), which hosts the Marrakech Security Forum.

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi