The Economic Narrative of Terrorism in East Africa

April 14, 2015Global Challengesby Jeremy Riro

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The recent terror campaign in East Africa shows no signs of abating.

The recent university terror attack at Garissa on 2 April 2015 marked the highest number of deaths in one single terror attack in the history of Kenya. Surpassing the 67-recorded deaths in the Westgate attack on 21 September 2013, the 148 lives lost in Garissa went into records as the most horrible of all al shabaab attacks on Kenyan grounds.

Looking at it from my perspective, I see that in a slow but sure pace, the criminal masterminds of terror in Kenya are fastening their grip on our land and making great success strides each day.

Terrorism explained

Terror could simply be defined as “extreme fear”; whereas terrorism can be described as “the use of violence and intimidation in pursuit of political aims.” From the foregoing, a terrorist therefore is “a person who uses terrorism in the pursuit of political aims.”

Borrowing from the definitions above and being logical in our analysis, you’ll infer that terrorism is an act of instilling extreme fear to the masses in order to cover some ill-motivated political mileage. Political gains on the other hand are and will always be the means to an end; where the end is economic gains. In essence therefore, terrorism is a ruthless means of getting access to economic resources or gaining economic dominance in a given region.

Terrorism, economic dominance & geopolitics

The big question would be; why should one engage in war and terror in order to gain access to the economic coffers of a given region? One could argue that the world being liberalized with global trade open to all, economies could use their comparative advantages to gain economic dominance whenever they want to. But that is not the case, since economic superiority is a competition where everyone wants to be at the top. This therefore calls for alternative means of gaining that economic dominance and access the economic resources of other regions in the world.

Terrorism comes in handy for the wealth-thirsty individuals who intertwine it with geopolitics to complicate it further in order to achieve this very purpose unlawfully. By using terror, the criminal masterminds instill irreparable fear and trauma in the minds of the masses that are left helpless looking for security from anyone who can offer it. This is at the core of the terrorists’ objectives and that is why they attack unarmed civilians in the most helpless and unexpected places.

The mission is always to kill in order to instill more fear to the masses, and then come back through a different door as the “saviors”. Next; in order for them to provide you with the security you direly need after a terror attack, they introduce economic and legal conditions that favor them and enable them to access your economic resources and gain economic dominance in your region. Mission accomplished!

In the meantime, geopolitics comes into play whereby the criminal masterminds ensure that countries in a target region are at constant conflict. This is meant to weaken collaborative actions towards eliminating terrorists in the given region, hence leaving one or a few countries fighting the enemy in isolation. In addition, when conflicts are fueled between countries, one of the rival states is likely to support terrorist actions as long as they are aimed at their opponents; thus making the war against terror an uphill task.

University of Nairobi explosion

In Kenya, the terrorists are gaining ground very fast, and if tough decisions are not made, the citizens are going to lose trust in the government security system and be left at the mercies of the terrorists.

The explosion of an electricity transformer at the University of Nairobi at 4am on 12 April 2015 left about 167 students injured and one, dead. The students were running for their lives thinking it was a terror attack similar the one at Garissa University College 10 days prior.

Students jumping out of hostels from as high as the sixth floor at night; is a good indication of the fear that has already gripped the society and perpetuated by the terrorists within Kenya. To the criminal masterminds of terror, this is already a big win and the government needs to intervene in order to curb the fear and create confidence in its citizens that they are safe.

Understanding the roots of terrorism

Many theories have been advanced explaining what goes on in the mind of a terrorist and why they tend to be so radicalized. In my opinion, we cannot understand the problem until we dig deep to know the root cause of the problem.

I subscribe to the school of thought that believes al shabaab and other militia groupings are just but toy-boys who execute orders from the real criminal masterminds of the terrorism strategy. The real terrorists are not the young radicalized boys and girls who end up dead in the mission field; rather the actual terrorists are the criminal masterminds who end up gaining economically from the extreme fear that grips the masses after terror attacks.

Therefore, to understand terrorism, and how to deal with it, we need to understand who the criminal masterminds behind the global terrorism strategy are; and there we shall find the solution to this perennial global problem.