The head of the United States’ Africa Command is now stating there are three terrorist organizations in Northern Africa possibly banding together to supply each other with more arms and funds to further their cause. The danger here is obvious but it looks like it might be unstoppable to impede the growth of these organizations if we factor in a few things we know and look at the big picture.
One of these groups, Boko Haram, might be growing its numbers and thriving off of the abysmal socioeconomic conditions in Northern Africa. The BBC points out:
The reality, however, may be that the real driving forces behind Boko Haram are inequality and poverty in northern Nigeria; a historic grudge between the Nigerian north and south; and an underequipped and corrupt police force. These issues may be just as important as any links between African jihadists and al-Qaeda.
There is very little doubt inequality and poverty play a big role in people turning to extreme measures to turn their lives around in some way, even if that means joining a terrorist organization. In addition to that, we also know programs focused on improving living and working conditions have an effect on reducing the number of terrorists around the world (I mentioned this here). So clearly the remedy for staving off the growth of these groups is through some type of development aid to improve the living conditions in these countries. And if that aid were to not increase or were it to be cut, we should expect a negative result. But surely the industrialized world isn’t silly enough to cut aid and knowingly push more people into the ranks of terrorist groups, is it?
Well, it is. As reported just a few days prior by the BBC, the Eurozone cut its aid to poor countries in the 2010/2011 fiscal year by 1.5% and with the ongoing financial crisis we should probably expect bigger cuts moving forward. But since it is a U.S. official pointing out the problem, maybe we could count on an American increase in foreign aid since the U.S. lags so far behind most of Europe in development assistance. I’ll allow a second for the laughter to subside.
In all seriousness, if the United States was actually realistic about fighting these terrorist groups, they might attempt to look at some factors that have worked and the shoddy amount of foreign aid would be one element to examine. As almost comically pointed out by Oxfam:
Americans spend as much on maintaining their lawns…spend more on caring for pets…as much on candy…as the US government spends on foreign aid. (Emphasis mine)
This isn’t to suggest a doubling of U.S. aid would solve all the problems of the world and stop all terrorism (and if you’ll notice from the chart linked above, even if the U.S. tripled its aid it would still be below the UN development target). But it is worth pointing out the U.S. clearly sees the problem growing judging from official statements and we can inevitably expect things to get worse. We also know how to go about reducing the problem.
But the likelihood of that happening is probably around the same likelihood these terrorist groups will give up their arms and ignore their living conditions in order to live in peace.