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Russia and the rise of Islamic terrorism in Sub-Saharan Africa

Kohnert, Dirk (2022): Russia and the rise of Islamic terrorism in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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Abstract

Russia and China challenge the liberal order and rule of law on a global and regional level. The Trump administration has facilitated the support of the move away from the liberal international order and the ‘Westphalian’ system of states that America had defended for centuries. Extremism is thriving around the world, including in sub-Saharan Africa, fuelled by the aftermath of colonialism, poverty and Islamist ideologies. Regions with limited statehood became failed states where violent conflicts threatened regional security and stability. Russia benefited from the resulting power vacuum. Moscow focused on countries that were formerly French and Portuguese colonies, which Moscow believed are easier to infiltrate. Under these conditions, Putin is free to exploit the political and social contradictions in Africa and destabilize the Western order, even at the risk of the rise of Islamic terrorism. Terrorist criminal pipelines and corrupt states have been exploited by Russian arms dealers across Africa for decades. These included notorious support for the Taylor regime in Liberia in the early 2000s, including the infamous Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, dubbed the ‘merchant of death’. The cooperation was based on state control of ports of entry and exit for criminal organizations to safeguard profit-sharing, diplomatic passports, including associated immunity, and the rule of law, which ensured the smooth marketing of these companies. Today, Russia benefits primarily from providing ‘security’ to autocratic leaders, including arms sales, advice and training in counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations against Islamic terrorism in exchange for access to African resources and markets. Aside from Al-Quida, the Islamic State (ISIS), Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab other local Islamic organizations are fuelling terrorism in SSA. Moscow is particularly interested in the Horn of Africa to control important trade routes of global importance.

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