Solomon sets outs to examine the causes of Islamist terrorism and the failures of counter-terrorism policy in Africa – focusing specifically on Al Shabaab in Somalia, Ansar Dine in Malia, and Boko Haram in Nigeria. This expansive study of decades of conflict across the continent begins by locating itself within the terrorism studies literature, ambitiously seeking to find a middle ground between traditional and critical terrorism studies. Through this engagement with this literature Solomon sets out one of his core arguments: that counter-terrorism policy has been informed by traditional approaches which are state-centric and militaristic. The case-study chapters provide an impressive exposition of the historical context to problematize the state, giving an account of how structural factors, primarily ethnic relations within the state, are a significant driver of terrorism. Consequently the author argues that a military approach is not sufficient to overcome ‘the Islamist juggernaut’ and ‘their message of hate’ (p. 35–36) in Africa. The book distinguishes itself from the critical terrorism literature by offering extensive policy prescription throughout the book. The first chapter situates the book within terrorism studies, critiquing the ‘traditional approach’ for, among other things, being state centric and ahistorical. This chapter very briefly sets out the position of the critical terrorism studies literature and seeks to problematize the state, placing terrorism in its historical and social context while providing policy options to counter terrorism. The second chapter on Islamism argues that a radical Islamism has entered Africa through religious students returning from the Middle East and Pakistan, funding from countries such as Saudi Arabia, and the increase in social media. Solomon argues that African Islam and its moderate Sufi elites have been discredited by colonialism and their reluctance to criticise corrupt elites, which in part has allowed external forms of radical Islamism to flourish in Africa. The next three chapters chart out the broader context behind the emergence of Islamist terrorism in Somalia, Mali and Nigeria. In these chapters, the central argument of the limitations of military instruments is presented. Weakness within states and regionally, irredentism, and ethnic competition make the traditional counter-terrorism approach a blunt instrument which either displaces terrorism (spatially or temporally) or has a blow-back effect. Each of the three chapters concludes with a shopping list of policy prescriptions, and while some of these are underdeveloped and not set up conceptually, the book displays nuance in aligning its key policy suggestions with an understanding of the case. For example, in the case of Somalia Solomon argues for abandoning attempts to recreate a Westphalian utopia and instead to work with the mini-states which have emerged, while greater autonomy within Mali would stem grievances and empower the legitimacy of the military. Interestingly, Solomon suggests that the method to overcome the root causes of Islamist terrorism in Nigeria is not providing greater autonomy, but fostering of a greater sense of Nigerian identity. The book returns to the regional level, arguing that the African Union’s counter-terrorism policy has failed because of a lack of political will among African states, state self-interest, and the weakness of the constituent parts. The proposed solutions are to build the AU’s capacity from the bottom up, focusing on African states, and compelling states to pool sovereignty and be more responsive to their citizens’ needs. The last chapter and conclusion return to the central theme: that counter-terrorism in Africa needs to take into account the root causes of violence, namely the tensions between identity, states, and military capacity. The book’s weakest sections are when it seeks to engage with the terrorism literature, especially the critical approach. The book adopts a minimalistic critical approach with the main grievance against the traditional approach supposedly being its ahistoricity and state-centric nature. Critical scholars might balk at the conflation of Islamism into one entity juxtaposed with ‘good Islam’ (at least in chapter two, the rest of the book shows greater nuance), hyperbolic language, its causal assumptions on ideology (which seem to be dropped thankfully after chapter two), and its unwillingness to either partly or fully apply a critical approach. Its problematizing of the state seems limited to recognizing that states and identities do not overlap but it is questionable this is unique to critical approaches and actually rejected by the ‘traditional’ terrorism studies literature. Solomon’s ambition of bridging the two approaches together seems overly ambitious a task and there is little time or depth dedicated to making this realisable. The book’s need to adopt the type of critical approach it does is questionable given that ‘traditional’ terrorism studies has indeed placed groups in their context, has recognised the significance of ethnicity, and has (categorically) recognised the ineffective role of military measures in countering terrorism. In this regard, the book’s valuable contribution is to map out how ethnicity and state–society relations shape the efficacy and limitations of military measures in Africa. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Royal African Society. All rights reserved
African Affairs – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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