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Economics: The Key to Stopping Terrorism in East Africa
Comments (1)

East Africa is quickly becoming an area of security concern for the United States. This is most visibly seen in the conflict in Somalia and the growth of al-Shabaab as a truly transnational terrorist network. But the situation is even more dangerous than it seems. Every country in the region has its own unique problems with radical Islamist terrorism, and these problems are not likely to go away on their own. Rather than using military force to try to stop the spread of terrorism in East Africa, a strategy of using economic methods to combat terrorism is the best option that the U.S. and the rest of the international community has. Many in the academic community are skeptical of the role of economic development in terrorism. They point out things like the fact that most of the 9/11 hijackers were from middle class backgrounds. Some empirical studies have failed to find a link between terrorism and economics altogether. However, there are two main problems with these studies. The first is that they cannot be applied to specific areas, such as East Africa, because they either focus on another area that has its own unique conditions, or the context they focus on is far too broad. The second problem is that even if there is no link between poverty and terrorism on the individual level, poverty on the state level affects the state’s capacity to fight terrorism. Therefore an effective approach to combating terrorism must take into account the specifics of the situation. Throughout East Africa, which stretches from Sudan to Tanzania, many of the tensions and problems leading to terrorist activity are economic in nature. One of these foremost problems is the lack of social services provided by the government. Without access to basic services, people turn to whoever can provide them with what they need. In East Africa, it is often Islamic NGOs with extremist Salafi backing, or even outright terrorist groups that provide these services. Similarly, the lack of employment opportunities is a major cause of people joining terrorist organizations. Because they are financed by foreign sources, terrorist groups can often offer more money than local businesses, making them the most attractive option in a very limited job market. Corruption runs rampant in many countries throughout the region. It undermines the credibility of the government and leads to mistrust. Corruption makes the operations of terrorists easier by allowing them to use bribes to travel discreetly between countries. Finally, it leads to ineffective law enforcement. A common theme in many countries throughout East Africa is the discrimination of Muslims and the view that there is an inequality between Muslims and Christians. In some places this inequality is obvious, such as in the economic difference between Muslim Zanzibar and Christian majority mainland Tanzania. In other places the inequality may be more of a perception that has arisen from the rhetoric of Islamists in the area. Whatever the case, the grievances of Muslims contribute to discontent and the growth of radicalism. When Muslims feel they are being discriminated against in educational and employment opportunities, they might see no other choice but to join a terrorist group. Each country in East Africa is highly unique and faces its own set of challenges. But these countries all share the common threat of radical Islamist terrorism, from al-Shabaab in Somalia on the verge of taking over the country, to Kenya’s coastal Muslims being a potential safe haven for terrorists. And with this common threat comes a common solution: economic development. There are several policies that should be implemented throughout the region, obviously taking into account the specifics of the situation and the country. Economic growth must be promoted above all else. It is implicit in many of the other policies, but it is also important because it increases a state’s capacity to control its territory and fight terrorism. Social services must be provided by the governments of countries in the region, and U.S. policy should seek to encourage and promote these services, and make sure it is known that the government is providing these services, not any outside organizations. Employment opportunities must be increased, and the fight against corruption stepped up. Lastly, aid should be carefully targeted and not haphazardly thrown at the situation. Aid can be an especially effective tool in helping to combat inequality. While economic methods are not the only way to combat terrorism, they are an especially effective way, and given the conditions of the countries in East Africa, the best way. While military intervention is costly and politically unpopular, economic assistance is far more cost effective and will set the stage to eliminate the threat of terrorism in the long run.

Comments in Chronological order (1 total comments)

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Thu, October 28, 2010 06:45 AM (about 116856 hours ago)
I totally agree with the author but the implementation only depends on the intent of the US government. There must be some hidden benefits for the US govt because of which it is reluctant to act sincerely.
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