By Linda-Ann Akanvou
It is necessary for the international community to become more involved in the war against groups like Boko Haram. The current trend of sideline participation makes the war on extremism in Africa a more challenging endeavor and does little to protect international economic interests in the region.
African countries have progressively opened themselves to international trade and foreign investment. According to the World Bank, the continent is on the verge of becoming the second most attractive investment destination in the world. In 2015, "foreign direct investment (FDI) in the region hit a record $60 billion, five times its 2000 level." With investors nearly tripling FDI from eight percent in 2003 to 22.8 percent in 2013 and rising intra-state investment, Africa has developed a cycle encouraging foreign investment.
According to a Financial Times article the United States "was the top source country by number of projects in 2014." This is in-line with the U.S. commitment of $7 billion during the U.S. - Africa Leaders' Summit in the same year. A considerable portion of projects and commitments from the U.S. have gone towards the energy sector on the continent. Its rapid development has become an area of priority interest for both African governments and international partners.
Despite the growing interest, the threat of global terrorism has obfuscated the attractiveness of the region with an image of instability and increasing risk to foreign ventures and returns. The economic and socio-political fragility of the region provides groups like Boko Haram a favorable environment in which to grow stronger and more influential than ever.
In March 2015, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to "Daesh" as its West African "province." It may seem like Boko Haram is less destructive than Daesh because it is focused regionally in West Africa. Despite international media overwhelmingly focusing on violent extremism in the Middle East, Boko Haram is one of the deadliest terrorist groups in the world. According to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index Report by the Institute for Economic and Peace, Daesh was not ranked first on the list of deadly terrorist groups. Rather, Boko Haram was responsible for the deaths of 6,644 people against the 6,073 killed by Daesh. Iraq and Nigeria accounted for 53 percent of all terrorism-related deaths in 2014. That year, 12 out of the 20 most fatal terrorist attacks were in Africa, mainly in South Sudan, Nigeria, and Cameroon. However, compared to Daesh, there has been very little media focus on these tragedies.
Nigeria has Africa's largest, most booming economy and is currently a destination of choice for American investors with U.S. foreign investment being one of the largest in the country. The country is the fifth largest exporter of oil in the world, the twelfth largest petroleum producer, and has the tenth largest proven oil reserves. Nigeria has also become an exporter of entertainment with its billion-dollar Nollywood and music industries - both of which are largely led by a burgeoning group of Nigeria's entrepreneurial class.
Nigeria also has one of Africa's largest populations, a sizeable portion of which are youths that have assumed an increasing role in Boko Haram. The average age of Boko Haram militants keeps dropping. The majority of the fighters are now teenagers, shifting a potential workforce away from productive development towards regional regression.
Boko Haram has deliberately targeted young women and there is a progressive "feminization of terror." It terrorizes women and girls with impunity in an attempt to eradicate female development and education, abducting them to be used as sex slaves and demoralizing the community as a whole. As vanguards of terror, Boko Haram has shifted from using young girls as couriers of arms, foodstuff, and money, as well as recruiters, to increasing their deployment as suicide bombers.
For the past decade, empowering women through education has been a priority in Africa as it ultimately leads to the reduction of inequality and lays a foundation for sustained economic growth by promoting a female workforce and entrepreneurial class. One of the tactics employed by extremist groups in Sub-Saharan Africa has been to attack female education, which is dangerous as it comes not only with social but also future economic consequences.
A lack of education in general makes the population, especially the youth, more vulnerable to brainwashing and radicalization. In a region with almost 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24, the lack of education coupled with rising extremism is the perfect recipe for protracted and costly conflicts.
As a regional financial and political power, internal stability of Nigeria impacts the economic growth of the region. Allowing terrorist groups like Boko Haram to operate with impunity increases their presence and influence, threatening the foundations for development that African countries, especially Nigeria, have struggled to put into place. It is vital that investment interests not be undermined by the spread of violence and instability if the region is to continue developing.
Given the international community's long-term capital commitments in the region, it is imperative that African counter-terrorism efforts take greater importance on the international security agenda. Without this, it is inevitable that groups like Boko Haram will grow in influence - threatening the economic stability of a number of African states. Although they may be actively fighting in a limited geographic region today, they will eventually expand their campaigns as far as they possibly can. This understanding immediately makes terrorism in African states of great concern to the West.
Linda-Ann Akanvou holds a Master in International Affairs from Penn State University and a Master of Finance from the University of Hassan II - Casablanca. With experience in both the public and private sectors, she focuses on the role of international relations in economic development. She is also an Africa fellow at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.