Afour-day terrorist siege at the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya’s Nairobi in late September, which was carried out by extreme Islamists, killed nearly 70 people and injured more than 170 others. While sub-Saharan African countries have enjoyed economic growth for the past several years, the gap between the rich and the poor is expanding, providing a hotbed for terrorist activities by extreme Islamists.
Governments in the region should strive to eradicate the poverty that provide fertile ground for the growth of terrorism by implementing polices to boost the growth of local agriculture and manufacturing industries.
Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaida-linked group, claimed responsibility for the attack. The group is based in neighboring Somalia, where a civil war has dragged on for more than 20 years. Al-Qaida and its affiliated groups have been active in Africa for years now. On Aug. 7, 1998, it carried out simultaneous bombing attacks at the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing hundreds of people. In 2010, an al-Shabaab suicide bombing in neighboring Uganda killed 76. In January, al-Qaida au Maghreb Islamique carried out an attack on a gas facility in southeastern Algeria. Ten Japanese nationals were among those killed.
A number of African countries gained independence from their European colonial masters in the 1960s. While some enjoyed smooth development, many others suffered under the rule of corrupt autocratic governments or were plagued by ethnic violence. In the 1970s, African countries were hit by economic crises as prices for agricultural products and mineral resources fell. Later severe drought killed many Africans and turned a great number of others into refugees.
In and after 2003, when the Iraq War started, Africa entered a period of economic growth. Oil prices rose due to war in the Middle East and new oil-prospecting and extracting technologies made it economically feasible for a number of African countries to exploit their offshore oil resources. China also made inroads into Africa to gain access to energy and mineral resources.
Per capita gross domestic product in sub-Saharan African countries increased from less than $500 at the beginning of the 21st century to about $1,000 in 2007. But revenue from the sale of natural resources and the influx of foreign capital has only enriched a small portion of the population. Mining and petroleum industries are not labor-intensive so they contribute little to boosting employment. In the meantime, the entry of manufactured goods from China and other emerging economies into Africa’s markets have taken a toll on local industries.
Some 60 percent of the population in these countries still resides in rural villages. Poverty acts as a seedbed for terrorism — only by increasing economic opportunities in these impoverished areas can it be defeated. Japan and other developed countries must consider how to help sub-Saharan African countries improve vital infrastructure such as roads and railways, and increase the manufacturing of chemical fertilizers so local farmers can boost their production of food and industrial crops to sell to urban areas.
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