Friday, January 8, 2010

Counter-Terrorism's Growing African Impact

The Obama Administration’s counter-terrorism campaign is taking a more activist turn following the foiled Christmas Day airplane bombing, and Africans and Muslims in America, as well as the countries from which they or their families are from will increasingly bear the brunt of those actions.

Recent data shows that 139 American-based Muslims have either joined the radical Muslim jihad against America or have been involved in plans to carry out terrorist activities as part of a group or individually. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan shocked the military and the nation with his shooting spree at Fort Hood, which resulted in the death of 13 people and the wounding of 30 others. His case is but one recent example of American-born citizens, naturalized citizens or U.S. residents taking up arms against America in the name of jihad.

In October, I wrote about the young Somali men from Minnesota who joined or tried to join al-Shabaab in Somalia, and several weeks ago, five young Muslims men living in Virginia (some of them of African descent) were arrested in Pakistan for trying to join al-Qaeda in its fight against Western forces in Afghanistan. Adam Gadahn, born in America of Jewish-Catholic parents, became a dedicated jihadist making terror videos for al-Qaeda.

One of President Obama’s first actions after the Christmas Day incident was to list 14 countries whose citizens would undergo enhanced scrutiny in order to enter the United States. Not only their nationals, but anyone flying through these countries, will receive more intense security screening. Five of these countries were in Africa: Algeria, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan.

Only Nigeria has raised serious objections to being listed thus far, as well they might. Many of us dealing with inviting Nigerians to events in America can attest to the long-standing difficulty with getting visas for our Nigerian invitees. The Foundation for Democracy in Africa had a mother-to-child-transmission HIV-AIDS program turned down by USAID several years ago due to concerns about bringing Nigerian medical personnel into the United States – even for a short period. Any heightened scrutiny on Nigerian visas will make it all but impossible for Nigerians to enter the country no matter what the purpose or how long the duration of their stay.

Nigerian Foreign Minister Ojo Maduekwe protested the U.S. Administration’s listing of Nigeria with countries accused of supporting terrorism. He called it a double standard, comparing what so-called “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to do with what Richard Reid, the so-called “shoe bomber,” tried to do in 2001. Of course, American Administrations have long believed Nigeria could be treated dismissively whereas the United Kingdom (Reid’s country of origin) could not.
One can expect hundreds of Africans on the continent and Africans and Muslims in America to be added to travel watch lists and no-fly lists. Moreover, 14 African countries are now included on the State Department’s travel warning list: Algeria, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Eritrea, Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan.

Given the presence of jihadists in some of these countries, how long before they are added to the enhanced scrutiny list? For example, Somali pirates have been reported to be buying property in northeastern Kenya lately. In addition to the internal upheaval Kenya is experiencing and the terrorist incidents in Nairobi and Mombasa several years ago, Kenyans (and those who fly through Kenya) could well be considered increased security risks by a U.S. security apparatus fearful of missing the next underwear or shoe bomber.

Conflict countries such as Somalia and Sudan obviously deserve travel warnings, but
Nigeria and Kenya are major trading partners who have been the target of terrorism or have had individuals or groups not supported by the federal government involved in terrorist activities. Further limitations on travel will inhibit commercial enterprises and social relations of the millions of people who travel back and forth between the United States and Nigeria and Kenya regularly. Cote d’Ivoire, despite its recent civil war, remains a major U.S. trading partner in Africa, and inclusion on the extra scrutiny list will make their full recovery more difficult.

If you thought the African Growth and Opportunity Act wasn’t broadly enhancing U.S.-Africa trade within non-extractive industries, wait until you see what more stringent travel limitations will do to what trade exists today.

1 comment:

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