07.03.2024 Author: Mohamed Lamine KABA

Terrorism and its consequences in West Africa: a panoramic view of a transnational scourge

Terrorism in West Africa

Since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi on 20 October 2011, terrorism has spread across the black continent, causing negative repercussions in West Africa. These consequences have led to an increase in the number of flashpoints in the region, resulting in the rise to power of two major terrorist platforms, namely Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (international terrorist organisations banned in Russia), with terrorist groups such as AQIM, Macina Liberation Movement, Ansar Dine, Ansar ul Islam, Al-Mourabitoun, Boko Haram (banned in Russia) and other individualised and collectivised forms of terror. Using a sociometric approach, this article aims to trace the phenomenon of terrorism and its consequences in West Africa. The role that the Russian Federation and the BRICS Alliance can play in aligning the region with the global multipolar system is examined.


On 11 September 2001, the monumental Pentagon building was the target of deadly attacks that led to a major change in the dynamics of global governance. The US repression of the alleged perpetrators of these events has led to the multiplication and consolidation of terrorist movements around the world, the consequences of whose actions should be confined to West Africa within a sui generis approach. The spread of hotbeds of tension in that part of Africa is the result of the collusion of former colonial Powers with transnational companies attracted by the natural resources of the States of the region. This raises the question of the inability of these states to “ensure order at home and power abroad”. To enable West African states to do so, the Russian Federation and the BRICS Alliance should play a leading role in strengthening multipolarity in the world.

To examine the impact of terrorism in the context of West Africa is to place the region’s multiplying flashpoints at the centre of the debate in order to find ways out of the crisis. Made up of 16 states, 12 of which today form the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the West African region has been plagued by terrorism for decades. This makes governance of the affected states difficult and complex. States such as Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Mauritania and many others in the region are currently experiencing a surge in terrorist movements. Intervention mechanisms put in place to control proliferation and effectively combat terrorism seem doomed to failure.

Multilateral forces such as the Multidimensional Integrated UN Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), the Takuba forces (European forces consisting of French, Estonian, Czech, Swedish and other soldiers, Blue Helmets, G5 Sahel, involved in the fight against terrorism, in particular, in operations “Serval”, “Barkhan” (a military operation of the French army, allegedly aimed at combating Salafi jihadist armed groups), seems to have reached an impasse. This justifies the creation of the Sahel States Alliance on September 11, 2023, which has all the hallmarks of a military alliance, an intergovernmental international and regional organization.

Among the terrorist groups operating within the framework of successive terrorist groups in West Africa are AQIM, the Macina Liberation Movement, Ansar Dine, Ansarul Islam, Al-Mourabitoun and Boko Haram (banned in the territory of the Russian Federation). This raises the question of the consequences of terrorism in the region.

Causes of the rise of terrorism in West Africa

Studies of terrorism and its effects in West Africa have always been conducted by both West Africans themselves and political observers around the world (Agora, 2023). The existing literature on the subject is as vast as Egyptology and the focus of attention varies from one researcher to another. Some view terrorist movements as a brake on the development of the region, while others believe that they are a manifestation of popular frustration and a response to poor governance, corruption and mismanagement of public funds (Bayart, 1989). A third category of researchers believe that terrorist movements in West Africa are the result of the onslaught of foreign powers and transnational companies on the resources of the victim countries (Becker, 1985).

It seems to us that the terrorist movements (Al-Qaeda and Islamic State) (banned in Russia) operating in the region are a brake on political emancipation and lead to a gradual deterioration in the quality of life of the population. It is in this sense that this article takes its place in the debates that are unfolding so acutely in the public arena, where people express their attitudes towards the phenomenon of terrorism.

To study terrorism in the context of West Africa is to realise the impact of the multiplying flashpoints in the region due to the governance deficits that characterise suffering states such as Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and others. This makes terrorism a regional problem requiring a well-coordinated regional response. Today, the failure of international mechanisms put in place to dismantle terrorist groups in West Africa brings to the forefront of the fight against terrorism the urgent need to harmonise and coordinate public policies of countries in the region. An integrated, multi-dimensional approach controlled and regulated by West African states can lead to a lasting solution to the humanitarian, geopolitical and geostrategic crisis caused by the proliferation of terrorist movements in the region (CAERT, 2021).

In this study, the author relies on the main hypothesis that terrorism and its effects are at the root of social, political and economic instability in West Africa. This general hypothesis is broken down into three secondary hypotheses:

  1. The resurgence of military coups in the region can be attributed to the rise of terrorist movements;
  2. Weak governance causes frustration among the population of these countries, which favours the recruitment of their inhabitants to join terrorist groups;
  3. The struggle of foreign powers and transnational companies for the natural resources of West African states leads to an increase in the number of terrorist movements in the region.

Let us try to draw a historical portrait of terrorism, starting from its origins in West Africa, which threatens to destabilise the entire West African region.

Historical profile of terrorism in West Africa

Terrorism has been a factor in the breakdown of societies for decades and continues to be a major scourge on the political scene in West Africa.

After the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States, for which responsibility was attributed to “terrorist number one” Osama bin Laden, the Americans decided to demonstrate forced military superiority to wash away their shame on the international stage. That is why from Mogadishu in Somalia to Kidal in Mali, through other cities and areas of Africa, the winds of terrorism, violent extremism and transnational organised crime are raging on the black continent. All multidimensional and multilateral initiatives to respond to these challenges still sound casus belli, at least in the West African context.

The fall of Muammar Qadhafi on 20 October 2011 in Libya and the creation of a stateless society in that country destroyed arms control mechanisms, leading to the uncontrolled proliferation of weapons and the rise of terrorist movements that have targeted West Africa through the Republic of Mali. Mali has become a hotbed of violent extremism and transnational organized crime. The failure of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to contain terrorist movements has led many experts and specialists in geopolitics and geostrategy in the region to react by suggesting that ECOWAS and terrorism are two inextricably linked concepts. France-Afrique (La CEDEAO peut-elle réussir face à l’AES?, 2023). The two major terrorist groups, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (banned in Russia), have split, spawning offshoots such as AQIM, the Macina Front, Ansar Dine, Ansarul Islam, Al-Mourabitoun, Boko Haram (banned in Russia) and other individual and collective forms sowing terror throughout the region. Added to all of this is the frustration caused by the mismanagement of the political elite of states, which has led to the replenishment of terrorist ranks in West Africa.

Impact of terrorism in the West African region

The rise of terrorist movements in the region raises questions about the effectiveness of military defence, security partnerships and, indeed, the legitimacy of states.

In the author’s view, it is the rise of terrorist movements in the region that creates a negative environment for livelihoods, and it is largely for this reason that states in the region remain backward compared to other African states.

Tracing the terrorist movements operating in the region draws attention to their distant origins and deportation process. The paradox is that all the initiatives taken up to 2020 to combat this scourge have stalled in the theatre of war, despite multilateral coordination and the availability of the necessary means to do so, including military-technical means. This calls into question the readiness of the region’s former colonial powers to respond effectively to these security challenges and threats. Some scholars of this evil do not even rule out the involvement of some political leaders in the growth of terrorist movements in the region. Where they preferred to “sow” terror in order to loot state resources. This may have justified the coups d’état in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, where new leaders decided to join forces in the fight against terrorism.

The Alliance of Sahel States (AES) has dominated the decades-long fight against terrorism in its member countries, particularly in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger (Assimi Goïta, 2023). This dominance is reinforced by the denunciation of a number of agreements signed with some foreign powers that prevented the states of the region from “ensuring order within and authority outside” their borders. Today, AES is the perfect response to these border disputes, allowing member states to act together and simultaneously against the terrorism that has been raging in their common space for decades. Will the spread of this evil stop here or continue its ambiguous adventures in the region?


The rise of terrorist movements in West Africa can be attributed to the disruption of the normal functioning of supranational institutions of regional integration, in particular ECOWAS and its specialised and affiliated institutions. This breakdown in the institutional dynamics of the region is a consequence of the industrial policies of France-Africa. The spread of terrorism in this part of Africa is a logical extension of the colonial policy of divide and rule. In other words, colonial policies and terrorism in West Africa are the offspring of the same industrial policies.

The Russian Federation and the BRICS Alliance have a role to play in overcoming these scourges.

To defeat terrorism in West Africa, the Alliance of Sahel States seems to need:

– Adapt and strengthen the West African defence and security architecture, which includes strengthening mechanisms to respond to terrorist challenges;

– standardise state policies on border control and surveillance;

– completely rid the region of the influence of the imperialist powers, in particular France and its allies;

– to stimulate in the population of the region a common political will to fight terrorism;

– create effective structures for effective economic management to put an end to the frustration of the people;

– move towards the implementation of significant infrastructure projects in the region to facilitate the free movement of goods;

– push for structural and institutional reform of ECOWAS;

– Seriously engage in the education and promotion of the youth;

– strengthen co-operation with the BRICS alliance of states.


Mohamed Lamine KABA – geopolitical expert in governance and regional integration, Institute of Public Administration, Humanities and Social Sciences, Pan-African University, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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