OPINION: Al Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates have reached an agreement and are now working together to secure the ungoverned spaces of the African Sahel, competing for — but not fighting over — recruits.
The threat of Islamist attack is endemic in northern and eastern Burkina Faso, previously a peaceful backwater but now seen as the next front in the global war on Islamist violence.
Apparently random acts of terror are more co-ordinated, with disparate groups overcoming ethnic differences to conduct ever more complex and nuanced attacks, according to the respected US journal Foreign Policy.
US military officials are worried over where this level of co-operation, not seen anywhere else in the world, might lead.
As West Africa’s offshore industry struggles to regain traction in the wake of depressed oil prices and a financial climate discouraging investment in carbon energy, the last thing boardrooms want to hear is talk of a new terror menace.
After all, resource activism in Nigeria has taken an unexpectedly peaceful turn. Coastal piracy has not been eliminated but neither has it spiralled out of control.
Minor maritime disputes regularly arise from Togo to Senegal, but nothing to test security.
Nigeria’s oil patch "bush commanders" have mostly been bought off with stipends and business grants.
The majority of these enfants terrible have entered the political mainstream, managing lucrative surveillance contracts from their mansions in Abuja and no longer posing a threat.
For operators and contractors active in the region, the menace of an Islamist insurgency always seemed far away, symptomatic of the dysfunctional politics of states beyond the Sahara, and confined to the Maghreb.
When Boko Haram, allied to the Islamic State in West Africa, tried to dislodge the Nigerian state from the Chad basin, it was seen as weak and unco-ordinated. It eventually lost ground and is now reduced to hit-and-run tactics, but it has not gone away.
Nigeria’s Borno State governor, Babagana Zulum, last week requested an extra 100,000 troops to quell the foreign fighter-fed insurgency while, to the east, France and the US are struggling to co-ordinate resistance to the advance of well-embedded Jihadist groups.
By contrast, the poster child for multilateral counter-terror, Mauritania, has seen no attacks since 2011, largely because of concerted engagement by the US, which has since signalled intent to reduce its presence.
Both Senegal and Mauritania have massive offshore oil and gas investments to protect and need to keep their respective Islamic elites onside.
Incidents in the Sahel have doubled each year since 2015, raising alarm in coastal states like Ivory Coast, where a tourist beach at Grand Bassam was bombed in 2016, and Ghana, where the Institute for Peace and Governance last week warned of Islamist attacks during this election year.
All eyes are on Mauritania’s fledgling president, Mohamed Ghazouani, the scion of a prominent religious leader, who this week takes the chair of the French-sponsored G5 Sahel, the five-nation military alliance charged with preventing the region from slipping into chaos.
“We, the people of the desert, we never paid attention to the ocean, but this has changed and our new generations must begin to reconcile with the sea," he told a reporter during his election campaign.
Whatever Ghazouani has in mind, stakeholders in the wider region must hope he is the right man for the job.
(This is an Upstream opinion article.)