[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 January 2007, 10:22 GMT
Africa's year of terror tactics
By Patrick Smith
Africa Confidential editor

This was the year that the war on terror came of age in Africa, with the Horn of Africa simmering and a new regional conflagration looming.

But 2006 was also the year that China emerged as a dominant trading partner.

China's trade with Africa is likely to hit $50bn in 2006, level-pegging with the other big trading blocs in Europe and North America.

Islamic Court militia
Islamic militia controlled much of Somalia for six months

The grand African summit in Beijing in November set the seal on China's critical economic role.

But the unfolding crises in the greater Horn of Africa are drawing attention from other important developments on the continent: African economies are growing at their fastest for almost three decades as foreign interest booms in African equities and money markets.

And there is the upcoming election season in Africa that will shape the continent's leadership for the next five years.

In 2007, some of Africa's biggest countries are either holding national elections (Nigeria, Kenya, Senegal, Mali, Algeria, Morocco and Sierra Leone) or recovering from them (the Democratic Republic of Congo and Egypt) or preparing for them in the near future (Angola and South Africa).

Time consuming

Hard-pressed officials at the African Union's (AU) headquarters in Addis Ababa complain that their workload focuses on the Horn of Africa to the detriment of continental issues such as political reform and national crises in Ivory Coast, Guinea, DR Congo and Zimbabwe.

Mr Bashir's regime, having hosted Osama bin Laden in Khartoum in the 1990s, has played its hand carefully in the US's war on terror

US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Jendayi Frazer says she spent 80% of her time in 2006 on just two countries in the Horn of Africa - Sudan and Somalia.

The US's war with al-Qaeda started in Africa when militants bombed US embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam in August 1998.

The vast majority of casualties were African, none of whom have received any compensation.

Since then the US and France have hugely expanded their military bases and listening posts in Djibouti from where they co-ordinate war on terror operations.


Somalia was a test case for the war on terror strategists: it showed how quickly a national struggle for power can escalate into a regional or even an international conflict when external powers intervene.

Cheering supporters of DR Congo President Joseph Kabila
The Congolese celebrated successful elections this year

Both sides in Somalia's conflict called in foreign allies. None of the parties was interested in a diplomatic resolution of the crisis.

US officials saw the Islamic courts regime in Mogadishu as an al-Qaeda front with ambitions to turn Somalia into Africa's Afghanistan.

European diplomats differed with the US but lacked an alternative.

The AU split with many sub-Saharan countries backing Ethiopia's intervention against the Islamists in Mogadishu while North African states backed the Islamic courts.

The Arab League was sympathetic to the Islamists in Mogadishu, and several of its members supplied them with arms.

It is dangerously reminiscent of the Cold War era when the US backed Ethiopia in the Ogaden war against Somalia, which was then backed by the Soviet Union.

National wars in Angola, Mozambique, and the DR Congo were also exacerbated by Cold War powers and their regional proxies taking sides.


At the other end of Horn of Africa's arc of crisis is Sudan where President Omar al-Bashir's Islamist regime has faced mounting pressure over its attacks on civilians in the western province of Darfur.

Congolese and Rwandan rebels have likewise been branded as terrorists and beyond negotiation

Although Mr Bashir publicly capitulated in December to international demands that he allow a UN peacekeeping force to protect civilians there, UN officials still expect to face huge obstacles on the ground.

Mr Bashir's regime, having hosted Osama bin Laden in Khartoum in the 1990s, has played its hand carefully in the US's war on terror.

Under pressure from Washington, Khartoum sent its intelligence chief Salah Abdallah Gosh, to brief Western intelligence officials about al-Qaeda networks in Sudan and beyond and it agreed to join a serious effort to negotiate a peace with its opponents in southern Sudan.

New choices

Beyond the Horn, other African states have taken up 'war on terror' rhetoric.

Until recently, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni rejected negotiations with the Lord's Resistance Army, which he designated as mere terrorists.

Congolese and Rwandan rebels have likewise been branded as terrorists and beyond negotiation; oppositionists in Malawi and Zambia have been labelled as terrorists and putchists.

Authoritarian leaders in Africa have new choices. Like Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang they can stamp on their opponents and claim to be key allies in the war on terror and hand out oil acreage to Western oil companies.

If that fails they can call up Beijing and offer more oil acreage or mining licences for precious metals for which they can negotiate some hefty development funds without any lectures about democracy and human rights.

For Africa's hardened pro-democracy activists, 2007 is set to be a busy year.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific