Al-Qaeda, Ivory, and National Security: Soft Power and Why it Matters

Nairobi 2013, Al-Shabaab attacks Westgate mall – over 67 are killed with countless more injured. Nigeria April 16, 2014 Boko Haram kidnaps 223 girls disappearing with them into the forest. February 2013, Al-Qaeda linked militants take large swaths of northern Mali triggering a French military intervention.  Attacks such as these are becoming common place in Africa. Al-Qaeda linked extremist groups such as Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, and Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula have taken advantage of weak governments and desperate populations to gain a foothold in Africa and recoup after over a decade fighting the United States. These organizations pose an imminent threat to the security of the United States and her allies and are poised to transform large swaths of Africa into terrorist safe havens. While the threat posed by these organizations is well known, surprisingly little has been done to combat them. I believe this is due in part to American reluctance to engage in any sort of combative foreign policy, as well as the realization that many underlying factors of terrorism are often times more difficult to combat than the organization its self.

As I previously stated in part one of this series, a significant causation for terrorism in Africa is Big game poaching. Most, if not all, active terror cells on the African continent receive large portions of their funding through revenue gained through poaching. For example, it is estimated that Al-Shabaab “makes enough through ivory to support around 40 percent of the salaries paid to militants”. Considering the Ivory trade brings in nearly 19 billion dollars annually we are talking about huge sums of money making its way to organizations whose goals encompass sowing turmoil and instituting strict Sharia Law. It is clear that a worldwide effort to stem the rise of African terrorism is necessary, but where should it start?

As we have seen in Afghanistan and Iraq, conventional hard power is highly effective in combating terrorism, but only to a certain degree. Hard power eliminates militants from the battlefield, thus weakening the organization, but it rarely succeeds in totally eliminating the organization. As we are seeing now with the Taliban resurgence, as soon as hard power assets leave, the organization quickly recovers and recoups its loses. This is a product of the underlying causes of terror not being targeted. This goes for Afghanistan, it goes for Iraq, and it certainly goes for Africa. As long as underlying causes, such as poaching, remain prevalent terrorism will continue.

Ok so underlying causes need to be targeted, so how is this done? In the case of Africa, poaching serves as a primary underlying reason for the rise of terrorism. It provides funds to entice impoverished Africans to join militant organizations that carry out these atrocious acts of violence. To begin targeting the problem of poaching it must be looked at in the simplest of economic terms, supply and demand. Who is supplying the ivory? Radical Islamic terrorist organizations. Who is demanding the ivory? A rising Asia in the midst of an economic boom. It is estimated that nearly 70 percent of poached ivory finds its way to China, with its neighbors picking up the slack.

It is time that the United States and her allies use their soft power to make it clear that the purchasing of ivory will no longer go unpunished. Economic pressure must be put on the countries who perpetuate the ivory trade in the form of financial blacklist and sanctions. While some progress, in the form of mass ivory crushings in China, has been made it is not enough. There must be mass educational programs advocating against using ivory medicinally. Law enforcement must be better utilized to inspect imports and stop ivory shipments. Finally, penalties for those caught selling or purchasing ivory must also be more severe to dissuade people from buying into the trade. The United States and her allies posses the necessary soft power to target ivory demand, it is just a matter of whether they are willing to act. It is only through the targeting of demand with soft power that poaching can begin to be contained. The containment of poaching would be a significant blow to terrorist organizations in Africa, a blow which would pave the way for hard power to finish the job.

(End of Part Two)

Read part one here Al-Qaeda, Ivory, and National Security (Part One)

4N Policy Now is a non- partisan, non-biased organization. All of the views expressed in the content published on this site are the sole opinions of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of 4N Policy Now.

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