The African continent - vast, remote, and perhaps strategically unimportant in the minds of many unknowing Americans – is one of the most critical fronts in the global war on terror. And it is for a variety of reasons beyond humanitarian concerns.
Many of Africa’s countries are poorly governed and weakly defended. They are wracked with disease, famine, and brutal armed conflicts that frequently cross borders. Much of our vital natural resources come from what many still refer to as “The Dark Continent.” And terrorist networks like al Qaeda are keenly aware of – and capitalizing on – Africa’s vulnerabilities and the West’s increasing dependence on the continent’s resources.
Consequently, to ignore and ultimately lose Africa in the global war on terror would be nothing less than catastrophic, says Dr. J. Peter Pham, an expert on Africa who served as a diplomatic mediator in the West African conflict involving Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Cote d’Ivoire back in 2001 and 2002. He has since returned to Africa on other official and research tours, and has frequently testified before Congress on the dangers, worldwide, posed by militant Islamism in Africa. His most recent testimony was in June on the growing Somali crisis, before a joint hearing of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights & International Organizations, and the Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation.
Pham directs the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, where he also holds academic appointments in the Departments of Political Science and Justice Studies, as well as the Africana Studies Program. The author of several books and numerous scholarly essays, he is also an adjunct fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
Last week, Pham discussed with me the problems associated with Africa, international conflict, terrorism, and the dynamics between all.
W. THOMAS SMITH JR: Why should Americans - many of whom have a hard enough time understanding the importance of our military presence Iraq - be concerned about al Qaeda operations in Africa? Particularly when we have so many other strategic considerations, worldwide?
J. PETER PHAM: Terrorism requires three basic elements: a facilitating environment, opportunity, and a motivating force that sets it all in motion. All three are present in abundance in Africa: