Violent extremism across West Africa has been on the rise in recent times, with Togo being roped into the menace.
Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa Province have been active in the Lake Chad Basin region, Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara and Ansarul Islam in the Sahel. The implications for the peace and security of the sub-region have never been more pronounced.
The activities of these extremist groups have led to the deaths of thousands and displaced many others across parts of West Africa. The result is a worsening humanitarian crisis.
Togo, despite its proximity to countries affected by violent extremism, is one West African country that has experienced relative peace and security, until recently. On May 10 and 11 jihadists attacked a Togolese military outpost and killed eight Togolese soldiers.
The incident was only a few kilometres away from neighbouring Burkina Faso, which struggles with incessant attacks from violent extremist organisations.
No group has claimed responsibility yet for the latest attack, but the Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium, one of the world’s largest databases of terrorists and terrorist groups,points a finger at Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin. The group is backed by al-Qaida and operates in the Sahel region.
In a article published in The Conversation, Folahanmi Aina, a doctoral candidate in Leadership Studies at the King’s College London, narrates that it is not the first time Togo has experienced an attack of this nature on security forces. The first was in November 2021, when a security post in a northern village was attacked.
The question is why these attacks have begun and what they imply for peace and security in the region.
Having closely monitored the conflict and security dynamics of West Africa for over a decade, Folahanmi Aina is convinced the attacks have to do with the need of violent extremist organisations to establish a presence in Togo as part of a broader recruitment drive.
Some of the warning signs for countries being vulnerable to violent extremism are high rates of poverty, inequality, illiteracy, unemployment, corruption, weak institutions and poor governance.
Togo has a population of just over 8.5 million. Its gross domestic product stood at US$7.5 billion in 2020. That of its immediate neighbour, Ghana, with a population of 32 million was US$72.3 billion.
Over 50% of Togo’s population live below the poverty line of US$1.25 per day. It is one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world as measured by the Human Development Index which is based on indicators such as life expectancy, education and per capita income. In 2019, Togo’s index score was about 0.15 positioning it 167th out of 189 countries.
Togo has the conditions for extremism to take root.
Poverty contributes to violent extremism as it can provide a way, for those that are desperate, out of economic hardship. Recruits are often provided with an income and protection.
Togo joins the ranks of other countries in the region that have experienced terrorism attacks by violent extremist organisations. These include Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Benin, Cote d’ Ivoire and Burkina Faso.
By establishing a presence in Togo, extremist groups stand to gain by recruiting foot soldiers. Being in northern Togo also puts them close to Burkina Faso, enabling cross-border collaborations and attacks with other violent extremists operating in the area.
The more violent extremist organisations are able to demonstrate their viciousness, the more international attention they attract, that gives them a negotiating edge, as well as financial and logistical support from their parent organisation – in this case Al-Qaida.
West African states must act quickly and decisively to avert instability across the sub-region from violent extremism. They must prioritise efforts aimed at addressing the underlying socio-economic triggers of violent extremism, in addition to fundamentally improving relations between the state and society.