As NATO formally ended its military campaign in Libya, Al Qaeda flag was proudly flying on Libyan roof tops. It was not flying just on ordinary roof tops – it was seen flying on the roof of Benghazi's courthouse, the birthplace of the Libyan revolution and where the new rulers have imposed Sharia law since seizing power.
While NATO successfully removed Gaddafi from power, the Libyan population now lives in fear as street wars erupt between rebels. Just yesterday 7 people died in a gun battle outside Tripoli's hospital where rebel fighters from Zintan who had earlier shot a man, demanded entry to the hospital to finish him off. Residents suffer the continual presence of gun-toting rebel militia who refuse to conform to the requests of the National Transitional Council to act in moderation.
In the last 10 months the world was a witness to the Arab Spring revolutions. Hoping for freedom and democracy masses of people overthrew the regimes of Mubarak in Egypt, Ben Ali in Tunisia and Gadaffi in Libya.
But as people pray for democracy and freedom there are other forces at work. Al Qaeda has been operating in Africa for years. As typical for Al Qaeda, the work is done via separate organizations with local ambitions. The Al Shahab in Somalia for example, is an Al Qaeda influenced group, the largest one among several armed Somali groups and clans that aim to topple Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and impose Islamic law. While such groups operate on a local level, the west is their enemy and the aim is a global Islamic regime.
A recent audio message from al-Shabaab called for terrorist attacks in Canada and said it was a duty for Muslims to fight for Islam, urging listeners not to “just sit around and be a couch potato and just chill all day.” The English message was from a Somali-American suicide bomber who later struck an African Union base in Mogadishu, killing 10 people in the act.
These attacks are now spread over Africa. In August, a hard-line Islamist group in Nigeria known as Boko Haram bombed the UN headquarters in the capital, Abuja, killing 24 people. A year earlier, militants from the al-Shabaab unleashed twin bombings in Kampala, Uganda, that killed 76. And a Nigerian man tried to blow up an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 during a flight that originated from Lagos, Nigeria.
While these are all separate groups they all adhere to Al Qaeda's doctrine. Thriving on political unrest, Al Qaeda has established links with a number of African Islamist groups and is aiming to build even closer ties.
As Arab Spring spreads chaos across North African states, Al Qaeda is busy connecting the dots and putting western foundations of democracy and elections to work. Before we know it, Africa will become an Islamic Caliphate, a crucial step on the way to Islamic world domination.
Understanding this inherent threat, the US has increased its Africa focus and is playing a growing role in Africa’s military battles, using Special Forces advisers, drones and tens of millions of dollars in military aid. Establishing local partnerships is necessary for these efforts to succeed.
The West should support leaders willing to make reforms and work with the people for a better economy and a better life. Just like the US works with Uganda as a partner in the war against Al Qaeda, it should work with other leaders as well. It should work with Nigeria and Kenya -- the most important economies in West and East Africa respectively.
The biggest story in Africa south of the Sahara over the past few years hasn’t been plague, famine or war but the emergence of the world’s poorest continent as one of its fastest growing – thanks to factors that include fresh investment, economic reform, the spread of new technology, higher prices for commodity exports and generally greater political stability.
African countries are some of the most beautiful in the world. Just now Lonely Planet named Uganda as the top travel destination in 2012. But these strong countries of Africa, those that can lead to change, are facing growing battles with radical Islamist groups. Political stability is crucial to stop the spread of radical Islam. The West needs to support African leaders and work together to keep Africa a beautiful place for all to enjoy and not allow Radical Islam to ruin it all.