WARARKA BARAAWEPOST Saturday 9 January 2010 


The Nigerian bomber and the Obama administration


Nigerian-born Umar Farouk Abdulmulltallab’s dastardly attempt to detonate a bomb on flight 253 has profound ramifications for all Africans and the African continent, writes Ama Biney, from tougher security checks for passengers flying from Muslim countries, to providing justification for a greater role for AFRICOM in tackling the ‘alleged global war on terrorism’. But, asks Biney, is increased military intervention an effective strategy for treating the root causes of terrorist attacks and building a safe and secure world for all?


In 1990 I vividly remember a white American customs official asking me at Dallas airport if I was a Nigerian and was I carrying drugs in my suitcase? For him, all Africans looked alike and nationality was unimportant. For me, it simply reinforced that all Africans were likely to be subjected to prejudice, racism and suspicion by certain elements of US officialdom regardless of class, age, or gender. Racial profiling has been around long before 9/11 and now with the arrest of Umar Farouk Abdulmulltallab who dangerously tried to set himself alight on board flight 253 in Detroit on 25 December 2009, his dastardly act has profound ramifications for all Africans and the African continent.

Firstly, to date, the face of the terrorist has been Arab, then Asian (particularly in the UK where a few British Muslims have been involved in terrorist incidents); it is now Nigerian. However, for many Europeans and North Americans who tend to think of Africa as country, Nigerian indiscriminately equals all Africans.

Secondly, since the frightening incident, there have been swift moves to tighten up security in Western capitals, particularly in the US and UK. According to the British Guardian newspaper, the US has announced that passengers flying from 14 Muslim countries considered to have links with terrorism are now set to confront additional security checks. Naturally the list includes Nigeria, as well as Yemen, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Somalia.[1] In addition, there have been talks of full body scans that some say will be an invasion of privacy and a violation of human dignity – all in the effort to counter terrorism and secure safety and security. But safety and security for whom?
Thirdly, the serious furore created by Abdulmulltallab’s action will further justify the Obama administration’s commitment to AFRICOM’s escalation of the military role of the command in fighting the alleged global war on terrorism (GWOT). Quietly the governments of Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Kenya, Nigeria, Morocco, Libya and South Africa – whilst objecting to stationing AFRICOM’s headquarters on their soil – have participated in the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership. Such countries will continue to receive millions of dollars in military funding and more so in the light of this incident. Therefore, resistance to AFRICOM must be stepped up.

Fourth, as Africa’s most populous state, Nigeria must deny it is breeding fanatics, though its leadership does not have the courage to speak truth (either publicly or behind closed doors) to US power as to the real roots of terrorism. Whilst much has been made of Abdulmulltallab’s radicalisation in London, terrorists are not born but are made in political, economic and social conditions and in a world of disconnects and contradictions. Who will bell the cat? Who will tell the Obama administration that the GWOT will not be solved by increasing the military-industrial-security and police intelligence of the US and the agencies of those countries said to be a safe haven for terrorists? Who will tell the UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown that his proposed conference on Yemen on 28 January to ostensibly fix Yemen is, as Rami G. Khouri aptly says, ‘akin to Tiger Woods offering a course in marriage fidelity?’[2] The problems of Yemen as Khouri points out have historical roots in the British imposed artificial boundaries that created instability in Yemen, alongside the British installed local rulers.

In the wake of 9/11 Americans asked ‘why do they hate us?’ and George W. Bush Junior responded that America’s enemies ‘hate our freedoms.’ Such a simplistic interpretation continues to mislead Americans and misguides the American administration in its solutions to the GWOT. In essence, the causes of terrorism have not gone away. These causes lie in the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian problem remains; Israel continues to occupy Palestine, builds homes on Palestinian land, flouts UN Security Council resolutions; America continues to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan; America continues to covertly support undemocratic and corrupt governments in the world, including in the Arab world (e.g. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have incumbent rulers who have held on to the political reins of power whilst US administrations including Obama who visited the former early in his administration, turn a blind eye).


The US continues to maintain some 600 military bases around the world, including the Arab world, which scandalises ordinary Arabs and particularly Muslim jihadists. However, these military bases exist in order to maintain America’s sole superpower status, grip on the oil supplies of the Middle East and to project its domination around the world.

The former head of Israeli military intelligence, Yehoshaphat Harkabi made a critical observation that continues to remain valid. He said: ‘To offer an honourable solution to the Palestinians respecting their right to self-determination: That is the solution to the problem of terrorism. When the swamp disappears there will be no more mosquitoes.’[3] The trouble is the responses of both the US and UK (and other Western nations) are generating more swamps and therefore more mosquitoes. The more troops and personnel that the US and NATO send to Yemen or Afghanistan, the more they are helping to breed more mosquitoes and playing into Al-Qaeda’s hands.

We do not know the reasons that encouraged the young educated 23 year-old Abdulmulltallab to be persuaded by Yemeni operatives to carry out such an act. He hailed from the small town of Funtua in Katsina state, also the hometown of the great Pan-Africanist, Dr Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem. Yet this is where their commonality ends. Whether it was, despite his privileged upbringing, that he considered the disparities and inequalities plaguing the world as intolerable; or that deaths of Iraqis, Afghans, Congolese or any other non-white person is worth less than the death of a European or North American; and/or sheer indoctrination by Islamic fundamentalists, that fuelled his frustration and bitterness whilst producing the mindset and then the decision to carry out such an act – we can only speculate. Yet, nothing morally justifies his heinous action. Meanwhile, we must ask ourselves in the rush to increase military training and intelligence of the Yemeni government by the British and American governments – is this the only response to be pursued? Would such funds not be better spent on increasing the number of jobs, health and education of the poorest Arab country in the Arab world in which there are four guns to every person in a population of an estimated 23 million people?[4]

Senator Joe Lieberman who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, recently endorsed the view of an American official based in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. The official told Lieberman: ‘Iraq was yesterday’s war. Afghanistan is today’s war. If you don’t act pre-emptively Yemen will be tomorrow’s war.’[5]What level of increased intervention the Obama administration will pursue in Yemen is uncertain. But what is certain is that there will be some level of increased intervention. Yet, such an increased engagement is likely to destabilise the wider region in a similar way that US interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq did. Moreover, this time, the dangers of a prospective intervention in the pursuit of the GWOT is that it is likely to be centred on America’s military base in Djibouti where the US has an estimated 2000 troops stationed at Camp Lemonier which hosts the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HA).

In addition to this complex geo-strategic political picture, it is believed that some 200,000 Somali refugees are in Yemen as a result of the ongoing political conflict in Somalia. Some of these refugees are said to have joined Al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, the al-Shabaab Islamists in Somalia are in contact with Al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen. The low-profile and covert approach of the Obama administration needs to be watched closely, as does the negative impact of internationalising Yemen’s multiple conflicts; it is likely to drag Africa – particularly the geo-strategic importance of the Horn of Africa into any future quagmire or worse still, powder keg scenario. Ultimately, on a medium to long term basis, we need to drain the swamp and there will be no more mosquitoes.

* Dr Ama Biney is a pan-Africanist and scholar-activist who lives in the United Kingdom.
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