It follows revelations of a 30 percent spike in violent activity by Islamic State over the past 12 months, as the group gains new footholds after its expulsion from Syria and Iraq. Last week the Global Coalition Against Daesh (IS), a group of 83 countries including the US, Britain and France, reported the Islamist sect was gaining support in east Africa after a prolific year which has included kidnappings in the Lake Chad area, suicide attacks in Somalia and the beheading of children in Mozambique.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “Two years on from the territorial defeat of Daesh and the liberation of nearly eight million people from its cruel grip, we remain committed to preventing its resurgence.”
Over the past week alone, Al-Shabaab, affiliated to IS, took credit for an attack on the gas-rich Mozambique city of Palma in which 50 people, including Christians from so-called “Crusader” countries, were killed.
And an attempted coup in Niger showed the challenges facing African nations riven by poverty and ethnic division. Niger is just one of six countries – along with Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Burkina Faso and Nigeria – where IS is actively trying to re-establish footholds.
But it is just one of many Jihadist groups ravaging the continent, taking advantage of poor governance, grievances over foreign influence and the challenges of the pandemic.
Candyce Kelshall, adjunct professor at the University of Buckingham and a fellow in its Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies, said: “What we need to understand is that we are not looking at individual groups carrying out mandates in a coordinated manner.
“We’re looking at a collective sentiment. It’s like a fire. Each success is dry kindling for another entirely separate group. One group’s successes feeds another’s and the air becomes superheated.
“And while we are consumed with the challenges of tackling the pandemic, these groups have been flourishing,” she added.
Prof Kelshall said physical territory is now almost irrelevant.
“IS in Africa is about control over populations. That will denote their ‘Caliphate’. It’s about community. You carry it with you wherever you fight.”
Because of this, IS and, to an extent, Al Qaeda focus on areas where dissatisfaction over foreign investment and imported labour is highest. Trade between Africa and the UK increased 7.5 percent to £36billion from 2018 to 2019 and, post-Brexit, has become even more meaningful.
The UK, along with the US and UAE, are leading the effort in beating IS with countering and undermining its influence campaigns.
“IS still has the ability to operate a hugely sophisticated propaganda network. We meet it head-on wherever it appears,” said a senior Government source.
Prof Kelshall, added that education was “the only weapon we can use”.
“We have taken our eye off the ball, and there are movements which we are not noticing and my concern is the new Al Qaeda strategy of conducting negotiations, much like the Taliban in Afghanistan,” she said.
“There is already a stated aim for AQ affiliate JNIM to negotiate a cessation of hostilities in Mali. And there are indications that Al-Shabaab will follow suit in Somalia.
“If this is allowed to happen, we would be legitimising these Jihadist organisations and allow a situation whereby we have governance by them.”