Authors: Galina Sidorova and Natalia Zerlitsina*
Islamic radicalism and extremism are perceived around the world as a major threat to international security. The Islamists started developing terrorism and took it to a global level. Today, perhaps, there is no continent where this problem would not be acute. This is the standpoint of scientist D. V. Trenin who presents his reasoning in the article Traditional and New Security Challenges in International Relations [Trenin 2015: 138]. Indeed, one could easily agree with him.
In recent times, intrusion and spread of radical Islam has become evident in African countries, where, as it is, the problems of national and continental security have not been solved due to the never-ending armed conflicts. The most prevalent Islamic groups in sub-Saharan Africa are the Wahhabis and the Muslim Brotherhood. Other widespread groups are the Sheikh Balala sect in Kenya with an active subdivision in Zimbabwe, the Sunni Muslim Association in Cote d’Ivoire, the People against Gangsterism and Drugs, and the Islamic Jihad in the Republic of South Africa (the RSA). In Nigeria, the greatest danger is posed by the Boko Haram extremist organization imposing the Shariah laws and extirpation of the Western lifestyle; in Senegal — the Al-Falah Movement for Salafi Islamic culture; in Burkina Faso, there is Jama’at Ahl al-Sunnah al-Muhammad; in Somalia — Al-Shabaab and Jihad al-Islamiyya, the radical wing of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (headed by Oumar Ould Hamaha); Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, that seized control over the northern territories of Mali and, in October 2012, was holding 9 European citizens as hostages, 6 of whom were French [Kemal 2015: 156].
The revivalists’ backbone is not only Islam coming from Arab countries of the East and the Maghreb. The African reality has seen some examples of religious extremism conceiving in the depths of the African society itself. These are various sects and groups primarily calling attention of disadvantaged population of the country, striving for a better life. They all differ in terms of dogmatic principles. Although the majority of them are constituted by Sunni Muslims, in a number of countries there is also the Shia minority (notable for bravery in combat, no fear of death, belief in afterlife), which is also influential due to the financial, organizational and moral support of Iran. The influence of Shia revivalists is apparent in Nigeria, Senegal, Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, and the RSA.
It should be noted that the term “Islamic revivalists,” which is most often associated with terrorism did not always bear this negative connotation. If we look back in history, we will see that it entered the political lexicon in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, after rise of the anti-Shah regime in Iran. Russian diplomat and orientalist A. I. Vavilov asserts that “it is not always justifiable that Islamic revivalism is applied to fairly broad, vague and, in many respects, motley religious-political movement standing for return to the “original, radical values of Islam” (not incidentally, the Arabic word for “revivalists” means “radicalists”) [Vavilov 2009: 229]. Another scientist, Africanist A. D. Savateyev, maintains the position that Islamic revivalism is far from the national spirit, although it “incorporates a range of diverse outlooks from the spiritual and religious point of view, and reflects the interests of various social strata and sentiments of many categories of Muslims” [Savateyev 2006: 201]. He mentions the following classification of Islamists. The first category is focused on the intrinsic values of eternal order — justice, equality, and fair work in accordance with Koranic precepts. The second category does not follow the rules and regulations of the “true” Islam and appeals to the brothers of the religion with proposals to follow the prophetic directives. The third one goes beyond the “brothers” circle and seeks to impose its standards of behavior upon adherents of other confessions. The fourth category of the Muslims includes representatives of secular intellectuals, merchants; it stands for connecting Islam to the government, and, in fact, for the re-establishment of a theocratic state. Although, the views of the adherents are far from being identical in this case. The fifth category of the revivalists is the armed jihad, manifested as achieving the goal (creation of a unified Islamic religious and political entity) by any means including the fight against “expansion” of Christians and reprisal against infidels. The basic features of the moral portrait of the revivalists’ extremist wing are cynicism and resentment aimed at breach of native African values. According to the ideology of Islamic extremism, a Muslim is merely obliged to fight the non-Muslims, that is, to conduct armed jihad. [Savateyev 2006: 230].
Study of penetration of Islam and its implications to one of the Central African countries — the DROC — provides a visual representation of the topic addressed. In the DROC, Islam has been recognized relatively recently, though islamization of the country, advancing from the east of the DROC, had been known as early as before the arrival of the Portuguese to the continent (1482). In March 1972, the President of Zaire Mobutu Sese Seko issued Decree 72/194 on the foundation of the Islamic Community of the Republic of Zaire (COMIZA), which later transformed into the Islamic Community of the DROC (COMICO) [Cheik Ali Mwinyi…La Référence plus. Kinshasa 2014: P. 2]. This organization is officially recognized and unites only a part of the Muslim community in the DROC. Besides COMICO, there are other Islamic organizations acting “on a private basis”. In March 2014, from among 12 contenders for the post of the Head of the Islamic community Mufti Sheikh Ali Mwini Mkuu was elected to a 5-year term — a politically literate, well-educated person maintaining an active position in the subregional, continental and international organizations [Les musulmans de la RDC…L’Observateur. Kinshasa 2014: P.11]. Wide connections and communications with regional and international colleagues enable the Mufti to collect information, “keep his finger on the pulse”, and control the situation in the country.
In 2012, the Islamic Community of the DROC launched the programme “Peaceful Settlement of Conflicts, Administration and Efficient Governance,” with the view to train representatives in the provinces of the country. The initiative involved 48 regional committees and 288 Islamic centres, which employ about three thousand activists. According to the Deputy Chairman of the Islamic Community of the DROC M. Seto-Bagoni, who is in charge of legal issues, trained specialists will provide indispensable support to the DROC Government in establishing peace and supremacy of the statute law across the country. In the provinces, Congolese people are also provided with the necessary legal, expert, and advisory assistance to settle the internal political situation in the Republic. With the assistance of local, regional and international sponsors, about USD 130,000 were allocated for the implementation of the Islamic Community’s project.
It should be kept in mind that the role of religious denominations in the social and political life of the DROC, taking into account the deep piety inherent in the Africans, is extremely high. The dominant position is held by Catholicism, which is practiced here by more than 50% of the 80 million population, and by Protestantism as its branch — 20%. This data identifies the DROC as the largest Catholic country in Africa and draw special attention to Kinshasa from the Vatican. The National Episcopal Conference, declaring its position on key issues of domestic and foreign policy on a regular basis, demonstrates significant interest in this region. Catholic structures, traditionally involved in political processes, occupy senior positions in the government. For example, Abbot Apollinaire Malumalu has been elected as the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission twice — in 2006 and in 2013. Religious leaders mediate the processes of settlement of the Eastern crisis, coordinate the provision of humanitarian assistance, and offer a wide network of higher and secondary educational institutions.
Afro-Christian syncretic sects (especially Kimbanguism) also have numerous congregations in a number of provinces, and, according to their postulates (chosenness of the Africans and etc.), are characterized by considerable political engagement, often of separatist or anti-European orientation (about 10%). There are many various religious sects. As a rule, they are fee-paying, but due to the preachers’ rhetoric skills and their ability to attract attention, the sects are very popular among the local population. Orthodox Christianity is represented thinly (five parishes). It is professed by about 3% of the population. According to 2015 estimates, 10% of the Congolese are Muslims.
The largest number of adherents of Islam is concentrated in the east of the country, in the Provinces of Orientale, Maniema, and in the north of Katanga. In the DROC, along with Christian buildings for public worship, there are 70 mosques belonging to different Muslim communities: Pakistani, Iranian, Lebanese, Indian and others.
Year by year, the percentage of the Congolese people professing Islam is growing. This is partly promoted by the presence of Muslim peacemakers in the country, who serve with the UN Stabilization Mission in the DROC, and by numerous Pakistani military units that provide financial support for the Islamic communities, in particular in construction of mosques. The severe internal political, economic and social situation in the country fosters the spread of the radical wing of Islam.
In one of the author’s conversations that took place in Kinshasa in 2013, Sheikh Abdalah Mangal told that the Islamic Community in the DROC has nothing to do with so-called radical, aggressive Islamists. The Community is thoroughly monitoring manifestations of proselytism with the purpose of nipping it in the bud; it aims at reconciling hostile ethnic groups, at settlement of conflict situations including those in the east of the country, and stands for consolidation of the peoples of various religious confessions. Muslims try to spread and introduce their culture, open schools and provide humanitarian assistance to the poverty-ridden Congolese population. However, according to the Mufti, in spite of the attractiveness of Islam, the Congolese authorities inhibit the spread of this religion in the “Catholic country”. He gave the following example. On April 18, 2013, the Minister of Justice and Human Rights of the DROC signed a decree on suspension of the activities of the Islamic Community for three months (the reasons are not disclosed). The decree was abolished after the Mufti had argued against it and appealed to the Congolese authorities.
As Congolese analysts assert, although within the period of 2011–2014 no radical Islamists’ organizations were detected in the country, still there are certain fears about penetration of jihadist ideas. According to the experts, the Muslim influence is, albeit slowly, but moving to the DROC. In the west the “Muslim wave” is coming from Mali and Nigeria; in the east — from Kenya through Uganda and Rwanda; in the south — from Tanzania and Zambia; and in the north — from the Central African Republic (the CAR), subsequent to the coup in March 2013.
It is Mali — the “citadel” of Islamism in Africa — which is often named by the experts an “epicenter of the spread” of radical Islam. They do not exclude that the conflict between Salafists, who differ dogmatically, ideologically, politically and culturally, can be brought to the Republic Congo, similar to the conflict between Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda in 1994, which was brought to the DROC from outside. In this regard, a large Malian community in the DROC, living by its own laws and having its own mosque, raises certain concerns. Another threat originates in Nigeria, where ethnic antagonisms between the “Christian south” and the “Muslim north” pose a real danger, up to division of the country into two states. Consequences of the conflict may well have an effect on the central region of Africa where the refugees of different faiths will rush into. As a result, “foreign” problems will affect the already existing ethnic and religious contradictions. A serious danger is also posed by crossing the “unconsolidated” border by militants-illegal aliens from South Sudan, who partially “settled down” in the DROC. This makes the Congolese society extremely vulnerable in the face of the permanent terrorist threat.
Another source of threat of the spread of Islam in the DROC is the neighboring Central African Republic (CAR) where, as already noted, a coup took place. According to MONUSCO Russian military observers, on December 5, 2013, near the residential community of Zongo in the Province of Équateur (the DROC), bordering the residential community of Bangun (the CAR), armed clashes broke out between the Muslim Seleka and the Christian Antibalaka organization. By the experts’ assumption, the ethnic conflict escalated as a result of mass activity of French troops, which deployed the “Sangaris” (which means “red butterfly” in Swahili) operation in the CAR. It was also reported that about 10 militaries of the Seleka movement oppositional to the CAR government entered the DROC territory. Streams of refugees from the CAR were crossing the border and “dissolving” in the forests of the DROC since they did not want to stay in the refugee camps because of the unstable situation in the region. The Congolese people, who lived in the areas bordering the CAR, also responded to the situation and fled from the country. Generally, the situation complicated because the civilian population of the DROC was extremely irritated by the aliens from the neighboring country who provoked conflicts and worsened the already disastrous conditions in the state. The incomers were not only “pressing” the local population in the Province of Équateur, but were also bringing with them Islamic culture alien to the Congolese Christians and to those, who adhere to the local faiths. According to the UNHCR, in May 2014 in the DROC, there were about 70 thousand refugees from the CAR and six thousand Congolese returnees. In addition to the arriving refugees, another problem arose in the country. The CAR militants started seizing the DROC territory. The risks of migration processes and the destabilization associated with them are addressed in details in analytical notes by Russian researchers K. Borishpolets and A. Babadzhanov [Borishpolets K., Babadzhanov A. 2007: 3-7].
The threat of radical Islam in the DROC and other African countries comes not only from the East and the Maghreb. After the investigations of the terrorist attack that was carried out in Nairobi on September 21, 2013 (67 people died), the non-governmental organization Red Cross came to the conclusion that the militants had also been recruited in Europe. Germans, Scandinavians, Americans were among them. According to the European Union Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove, “it is necessary to find out how people get there”. In Belgium, for example, there exists an organization for recruiting mercenaries, the so-called Sharia4Belgium Organization (L’Organisation de la Chariat pour la Belgique). European mercenaries were seen in Syria and Kenya [Les Shebabs…L’Observateur 2013: P. 11].
The eastern regions of the DROC are the most vulnerable and susceptible to jihadist influence. Considerable length and “unconsolidated” nature of borders with 9 neighbour countries, geological and climatic characteristics (mountainous terrain, multilayer equatorial forest, rainfall seasons) along with the absence of roads and traffic infrastructure precondition the inefficiency of the border safety system and create a “back door” not only for cross-border criminality, but also Islamic revivalists.
The growth of terrorism spread by armed groups on the African continent as a whole is the additional risk factor for the destabilization of situation. For more than a decade illegal armed groups, the members of which profess Islam, have been acting in the eastern part of the DROC (North Kivu and South Kivu provinces, Orientale and the northern part of Katanga) uncontrolled by central authorities. These were primarily the Uganda Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) groups. Consequently, flashpoints of conflict emerge and create opportunities for terrorist attacks. As a rule, the criminal activity of illegal armed groups is connected with illegal exploitation of valuable natural resources, being smuggled abroad, and with uncontrolled cash flow. Leaders of illegal armed groups quite often control the process of valuable minerals and metals extraction and selling on the black market, using locals as free labour in the mines. In remote areas civilians often become victims of robbery, lawlessness and violence inflicted by various military forces. Local population is tortured and humiliated, often killed, robbed of cattle; their houses are burned and their crops are destroyed. There are numerous cases of people being kidnapped into slavery. Some of them are used for service support of gunmen in the rear, others are forced to participate in combat operations. Recruiting of child soldiers deprived of education and prone to psychological traumas remains a painful problem. Gunmen use underage children as labour force under the threat of bodily harm. It provokes mass exodus of population into the frontier zones where new centres of tension emerge.
Authorities of the Republic are gravely concerned by such actions of militants as ransom kidnappings, including those of foreigners. Thus, in April 2010, in the province of Équateur the illegal armed group of Enyele rebels took a number of foreign citizens hostage to draw attention of the international community to their activity. At the same time they occupied the airport and municipal buildings of the provincial capital of Mbandaka.
The situation is aggravated by the catastrophic condition of social sphere, extreme poverty of population, non-payment of monetary allowances to the members of national army. Destitute population, largely comprised of young people, is the most susceptible to Islamist influence, which promises to improve their living conditions. They are the people who join armed groups and unwillingly become carriers of the ideas of Islam.
Virtually all the neighbouring counties are involved in extraction and sales of valuable raw materials on foreign markets. According to experts, over 80% of the DROC economy remains shadow, and so far nobody sees the way out of this dramatic situation. Experts state that there are mafia formations in this field having direct access to offshore centres. Customs Administration of the Democratic Republic of the Congo intends to fight money laundering, illicit trade and cross-border criminality at large. On November 21, 2013, they signed the Memorandum of Understanding with the Judicial Police of the Public Prosecution Office. This document proposes a programme for enforcement of customs officers’ authority, which is aimed at criminal investigations. Article 2 of the Memorandum states that “the Judicial Police of Public Prosecution Office is obliged to provide education for customs officers within the prescribed time limits and create, with assistance of Interpol, the database of the Customs Administration aimed at combating theft”[ Lutte contre la criminalité transfrontalière…Le Potentiel. Kinshasa 2013: P. 10]. In their reports, based on facts and investigations, human rights nongovernmental organizations like Human Rights Watch draw special attention to correlation between income from sales of contraband goods on world market and illegal arms traffic in the eastern regions of the DROC. Considerable amounts of arms and uncontrolled cash flow enter combat operation zones. In the context of armed groups activity there arises a problem of illicit trade in small arms acquired in exchange for the so called “conflict diamonds” (compact and convenient form of mutual payments). Strengthening of control over illicit trade in small arms, which is detrimental to relations between the DROC, Rwanda and Uganda, is still one of the sensitive issues for the whole region.
Militants from illegal armed groups commit terrorist acts not only overland. From time to time, the mass media reports on piracy on Lake Tanganyika. According to witnesses, it is highly unadvisable for cargo vessels to appear on the lake after 6 PM (i. e. at nightfall). Thus, on the night of July 1, 2014, Mai-Mai Yakutumba rebels attacked a merchant vessel near the City of Uvira (South Kivu Province). Pirates forced the captain to give them two thousand dollars, defueled the vessel and stole the board instrument. According to the report, militants were well armed and trained [Des miliciens Maï-Maï arraisonnent…Le Potentiel 2014: P. 9]. A similar incident took place in 2011, when armed combatants hijacked “Maman Wundja” vessel (about 100 passengers and 40 tonnes of cargo were on board) sailing across Lake Tanganyika from Uvira (South Kivu Province) to Moba (Katanga Province), and made the captain change the course, virtually taking him hostage [Les Maï-Maï Yakutumba prennent…APA. Kinshasa 2011: P. 8].
National separatists fuel terrorism in the DROC. According to estimates by authorities, over the last decade the most active was the religious and political movement Bundu dia Kongo. During the transition period (from 2003 to 2005), this organization controlled the largest part of the Lower Congo Province, advocating its complete independence as historical successor of the Great Kingdom of Kongo. Although after conflicts between the followers of movement and law enforcement forces in spring of 2008 the activity of Bundu dia Kongo was officially banned, it has not lost its “audience” and continues to influence its followers. Formally, the slogans of Bundu dia Kongo seem quite democratic. For example, in the proclamation of October 8, 2012, representatives of this organization call for protection of the Bakongo people [Document de l’organisation réligieuse de la RD Congo «Bundu dia Kongo»…Kinshasa 2012: P. 3].
Bursts of separatist sentiment fostering national differences are constantly observed in the Katanga Province. In the middle of 2014, Kata Katanga illegal armed group militants announced that on June 11, on the anniversary of proclamation of the Republic of Katanga, which existed from 1960 to 1963 but was not recognized by the world community, they intended to seize its provincial capital, the City of Lubumbashi. The purpose of seizing the second most important city after the capital was to proclaim independence of Katanga once again and plant their flag at the strategic sites of the city. They considered the monument to Moise Tshombe, “the President” of the Republic of Katanga, as one of such sites. Although the announcement of Kata Katanga was not implemented and only frightened the civilians with gunfire, security agencies including military and police forces were prepared to meet the attack with a massive array of military equipment [Tensions à Lubumbashi…Agence Presse Associée. Kinshasa 2014: P. 1].
One of the ways for Islam to penetrate the DROC is trading with neighbouring countries. “Trust relations in business”, a Congolese diplomat said in a conversation, “create a fertile ground for discussing, among all, religious topics”. Besides, long distance drivers, for example, from Tanzania and Zambia, as bearers of Islamic culture are considered here to be spreading Islam in the eastern and western parts of Congo. As the diplomat emphasized, the National Committee for the Coordination of Anti-International Terrorism cooperates with regional and international organizations in this field, and “uses analytical potential of the CIA”. According to him, this organization traced the activity of Somalian radical Salafi Ash-Shabaab movement, which was founded in the DROC. It was created in 2000 (translated from Arabic as “youth”) and is the part of Al-Qaeda, which seeks to establish strong relations within the DROC. In 2011 Ash-Shabaab emissaries tried to contact Islamic organizations in the eastern regions of the country, primarily in South Kivu Province, where Pakistani subunits of MONUSCO were quartered. The Islamic group Ash-Shabaab claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack in the capital of neighbouring Uganda, the City of Kampala, on July 11, 2010. The Ugandan authorities stated that terrorists supposedly entered the country from the territory of the DROC. Military command of Uganda put forward a public assumption of Ash-Shabaab connection with Uganda rebel anti-government ADF group, based in the western regions of the DROC.
Ash-Shabaab counts 7 to 9 thousand militants from various illegal armed groups [Kongo 2013: P. 12]. The prospect of its penetrating the DROC poses an additional grave threat to both national security of the country and improvement of conditions in the central region of Africa as a whole. In the interview to the Potentiel magazine Congolese researcher of the problems of Islam Valentina Soria mentioned that Ash-Shabaab aims to adapt to the local African cultures, thus capturing political and economic space and establishing stable relations [Cinq questions…Le Potentiel. 10.10.2013: P. 4].
One of the documents, which was ostensibly left in the car of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed from Ash-Shabaab and later got into the Canadian newspaper The Toronto Star, contains information about special operation performed in Bombay in 2008, in Nairobi in 2013, and in The Ritz Hotel in London. In the same document it is also said that such countries as Uganda, Ethiopia and Burundi are considered to be “the enemies of Islam” and are to be fought against by all means. Arming of the adherents of Islam is also mentioned. They consider Kalashnikov rifle to be “a bulky weapon” and prefer to arm themselves with guns and hunting knives! [Cinq questions…Le Potentiel. 10.10.2013: P. 4].
Radical Islam and terrorism are constantly in the focus of Congolese authorities’ attention. Article 52 of the Constitution serves as a ground for banning terrorist activities. It states: “No individual or group of individuals may use part of the national territory as a basis for subversive or terrorist activities against the Congolese State or any other state” [La Constitution de la Republique Démocratique du Congo 2006: P. 23]. The issues of antiterrorist and anti-criminal activities as well as of spreading revivalism are among priorities in the work of the DROC security agencies, as in the eastern regions of the country there constantly emerge flash points of military conflict, which are fertile ground for serious terrorist attacks. The National Committee for the Coordination of Anti-International Terrorism investigates these issues. This body was established by the Presidential Decree No. 070/2001 as of 26 December 2001. This regulatory act is, in fact, the only internal document regulating interdepartmental cooperation in this field.
The activity of the Committee is controlled directly by the Head of State, while the Special Adviser to the Head of State on Security is responsible for coordination. In accordance with the Decree, the tasks of the Committee include executive decision-making on all the issues in the field of fighting terrorism, coordination of application of the field-specific international conventions, development and conduct of national activities, provision of corresponding cooperation with foreign countries and international organizations. Among the members of the Committee there are Ministers of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (the post is currently divided in two), Minister of National Security (the post was abolished), Minister of Defence, Minister of the Interior, Minister of Justice, military, political and diplomatic advisers to the Head of State, and Special Adviser to the Head of State on security. The latter acts as the permanent Secretary of the Committee and controls the work of its technical secretariat.
Kinshasa is the member of several international and regional conventions in the field of antiterrorist protection, including the African Union. It supports similar initiatives in the network of subregional organizations. In May 2008, under the auspices of the African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism the decision was made about cooperation in the field within the Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS), brought back to life by efforts of the DROC.
As the present study has shown, the prospect of radical Islam spreading in the DROC poses a certain threat to both national security and improvement of conditions on the African continent as a whole. As of now, Congo still has not reached the so-called “red mark,” signifying the reign of terrorists. However, it may happen that tomorrow terrorists’ hegemonic ambitions will spread to this central African country as well [Des terrorists menacent…Le Phare.Kinshasa 2012. P.2]. “Vacuum” of governmental authorities in the provinces of the country creates favourable conditions for spread of terrorist attacks. Being weak, security agencies currently cannot ensure safety in these regions. Congolese politicians state that if the territory of the country is not controlled by the authorities, army and the republican police (taking into account geostrategic situation of the DROC on the African continent), nothing can constrain the surge of terrorists, who have already set foot in Libya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan and South Sudan. It may happen that the ideas of revivalists from the “Islamic State” (ISIL) group, formed in 2014, will also be promoted in the African countries. It will cause new flash points of religion-based conflicts, which, combined with the “traditional” conflicts, such as, for example, ethnic ones, will further complicate political and military situation in some African countries and will lead to armed conflicts.
Taking into consideration the important role of religious denominations in political life and shaping of public opinion in African countries, spread of Orthodoxy and its cultural values can act as a counter-force to aggressive Islam in Africa, as well as religious extremism at large. Greek communities, which, in addition to religious worship use religious institutes and local congregation to address their own political and economic issues, should play an important role in developing and supporting Orthodox culture.
*Natalia Zerlitsina, Institute of International Relations and Social and Political Sciences, Moscow State Linguistic University
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