Tag Archives: al-Qaeda

Remnants of al- Qaeda Fueling Muslim Youth in Zanzibar

1 Sep
the guardian.com

the guardian.com

During the month of February, 2014 alone three Christian churches on Zanzibar were targeted by Islamic extremists. On February 15th, a bomb exploded at the entrance to the Seventh Day Adventist Church and a second bomb was thrown into the same entrance the very next day. Another bombing took place at the entrance to the Evangelical Assemblies of God Church on February 23rd- only eight days later. While the very next afternoon, two bombs exploded at the entrance to Christ’s Church, the Anglican Cathedral located in Stone Town as well as at Mercury’s Seafood Restaurant a popular tourist destination also located in the historic center of Zanzibar City. These were only the latest in a host of bombings and burnings committed against Christians throughout the city.

In January 2014, a bomb exploded outside a Zanzibar mosque in Stone Town killing one person and wounding seven after a handmade explosive device was thrown from a car as worshippers left the mosque. A cleric visiting from the mainland had preached a sermon that morning urging all Muslims to remain peaceful in spite of the Jihadi’s use of violence to achieve their aims.

In August 13, 2013, two British teenagers, Katie Gee and Kirstie Trup were victims of an acid attack as they walked through the streets of Stone Town on their way to supper. Two young men on a moped threw a jerry can of battery acid onto the girls as they sped by causing serious damage to their faces, chests, and backs

Two Catholic priests were victims of shootings; the first severely wounded on Christmas Day, 2012 just after he’d arrived home. Then again on February 17, 2013 a second Catholic priest was shot and killed. On September 13, 2013 an acid attack occurred on a Catholic priest in the outskirts of Zanzibar City.

Uamsho, a well- known separatist organization on the island, has been identified by the police as the movement behind the bombings and shootings after sending out written messages threatening to do just that- even naming the churches that would be targeted. The Association for Islamic Mobilization and Propagation or Uamsho as it has aptly named itself literally means “The Awakening” in Swahili. It began as a religious charity for Muslims then morphed into a Separatist movement shortly after the 1964 union with Tanzania. The goal of Uamsho since 2010 was and is to organize the islands in Zanzibar Archipelago into one Muslim country bound by Sharia Law. It resents the agreement made with Tanzania in 1964 just after it had been declared a constitutional monarchy by Britain and seeks to become its own autonomous country in union with Tanzania in the same way the countries in Europe have come together as equal members in the European Union. It also wants to impose a “public code of conduct” on all tourists visiting the islands in regards to their dress and the public consumption of alcohol. It has also suggested that all “wabara” or mainlanders originally from the continent of Africa and now living in Zanzibar lose their status as residents and be deported.

Zanzibar is an archipelago or collection of islands. There are two main islands Unguja, the main island where Zanzibar City is located and Pemba, which encompasses the smaller islands. Seeing that 97-98% of the population living in the Zanzibar Archipelago are Muslims and follow the teachings of the Qu`ran the goals of Uamsho make sense to them which has made it a very popular organization among the local citizenry. When Uamsho’s leader Sheikh Fared Hadi Ahmed suddenly went missing in October, 2012 two days of the worse riots ever experienced in Zanzibar’s history erupted over his possible abduction. Shiekh Hadi has since been located and arrested along with ten other Muslim clerics all charged with criminal conspiracy as well as the instigation of violence.

Uamsho is also very popular with other wealthy Arab nations like Saudi Arabia and Iran who openly fund the movement. The Serena Hotel in Stonetown is owned by his highness the Aga Kahn IV, Imam of the Shia Imami Islami Muslims and direct descendent of the prophet Mohammed. While Saudi Arabia invests more than one million dollars each year in supporting Islamic Universities, madrasas, and providing scholarships for Zanzibar’s young men to study in Mecca.

It seems that Uamsho’s rhetoric appeals to a certain type of youth especially the unemployed or under-employed. Unfortunately although Muslims make up the largest population living on the islands; more than 1/3 of them live in dire poverty while even those with jobs exist on less than one US dollar a day. According to Zanzibar’s 2012 employment statistics 80% of men less than thirty years of age are currently unemployed. And the country of Somalia is only 300 miles away from Zanzibar by boat making it an easy trip. Al- Shabaab knows this and has begun to entice disenfranchised males from Zanzibar in the same way they recruit young Kenyan boys from Mombasa. Tourism on Zanzibar generates well over 500 million dollars (US) annually but few local residents ever benefit from these profits. European firms especially those from Italy have invested heavily in Zanzibar’s resort hotels but these large chains recruit their staff from the East African mainland especially Kenya instead of selecting local residents to assume well- paying positions. These same hotels pay the Tanzanian government in Dar es Salaam enormous sums of money in taxes yet little of these funds find their way back to the poor of Zanzibar leaving large numbers of unemployed youth free to wander the streets with little chance of advancement and less chance of making a good marriage. In the end these are the type of young men Islamic extremists prey upon because it is the angry and disgruntled ones who’ll throw the bombs and fire their AK-47’s on command. It is young men exactly like these who are responsible for throwing acid and tossing bombs around Stonetown lately.

As al- Shabaab and its larger affiliate al-Qaeda continue to lose respect in Middle Eastern Countries they have moved south looking for newer targets; places where Muslims have demonstrated discontent with the status quo. According to a 2012 Pew Research Center Survey conducted in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Turkey the majority of Muslims surveyed had an unfavorable view of al- Qaeda one year after Osama bin Laden’s death. In Pakistan alone, a good 55%, over half, rated al- Qaeda unfavorably. “Typically when people, are exposed to extremist violence in their own country we tend to see them reacting negatively to it,’ stated Richard Wike, associate director of Pew’s Global Attitudes Project.

But to better under Zanzibar’s separatist views and current opposition to its relationship with mainland Tanzania one only has to examine its rich and colorful history. Because of its prime location out in the Indian Ocean some thirty miles from mainland Africa it was an ideal place on which to establish a center dedicated to trade and commerce. Early on Persians, Arabs, and Indians did just that turning it into a base of operations for their ships as well as their merchants. By 1503, European naval powers became aware of its existence and it was subsequently claimed by Portugal and made part of its Empire. Portugal continued to maintain a loose form of control upon these islands for the next two centuries. In 1631 the Sultan of Mombasa, an island kingdom located off the coast of Kenya massacred all of the European inhabitants living there which sent the Portuguese administrators on Zanzibar into a panic. They decided to use someone better acquainted with Zanzibar to rule it and invited the Sultan of Oman, one of the smaller countries that borders Saudi Arabia and is located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Said Bin Sultan was a great ruler who not only controlled Zanzibar but added a good portion of the Swahili coast from lower Kenya to current day Tanzania to his administrative territory. He established a lucrative slave and ivory trade on the island sending large expeditions into East and Central Africa as far away as the Congo in search of tribes willing to sell human beings. The newly-purchased slaves then carried the heavy tusks of ivory back with them to Zanzibar. In 1840 Sultan Said made Zanzibar his capital city rather than the city of Muscat in Oman. He also oversaw the creation of large plantations on which a range of expensive spices such as cloves, cinnamon, and black pepper were grown. These plantations were owned and run by Arab families loyal to the Sultan. Eventually this small, elite group helped him rule the island. The great Sultan Said Bin continued to rule Oman as well as Zanzibar up until his death when his two sons replaced him. By 1822 British naval ships had entered Zanzibar Harbor seeking to end the slave trade and close down all slave markets on Unjuga for good. This was no easy task but by 1842 the British were well on their way to seeing their mission completed. By 1890 Zanzibar had been made a British protectorate rather than a colony of Great Britain. From 1890 until 1913 Arab viziers were assigned by the British to govern in their name but starting in 1913 until 1963 British diplomats were appointed to serve as the island’s governors. The islands of the Zanzibar Archipelago gained their independence from Britain on December 20th 1963 and for a very short time existed as a constitutional monarchy.

And then the Zanzibar Revolution erupted without warning. On the night of January 12th, 1964  John Okello, along with 600 – 800 men many of whom were dock workers affiliated with the island’s Afro- Shirazi Party ( ASP) and with ties to other countries in East Africa stormed the local police stations, subdued the policemen there, confiscated all weapons stored in the local armories, then headed out to the government building to remove the current Sultan of Zanzibar and his Arab advisors from power. The Sultan and his minions had already left the city on his yacht. Some of the rebels quickly took control the local radio station while others searched for people of Arab and Asian descent. These were hunted down and dragged from shops and homes then beaten and shot dead in the streets. Hundreds died during the chaos of that night while thousands more escaped from harm by setting off into the Indian Ocean on their boats. After only twelve hours of fighting the rebels controlled the central government of Zanzibar.

Okello, originally a citizen of Uganda, came to the island seeking employment and found a position as a dock worker. He joined the local Afro- Shirazi Party and soon served as its branch secretary. Okello believed he had been appointed by God to break the control of the Arab/ Asian ruling class living on the island because Zanzibar rightfully belonged to Bantu Africans. Okello installed Abeid Karume, leader of the Afro-Shirazi Party, as the first President of the new country of Zanzibar. Then Okello gave himself the tile “Field Marshall” and along with his rebels continued to attack any Arabs and Asians still in residence on the islands. He then organized his revolutionaries into the Freedom Military Force and used them to patrol the streets confiscating all Arab and Asian properties on behalf of the newly- formed government. Okello believed that Zanzibar needed the support of their Bantu African allies in Tanganyika in order to remain free from Arab control so signed an agreement of confederation with this country at the first opportunity. But Okello’s reign was short- lived and by  March 11th, 1964 President Karume had stripped him of his title and seen to it that he could never enter Zanzibar again. Okello was deported to Tanzania then Kenya finally returning to his own country of Uganda where he died a broken man. On April 26th, 1964 the Zanzibar Republic merged with mainland Tanganyika to form the United Republic of Tanzania with Zanzibar designated as its own semi- autonomous region.

Residents of Zanzibar bristle at the mention of this agreement and the idea of a separate country of Zanzibar appeals to many. The current population of Zanzibar is about a million strong and pulls from a wide range of diverse ancestries causing ethnic tensions to simmer just beneath the surface. After Sultan Said established his capital on Zanzibar around 1940, a small group of Omani Arabs, friends of the Sultan were lured to the island with promises of great wealth. These families eventually came together to form an elite class of plantation owners and administrators who helped the Sultan rule the island while traders from India formed their own exclusive brotherhood of merchants. Although many Arabs and Asians fled during the revolution many returned once Okello had been removed and Zanzibar had been joined to Tanzania. Even on the eve of Zanzibar’s independence Arabs accounted for less than 20% of the island’s total population yet were some of its wealthiest residents who served in government positions of great power. Other residents of Zanzibar had not fared so well. These came from the mainland, Bantu Africans, descendants of the freed slaves who’d once been forced to work the plantations. And a special group known as the Shirazi, an ethnic group formed as a result of intermarriages between Bantu Africans and Persians were some of the earliest peoples to settle the islands. Many residents still feel the way Okello did, that Zanzibar should be the exclusive domain of Bantu Africans and Shirazi – not Arabs and Indians who have their own countries in which to reside.

But what has brought Zanzibar’s mixed population together in the past is its choice of religion and what is holding it together now is its religion as well. An estimated 97-98% of all islanders are Muslims and are not terrorists. It would be very easy for Muslims to stage a revolt and oust all Christians from the islands and is a testament to their remarkable tolerance that they have not. The majority of local Muslims on Zanzibar have shown great restraint and not bought into the terrorist rhetoric spread by al- Qaeda representatives visiting from Kenya. And those young men, the ones who do join al- Shabaab; the ones looking to vent their anger on someone else; they could just as easily be guided in a more favorable direction. If they were provided with the training needed to qualify them for lucrative jobs that would give them a chance to make desirable marriages; this would go a long way in quelling their destructive temperaments. It’s time the large hotels came together and joined with the government of Tanzania to tackle the unemployment crisis on Zanzibar. Wide scale employment could very well be an acceptable antidote to  increasing acts of terrorism.

Kat Nickerson                                     Kingston, RI


Allied Democratic Forces Take Charge in Eastern DRC: Why This? Why Now?

28 Mar
ADF    FoxNews.com

ADF FoxNews.com


On Friday, January 17, 2014 the Congolese army (FARDC) successfully drove soldiers in the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) from the city of Beni, North Kivu Province backed by the UN’s 3,000 strong  “Intervention Brigade” assigned to subdue all rebel activities occurring throughout Eastern Congo.  This happened after the same Congolese forces secured the city of Kamango the day after Christmas once ADF troops had claimed it the day before. While attacking the city ADF soldiers burned down buildings, wounded many residents, and were responsible for over fifty deaths causing the populace of the city to flee in terror. But the reason for this take-over is still a mystery. The members of ADF are no strangers to the people of Kamango having settled into this area themselves many years ago. Could it be that with the surrender of the M23 rebels from the same region ADF leaders have moved in to take over the lucrative illegal gold trade between the DRC border towns and Uganda? And once the ADF militia has been subdued who’ll move in next to control the smuggling operation?

But who are the ADF and where did they come from? Originally it was composed of a small band of rebels from Uganda who settled in the rugged terrain of the Rwenzori Mountains lying between the countries of Uganda and the DRC. These rebels espoused a specific Islamic ideology known as Tablighi prevalent in the Sudan. In time, their cause- reclaiming the Ugandan government brought them in contact with another group of rebels known as the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU). This rebel group had also been pushed into the DRC by the Ugandan army when the DRC was known as Zaire and under the dictator, Mobutu’s control. Many of NALU members were Islamic Ugandans but there were others who had lost their political clout and /or personal fortunes once Museveni and his freedom fighters secured Kampala and ousted anyone connected with the former dictators Obote or Idi Amin. In time the ADF/ NALU morphed into one group. That happened in the mid- 1990’s but by all accounts the ADF camps reported on in recent years have dramatically changed their goals and it seems that retaking the government of Uganda is no longer a top priority for them. Plus after having been forced out of Uganda by the Ugandan army the ADF established permanent camps moving into the Congo- side of the Rwenzori Mountains for good. It’s estimated that as much as 60% of ADF’s current fighting force is composed of Congolese rather than Ugandan nationals now.

The Ugandan NALU integrated into the Nande community in Eastern Congo settling near the city of Beni. Their leader Enoch Nyamwise became a famous Nande politician who was contracted by the dictator Mobutu during the first war in the Congo and used his men to patrol the border between the Congo and Uganda. As the revolution raged on Nyamwise and his men became heavily invested in both legal and illegal activities as they began trading with neighboring villages in Uganda and it is said that it was these contacts between Congolese rebel militias and the Ugandan army that served to establish the first gold smuggling routes. By the time the ADF joined them they began augmenting their smuggling revenues by adding “kidnapping for ransom” ventures, mineral mines, logging industries, taxis, and borda-borda drivers to their economic empire.

Eventually most of the village militias on both sides of the revolution morphed into political parties after the wars in the Congo ended but the militias attached to each party never formally disbanded and remain armed and active to this day. This easy access to organized groups accustomed to using violence to get what they want has had a significant impact on the continuation of the war-like atmosphere pervasive throughout all of Eastern Congo.

By the time the year 2000 arrived gold smuggling had become “big” business in Beni. In 2013, the Enough Project reported that 98% of all the gold illegally leaving Eastern Congo was being sold out of Uganda specifically mentioning the actions of one Major Helaire Kembi, a former officer in the Congolese Army who deserted his post along with many of his men to head a highly lucrative gold smuggling operation in the area. One Congolese official confessed that gold worth millions of US dollars crosses the border into Uganda each and every day making it an extraordinarily profitable venture. Right now there are at least 15 different rebel militias operating in the Beni region alone- all jockeying for trading rights to the gold but it seems that M23 managed to gain control of the largest portion of the operation less than one year ago.

Then everything changed; the United Nations Intervention Brigade entered the fight and the Congolese Army began defeating M23’s troops so much so that M23  formally surrendered in November of 2013 ending their 20 month rebellion. Colonel Makenga and his men took refuge in Uganda where they still remain so what has happened to their gold smuggling operation? And around this same time ADF began changing its image from a small, local militia of less than 1,500 men into something far more dangerous.

Intelligence videos made by Ugandan operatives showed ADF troops engaged in formal training sessions led by men suspected of having connections to the Somali terrorist organization, al- Shabaab. According to the African Defence Review Burka –clad women were also observed living in certain Rwenzori camps while helicopters began making regular supply deliveries.
Rumors that new ADF recruits had been sent to Somalia to train began circulating throughout the area. It was common knowledge that the ADF continuously received funds from the UK, Kenya, and the Sudan but these monies had never been thought to be that significant. Then their troops were spotted carrying new, more advanced weapons including rocket launchers. Has the current leader of the ADF, Jamil Muhula rekindled his ties with al- Qaeda or has a new connection been forged between the two groups? Is al- Shabaab training ADF soldiers to become mujahideen – international mercenaries of terror? And if so, who’s paying for their services? Or does al- Shabaab or al- Qaeda seek to become the next masters of the illegal gold trade themselves now that M23 has been removed from the picture?

ADF’s motives remain unclear. Why would the ADF attack Kamango on Christmas Day after attacking it for the first time at the end of July, 2013? Why did they return three days later to take the city again only to behead 21 civilians? Why did they urge the villagers to flee to Uganda and above all, why would they act like an invading army when they too live in the Beni area and were sure have relatives and friends living in the city. Most ADF soldiers are Bandandi – Congolese ethnic Bakonzo so why would they turn on their own people. It’s not a logical move to invade a city knowing that UN troops are in the vicinity with orders to destroy all wayward militia groups. These men may be smugglers but they are intelligent business men as well who sell the produce from their farming operations in the local markets. What would possess them to anger and alienate their customers so? What was their motivation? It had to be something dire enough to cause them to jeopardize their livelihood. I suspect it had something to do with warning other groups in Beni away from M23’s operation? Was this the reason for the beheadings? Did they conquer Beni to lay an official claim to M23’s former gold operation by murdering the competition or were they paid to provide military support for another much stronger group like al- Shabaab- intent on picking up where M23 left off?

According to my sources in the area prior to Kamango ADF troops always followed an unofficial set of guidelines but predictable ones nonetheless: 1.) Never attack the Congolese Army only fight back in self- defense. 2.) Never attack large groups of Congolese civilians, and 3.) Avoid residing in villages; remain in the forest camps.

Whatever the reason, the ADF managed to anger the United Nations Security Council which on January 30th of this year reiterated its former mandate to MONUSCO ordering that all rebel groups be made to disband and that M23 troops be prevented from regrouping. It also resolved to continue to enforce its previous arms embargo, travel bans, and asset freezes on the DRC especially on those in the Kinshasa government. The UN Intervention Brigade presently consists of a force of 3,000 soldiers from the countries of Tanzania, South Africa, and Malawi as well as another 17,000 troops serving in MONUSCO, the United Nations fighting force assigned to the protection of the Eastern Congo.

Defeating the rebels may lessen the immediate crisis but it is far from a real solution to the problem. Until the United Nations makes a unilateral effort to connect all sections of the country together by providing a reliable infrastructure nothing will change. Men will continue to come forward declaring themselves warlords and forming entirely new militias because there is no mechanism in place to stop them. The DR Congo is estimated to contain 24 trillion dollars US in untapped deposits of raw mineral ores, including the world’s largest reserves of cobalt and significant quantities of the world’s diamonds, gold, and copper. That sum is equivalent to the Gross Domestic Product of the European Union and the United States of America combined. With that much money at stake there are millions of men even other countries willing to do whatever it takes to secure some of that wealth for themselves.

According to the Encyclopedia of Nations, The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the third largest country in Africa and at 903,563 square miles is about ¼ the size of the United States of America. Yet according to the United Nations Development Index for 2013, 87.7% of its citizens live below the international poverty level. How can a country that rich in resources provide so little for its own people? The biggest problem is that most of the country’s wealth is being illegally smuggled across its Eastern border because the DRC has no infrastructure; which means – no dependable roads connect the 11 separate provinces in this country together, the government is located too far to the west of the country to do anything about it, while the rich deposits are located in the East in a very isolated mountainous region lined with tropical rain forests much too dense to cross.

Travelers in North Kivu district constantly come across roads that merely stop in the middle of nowhere suddenly turning into foot paths. Most roads turn to mud as soon as it rains and there are little to no repairs made on the existing ones. Plus traveling by car for any length of time is an impossible task for there are no dependable gas stations, hotels, stores, or restaurants in the rural areas- and above all, no law enforcement agencies. That means no police force and above all, no one to turn to if something goes wrong unless you’ve been adopted by the local tribe. No one travels far in the Congo except for Congolese soldiers grouped together in small bands who walk the roads by day with automatic weapons in hand dispensing justice to those who pay them the highest fees. There are local buses but they will only take you one or two villages away from home and operate within the same province. Pulling into a border town feels very much like entering the bar scene in Star Wars I where violent assaults literally occur at the “drop of a hat”.

The rule of thumb when entering Eastern Congo – “if you haven’t packed everything you’ll need to take you in and out of there, don’t go!” Nothing will ever improve for the people of Eastern Congo until the minerals have been adequately protected and North Kivu Province is opened up to the world at large.


Kat Nickerson                      Kingston, Rhode Island                                                                                               March 27, 2013