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Abductions, kidnappings and killings in the Sahel and Sahara

Franklin Charles Graham

Review of African Political Economy, 2011, vol. 38, issue 130, 587-604

Abstract: Hostage-takings in North and West Africa are nothing new. What is new is the assigning of blame to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the level of resources Western powers commit to fighting AQIM and other extremists in the region. History shows that the simplified ill-defined fear of a united Islamic front against the West was unfounded. Today, however, Westerners continue to view the motivations behind such actions without considering three fundamental issues. First, who should, or can, effectively ‘govern’ the Sahara and its fringes. Second, by defining the problems as a rising pan-Islamic front, the implementation of hard-power tactics is not questioned. Finally, any consideration of the long-term disparities in the region is postponed in lieu of dealing with hostage-takings or attacks on Western targets. In reality the Sahara and Sahel are contested territories. Ideological and personal divisions are numerous. AQIM and other Jihadi Salafist movements are not popular with the regions' inhabitants. Most practice Sufi forms of Islam which are distant from such extremism. There is little attention to identifying the problems of poverty, creating state integration, and solving the problems that arise from foreign intervention. With the agenda of national leaders and/or international actors focusing on fighting terrorism or mineral resource extraction, a few inhabitants in the region kidnap foreign nationals for ideological reasons, quick money or both. The potential for hostage-taking for money is, at best, a tenuous strategy for the few.

Date: 2011
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Review of African Political Economy is currently edited by Graham Harrison, Branwen Gruffydd Jones, Claire Mercer, Nicolas Pons-Vignon, Aurelia Segatti and Ray Bush

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