The Economics of Terrorism in Africa

WASHINGTON, DC – Terrorism on the scale witnessed in Paris last month is nothing new in Africa. In Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger, the extremist group Boko Haram – famous for its kidnapping of 276 school girls in 2014 – has inflicted thousands of casualties with suicide bombings and assaults on civilians. In Kenya, the Somali group Al-Shabaab has carried out two major attacks, on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in 2013 and on Garissa University in 2015, as well as many smaller acts of terror.

Meanwhile in Tunisia, the Islamic State has targeted tourists – orchestrating attacks on a museum and a beach resort. And in Mali, shortly after the attacks in Paris, gunmen belonging to an Al Qaeda affiliate stormed the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, killing 22 people. Terror, it seems, has become part of the new normal in Africa.

These attacks, and others, have cast a dark shadow across the continent’s long-awaited economic rise. It is not difficult to see why. Terrorism risks derailing Africa’s economic and political development in six important ways.

For starters, there is the sheer scale of the humanitarian catastrophe. Since 2009, Boko Haram alone has killed more than 10,000 people in Nigeria and has driven nearly a half-million from their homes. Traumatized populations have fled to refugee camps in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger, where malnutrition and disease are becoming increasingly prevalent – especially among children.