Terrorists Attack Development

Sitting in the front row of Mrs. Pack's sixth grade math class, my world was changed as I watched planes fly into a skyline I held so dear to my heart. I’d just been in New York City for the first time the year before, and the Twin Towers were iconic, something that welcomed me to one of the greatest cities in the world.  September 11, 2001 is a day that changed the lives of Americans forever. Our security was threatened, our safety was questioned, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t see the world a bit differently since watching such a horrific attack on American soil. However, that was just the beginning of my bearing witness to a decade and a half that has been filled with terrorist attacks worldwide. Places that our Western minds are having a hard time imagining could be affected—NYC, Paris, Brussels—were not as untouchable as we would have hoped. But these are merely the cities with which we can identify. A bomb or a shooting occurs in a well know city and my Instagram feed comes alive with the respective country’s flag, and proclamations that our prayers and thoughts are continuous. This is amazing; we are showing our solidarity with our allies and grieving for a hurting people. But these incidents are not singular, and they are not rare. Terrorism is rampant in our world. Some of these terrorist attacks are hindering the progress of smaller nations without even making headlines in America. It’s been a little over two weeks since the terrorist attacks in Grand Bassam, Côte d'Ivoire, and I still find myself more and more troubled by the pattern of terrorism and violence that is sweeping Western Africa.

The most glaring difference between the terrorist attacks in Western Africa and those in the United States, France or Belgium is that we, as developed, first world countries, are resilient—we are capable of rallying economically and socially in a way that many Western African countries cannot. Terrorist attacks in Western Africa risk deterring the development occurring in this region. “Violent extremism and terrorist activities remain a major threat to security and development in West Africa, further aggravating the region's humanitarian challenges,” says Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative and Head of the UN Office for West Africa. For example, the Côte d'Ivoire is the world’s number one producer of cocoa, and has seen a surge in foreign investment and a growth in tourism over the last five years. Those attacking beaches with locals and foreigners alike would like the economy to collapse in countries like the Ivory Coast, countries that rely on tourists for a large portion of their livelihoods. The al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb claim the attack. In case you haven’t read the news reports on the Grand Bassam attack from a couple weeks ago, militants fired into the water, onto the beach, and turned on people eating at a nearby restaurant. At least 19 Ivorians and foreigners were killed. The attack on Grand Bassam was the third terrorist attack in five months in West Africa. Mali's capital Bamako was attacked in November; The Radisson Blu Hotel, a favorite amongst tourists was the target. 20 people (locals and foreigners) were killed. In January, there was a siege in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, on the Splendid Hotel and Cappuccino café, leaving 30 dead. Areas of high tourism and an international profile are consistently targeted. Although investors are saying they have no intention of pulling out of countries such as the Ivory Coast, business is definitely impacted in the areas of the attacks. NPR reported life in Bassam as “paralyzed,” claiming it has come to a “standstill.” This is what cannot happen to countries starting to pull themselves out of cyclical poverty.

Another issue with terrorist attacks in Western Africa is that it is a prime location for the growth of terrorist organizations. According to Naila Salihu, a Research Associate with the Peace and Security Programme at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC), the "prevalence of transnational criminal networks, illegal firearms manufacturing and trafficking, armed robbery, piracy, money laundering, illegal natural resource transfers, human and drug trafficking" in Western Africa leads to  the region serving as a prime breeding ground for terrorist organizations. Salihu further explains that the initial cause of precarious security in the region can be linked to poverty, underdevelopment and unemployment. These unstable and harsh living conditions lead criminal organizations to align with outside terrorist regimes. The younger generations in these underdeveloped countries are also collaborating with terrorists. This occurs when young people don't have solid social groups, sufficient education, desirable work prospects, or see no potential for economic growth. Salihu explains that bad governance, injustice, poverty, corruption, and unemployment are keep factors in inciting insurgency. Terrorists aren’t just shooting up or bombing these countries, they are infiltrating them. They are preying upon populations with less opportunity. We cannot allow that.

What breaks my heart is that hardly anyone is talking about this. Many of my close friends didn’t even know there were terrorist attacks in Western Africa, which is really no one’s fault. We can't control what our media prioritizes or propagates. And our hearts can hurt for those affected in Brussels or Paris, but our hearts can also ache for those in Burkina Faso and in the Ivory Coast. It is our responsibility to open people’s eyes. We live in a time when our voices can be heard through social media; strangers are listening to us. So we need to #prayforbrussels, #prayforparis, and #prayforcotedivoire. We must be the voices of those who do not yet have the social media footprint that we have. And we cannot let fear deter us from visiting these amazing countries, because we as tourists should continue to explore the amazing offerings of Western Africa just as we will continue to see the Eiffel Tower.

Until next time,

To learn more: