Hizballah in Africa, and Questions for Future Research

This is a short post from Tony Wege. You can read the full article, for free, here.

Hizballah’s experience in Africa has roots that were established in the 1980s so the organization’s presence in Africa is nothing new. Understanding how that ongoing presence affects the group is perhaps worth discussing. That Hizballah exists in Africa is only noteworthy; it is the significance of Hizballah in Africa which may be interesting. The significance is two-fold; first, Hizballah’s African roots are significant because they add to the strategic depth to the organization. Revenue both through the diaspora Shi’a communities in Africa and criminal enterprise flows to Hizballah from sources not easily choked off by hostile security services. Second, the symbiotic relationship between Iran’s Pasdaran Quds and Hizballah is furthered by the ability of both entities to act in the African space.

There is not an extensive literature on the Hizballah Quds existence in Africa, creating substantial opportunity for scholars to develop this body of knowledge. Such knowledge may be of some use to policymakers and/or students of contemporary African politics, Hizballah, or Quds. Conventional node and link analysis collating Hizballah-Quds activities with geospatial points across the continent is one approach to building this body of knowledge but certainly is not the only one. Looking at the potential for Hizballah-Quds interaction with affiliates of al-Qaeda and/or Africom security affiliates in African states is another approach which could suggest some interesting linkages. Some potential developments based on these linkages may be of reasonable probability, significant impact, and might be established with high confidence. For example, both Hizballah-Quds and al-Qaeda often use the same criminal networks to facilitate revenue flow to the respective organizations. The interest of such connections to policy makers for targeting is obvious.

One perhaps underappreciated phenomenon is the extent to which the Horn of Africa is now playing a more significant role in the larger Near Eastern conflict. Political space on the Horn, with some exception, has always been characterized by large more or less ungoverned spaces. What is different in the last generation is the attempt by actors in modern Near Eastern conflicts to exploit those spaces to further their goals in the Near East. The Iranian attempt to exploit the Sudan to further its ambition to become the dominant Near Eastern power is a case-in-point. Similarly, local Islamist bodies such as al-Shabab that historically would have developed and been relevant only in the space they directly governed are now occasionally affiliating with al-Qaeda and becoming actors in al-Qaeda’s larger conflict with the United States. This brings the African Command, Africom, and the United States into a more direct role on the Horn to protect its interests in the Near East.

It is unexpected that an organization like Hizballah acting on behalf of the relatively small Shi’a population in Lebanon and in alliance with a major power like Iran should develop a worldwide support infrastructure. By comparison, in the 1970s the Berne Club and its counterterrorism group, better known by its communication node – then called Kilowatt – tracked European radicals such as Italy’s Red Brigades and Germany’s Baader Meinhof Gang. The counterterrorism group did not find an extensive and globally dispersed infrastructure with these European radicals as we are now seeing with Hizballah-Quds. That is interesting.

Why are these modern Islamic groups different than the ideologically driven Marxist groups in the mid-late twentieth century? Likewise, what are the differences between the Hizballah infrastructure in Africa and the Hizballah infrastructure in Latin America? These are perhaps fruitful areas for further investigation.

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