An African Vortex: Islamism in Sub-Saharan Africa

From the Editor’s Desk

In October 2003, the government of Kano State in Nigeria stopped an ongoing polio vaccination program and did not allow it to resume until August 2004. As a result, a polio epidemic which originated in Kanohas now spread to 22 African countries, including ten who had been previously free of the disease. There are already more than a thousand registered cases and, with thousands of unregistered infections, experts fear that tens of thousands of African children may be crippled before the epidemic is brought under control.  What made that government act in such blatant, indeed criminal disregard of the children’s health? The explanation given by Kano officials was as straightforward as it was preposterous and paranoid. The US-provided (but produced in France) vaccine,Kano’s hardline Islamist regime claimed, was designed to infect Muslim children with AIDS and make women infertile.

How such medieval religious obscurantism could come to the fore in Africa at the beginning of the 21st century is detailed in this paper by Center for Security Policy research associate David McCormack. While African Islamism has been much in the news of late with the genocidal events in Darfur, much less attention has been paid to the dramatic spread of radical Islamism in sub-Saharan Africa which is home to 250 million Muslims. Yet, asDavid McCormack shows persuasively, Wahhabi ideology and massive infusions of Saudi cash are rapidly transforming the once syncretic and peaceful Sufi-inspired sub-Saharan Islam into militant Islamism.  The likely result, argues the author, is “unmanageable inter-communal strife between Muslims and non-Muslims,” and a “hospitable environment for terrorists with an international agenda.”

Alex Alexiev is Editor of the “Occasional Papers” series and CSP’s Vice President for Research. He could be reached at