"Mali has been taken over, the northern part of Mali, by al-Qaida-type individuals. We have in – in Egypt a Muslim Brotherhood president...."
With those words, spoken Monday night by President Barack Obama's Republican challenger Mitt Romney just 40 seconds in the last of three debates, Africa was placed at the center of U.S. foreign policy and international security.
The radical and pro-al Qaeda sect, Ansar Eddine, and the umbrella group of Tuareg tribal militias known as the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) have since December 2011 worked together to gain control of Timbuktu and most of northern Mali. Their agenda is the overall imposition of Islamic Sharia law.
In neighboring Nigeria, their activities have spawned similar movements. According to the website USAfricaonline, the violent Boko Haram Islamic sect in northeastern Nigeria drew inspiration and some operational support from the pro al Qaeda groups in Mali.
Romney was correct in his assessment, though neither candidate connected the festering crises in Mali to the hellish cauldron that Boko Haram coalitions have created in the northern Nigerian cities of Maiduguri, Potiskum, Mubi, Damataru, Yobe and others.
Like my fellow Nigerian-Americans, I had hoped to hear the President and Gov. Romney address the materially enhanced threat of radical, violent Islam in the most populated African country, Nigeria, where since December of 2011 weekly reports have emerged of brazen terrorist attacks by Boko Haram targeting mainly Christians from the south.
Africa cropped up again around midway through the debate.
"One thing I think Americans should be proud of," Obama noted, is that "when Tunisians began to protest, this nation – me, my administration – stood with them earlier than just about any country. In Egypt we stood on the side of democracy. In Libya we stood on the side of the people."
Under the leadership of Obama, the United States has taken the side of the canvassers and activists for democracy, while turning away from corrupt, brutal dictators. Three such – Quaddafi of Libya, Mubarrak of Egypt and Ben Ali of Tunisia – were swept away in a tide of people power. The images and impact of the "Arab Spring" has served as a source of inspiration for millions in Africa aspiring toward full human rights.
Still, fighting or containing al-Qaeda and its advances into Africa's "failed states" – including Mali and Somalia – as well as dealing with actual threats to multi-religious and democratizing countries in the continent remain bilateral and bi-continental issues, both for the Obama administration and, depending on the November results, a Romney presidency.
Achieving these goals will require more than a police-law-enforcement approach to al-Qaeda in Africa. A bold, thorough-going draining of the swamp of radical, fundamentalist theologies which feed and fuel terrorism is necessary. One wonders at the possibility of such a commitment, given the absence of any discussion on contemporary issues in Africa's non-Arab countries.
(Dr. Chido Nwangwu is founder and publisher of the Houston-based USAfrica multimedia network, which includes the first African-owned, U.S-based online news site USAfricaonline.com.)