MOUNT VERNON, Ohio — On June 29, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership Program Act of 2021 (TSCTP), also called H.R. 567. Sponsored by Rep. Michael T. McCaul (R-TX), the act addresses terrorism “in the Sahel and Maghreb regions of Africa.” By recognizing “the root causes of terrorism,” the TSCTP will help stabilize governments in these regions and provide resources to vulnerable communities in Sahel and Maghreb.
Why H.R. 567 is Necessary
Sahel and Maghreb are located in the northwestern region of Africa. The Sahel is one of the most impoverished Muslim regions in Africa as 80% of the population survives on less than $1.90 a day. “Poor governance, political and economic marginalization and lack of accountability for human rights abuses” in Sahel and Maghreb drive terrorism and extremism. In 2016, terrorist group Al-Qaeda was responsible for more than “250 attacks in the Maghreb and Sahel regions.” As Al-Qaeda expands, the group continues to kidnap, smuggle and murder innocent civilians. In 2019, at least “1,000 violent incidents occurred” in the Sahel, accounting for more than 8,000 deaths.
Public leaders in Sahel and Maghreb have little formal control over the governments in these regions, therefore, terrorist groups engage in civil warfare to seize power. Because the governments lack the resources to combat these conflicts, extremists in Northwest Africa can establish control in weakly secured areas. Due to poor governance, most citizens in Sahel and Maghreb distrust their governments. Therefore, the TSCTP aims to improve state legitimacy by providing resources to unprotected communities. Further, the TSCTP will strengthen border security by monitoring terrorist activity and minimizing government corruption.
The population of Sahel is likely “to more than double by 2050,” with roughly 50% of the population being younger than 15. However, the economy is not growing fast enough to support this population increase. “More than 11 million people living in Sahel face the threat of famine” and 40% of children younger than 5 suffer from stunting due to malnutrition. As a result of widespread poverty and violence, the youth in Northwest Africa do not receive the education, services, opportunities or resources they need to thrive and rise out of poverty.
H.R. 567 aims to address economic poverty by directly influencing developing communities. In addition to identifying and combating terrorist funding, the TSCTP will also establish initiatives to promote “girls’ education and women’s political participation” while increasing “youth employment opportunities.” In general, the TSCTP looks to increase “access to economic opportunities” in these regions, among other efforts. These efforts and initiatives will contribute to decreasing poverty and increasing stability in the regions.
Institutions in the Sahel and Maghreb struggle to provide their citizens with unbiased media and information. For example, Al Qaeda utilizes mass media to recruit impoverished youths and promote propaganda about Jihadism. H.R. 567 will focus its aid in rural areas where resources and information are scarce. To prevent recruitment propaganda, the act will support independent media outlets that practice free speech.
How TSCTP Will Help Everyone
Studies show that impoverished communities receiving aid, medical supplies and education are more likely to oppose terrorism and support their government. Reducing terrorism in Northwest Africa will also strengthen U.S. national security as Al-Qaeda continues to target U.S. embassies and ambassadors. Therefore, by countering the main forces behind terrorism, H.R. 567 will protect both U.S. and North African citizens.
According to Brookings, former President George W. Bush stated the following about terrorism and poverty: “Poverty does not make poor people into terrorists and murderers. Yet, poverty, weak institutions and corruption can make weak states vulnerable to terrorist networks and drug cartels within their borders.” This statement illustrates the importance of providing developmental aid and support to countries battling poverty, corruption, conflict and violence.
If H.R. 567 is passed in the Senate and signed into law, the U.S. will reduce terrorism by strengthening institutions and addressing vulnerabilities that make countries in the Sahel and Maghreb more susceptible to terrorism and instability all while reducing poverty.
– Abby Adu