Not too long ago, Tunisia suffered twin bomb attacks that rocked the tiny north African nation. The first attack targeted a police patrol in the capital, Tunis. A second suicide bomber then hit a counter-terrorism unit that was en route from its barracks to investigate the first suicide bombing.
One officer was killed and eight other people were injured. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack. We’ll come back to why that’s important in a bit, but first, a little bit about Tunisia.
The country is the northernmost in Africa and the continent’s northernmost point is also located in Tunisia. There are about 11 million inhabitants.
The important thing to note about Tunisia is that it is the only Arab country to have emerged from the 2011 Arab Spring as a democracy. It was a hard-fought democracy, and the country is now gearing up for elections in October.
Its president, Beji Caid Essebsi, has announced that he would not stand for re-election. This is a good thing too… the man is 92 years old.
After the attacks in Tunis, he fell in and was hospitalised. He has since returned to work.
Arab Spring helped the Tunisians rid themselves of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power, but following the uprising, Tunisia faced the rise of jihadism.
This is where ISIS comes in. The terror group and al-Qaeda have posed a significant threat to peace and security in the country since Arab Spring, and have carried out insurgent attacks since the revolution.
The biggest and most brazen attack came in 2015, where tourist hotspot Sousse was attacked, killing 38 people.
Seeing as Tunisia is on the Mediterranean, and Greece, Italy, France, Spain and Turkey are just a hop, skip, and a jump away, it’s a popular tourist destination. The tourism sector registered a 45% increase in revenue earlier in 2019, and tourism contributes about 8% to the country’s GDP.
European tourists are seen as an important driver in the sector and hours after the twin terror attacks on Thursday, June 27, Tunisia’s tourism minister quickly allayed fears saying the country was still open for business.
The US has meanwhile shut its embassy out of security fears - par for the course for the States.
The thing that’s worrying security experts, however, is the fact that the two attacks last week were so well-coordinated, unlike anything seen before in Tunisia.
The country is also facing a number of problems apart from terrorism. There’s rampant inflation, and their infrastructure is falling apart.
I had the privilege of speaking to the founder of Tunisian grassroots civil movement 3ich Tunsi, Olfa Terras, when she was on a visit to South Africa, and she told me the people were fed-up with politicians and the promises they made.
The government, she said, had failed to maintain infrastructure; schools were falling apart and hospitals were running out of medicines. Most Tunisians could barely afford to put food on the table. The people want change.
You’re seeing a pattern here, right? Elsewhere in Africa, the Sudanese continue to protest for a civilian-led government, having been under military rule for so long. Tunisians want their government to listen to their needs, and respond accordingly.
The ruling party in Tunisia is also deeply fractured, with factions declaring party leaders without the blessing of the party’s president. With Essebsi stepping down, it will be interesting to see where the power shifts once elections roll around in October.
But of pressing concern is the seeming re-emergence of ISIS in Africa. As the fight against the global terror network continues in the Middle East, and western forces claim victories over the caliphate, it’s spreading its tendrils into unstable regions in Africa, capitalising on the lack of a coordinated security and anti-terrorism strategy.
ISIS and its affiliates are expanding into West Africa; apparent merges with Boko Haram has led to massive unrest in northern Nigeria, killing 100 soldiers as it overran a military base; the group then killed 23 soldiers during a raid in Chad.
ISIS has been active in the Sahel region, under the name Islamic State West Africa Province, and is slowly gaining and building support as it is squeezed out of the Middle East, growing more brazen in its attacks on African countries, most recently claiming responsibility for the twin terror bombings in Tunisia.
ISWAP earlier in 2019 claimed responsibility for attacks as far south as Mozambique, as it continues to seek support from other terror groups like Al Shabab, Nusra front and others.
It’s also employing a different strategy, coercing people to gain support rather than threatening them, offering them protection in exchange for them not cooperating with the Nigerian military.
Let’s hope Africa can respond and shut this growing threat out before the group gains more territory and support.
* #NewsByte with Lance Witten is a product of the ANA+ digital channel. Find them on YouTube.