Last week's attacks on innocent civilians in Kenya are a reminder of the growing threat posed by Islamic extremists in many parts of Africa. In spite of all the resources devoted to fighting Somalia-based Al Shabaab in recent years, the group has grown stronger, and continues to cross the region's borders with impunity. The same is true with Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The West and regional governments appear to be fighting a losing battle.
The reasons for this vary from a lack of sufficient resources devoted to the problem, to a failure to efficiently implement existing resources, to a lack of will to do what is necessary to adequately address the issue. Pervasive poverty, porous borders, and a thriving arms trade compound the problem. The result is that extremist groups are flourishing.
Africa is particularly ripe for this because so many of its countries are either failed or failing states, unable to either provide basic needs for their people or control all of their sovereign territory. Kenya is ranked 17th in the Failed States Index -- sandwiched between Nigeria and Niger. Number one on that list is its neighbor Somalia; number four is another neighbor, South Sudan; and next to that is number nine, the Central African Republic. In fact, Africa is the home of 15 of the top 20 failed or failing states on the Index.
There is a swathe of states -- from Africa's east coast to West Africa -- that are effectively ungovernable, what I call the 'African Confederation of Failed States'. What they all have in common are a combination of a lack of perceived governmental legitimacy, terrible corruption, a topography that defies border security, and either being Muslim states or in proximity to Muslim states. The political scientist Samuel Huntington believed that countries neighboring Muslim states are more likely to experience cross-border conflict.