Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

State and State-Sponsored Terrorism in Africa: The Case of Libya and Sudan

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

State and State-Sponsored Terrorism in Africa: The Case of Libya and Sudan

Article excerpt


This article aims to describe past and present state sponsorship of international terrorism in Africa. Firstly, it commences by exploring the differences between terrorism, international terrorism and state-sponsored terrorism. Secondly, it details the United States' list of state sponsors of international terrorism and the sanctions that accompany that list. Thirdly, international terrorism and state-sponsored terrorism in Africa, during and after the Cold War, are briefly discussed. Fourthly, two case studies regarding the state sponsorship of international terrorism in Africa are presented. The case studies include Libya, a previous state sponsor of international terrorism, and Sudan, currently on the United States' list of state sponsors of international terrorism. The case studies consider the history of these two countries as sponsors of international terrorism; the international community's attempts to prevent their involvement in international terrorism; how Libya succeeded in being taken off the United States' list; and Sudan's efforts to join Libya as a country that is no longer seen as a sponsor of international terrorism.


Governments can, and do, conduct terrorist operations or openly sponsor terrorists to achieve their political ends. The United States (US) State Department, as of February 2008, identified Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria as 'state sponsors of terror'. Before the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, this country was on the list, as was Libya until May 2006. Governments also conduct terrorist activities against their own citizens in the form of secret arrests or widespread killings outside the jurisdiction of the courts of law.

The utilisation of clandestine political violence against foreign enemies by states is not a modern occurrence. One of the earliest known examples of this was Serbia's support of the terrorist organisation, the Black Hand, that was responsible for the assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand in 1914. Another example was when Italy and Hungary trained, financed and harboured the Croatian Ustasa, that participated in the assassination of France's foreign minister Lois Barthou and King Alexander I of Yugoslavia in 1934. These examples, however, could be categorised as 'covert acts of warfare'. The difference between these acts and contemporary state-sponsored terrorism is that contemporary state-sponsored terrorism practises a disparate form of political violence. Whereas the abovementioned examples were direct acts of warfare, state-sponsored terrorism aims at mounting acts of "covert violence against noncombatants for the purpose of creating an atmosphere of fear and of intimidating a wide audience, so as to advance a social or political agenda". It is this form of state-sponsored violence that has become a new phenomenon in international relations; one that developed in the mid- to late-20th century. The increase in Marxist revolutionary organisations and Palestinian-related terrorist groups, and the emergence of religious-state radicalism in the Middle East can seen as the primary factors that led to the drastic increase in state-sponsored terrorism in the 20th century. (1)


Terrorism is inevitably about power: the pursuit of power, the attainment of power, and the application of power to achieve political change. Terrorists, present and past, have used violence or, equally significant, the threat of violence in pursuit of a political aim. Whittaker states that terrorism, in the most widely-accepted contemporary usage of the term, is "fundamentally and inherently political". It includes the pursuit of domestic, regional, continental and international political objectives. (2)

Just as there are different definitions of terrorism, so are there different types of terrorism. …

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