By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
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Still, some observers aren't quite ready to hit the panic button. "There are several states in Africa that are in very severe states of ungovernability," says Patrick Gaffney, professor of anthropology at Notre Dame. "They are like Afghanistan in structure, but they wouldn't have the ideological parallels." Gaffney notes that extreme fundamentalist Islam has not gained the same sort of traction in sub-SaharanAfrica as in the Middle East.
But in seeking a new base of operations in Africa, Al Qaeda may care less about religious identity than the bottom line. According to the Washington Post report, the two lieutenants paid Liberia's authoritarian ruler Charles Taylor $1 million for safe haven, then cornered the market on the country's diamond trade in hopes of financing weapons purchases for Al Qaeda. While Taylor isn't a guy you'd have over for coffee and crumpets, neither is he another Mullah Omar. The secular Liberia has never been a beacon for fundamentalism. But it has been a beacon for states that exist in name only. Gutted by war and corruption, Liberia is exactly the sort of failing state where terrorists could set up camp and disappear from global view.
Making Liberia an exception for the continent as opposed to the rule may necessitate a shift in U.S. foreign policy. Advocates for Africa say that as the government extends the mailed fist to Iraq, it must also extend a velvet hand to countries teetering on the brink. Secretary of State Colin Powell recently acknowledged as much after pledging $29 million for modernizing the Arab world. "Hope begins with a paycheck," said Powell. While the Bush administration may be well aware that Africa could become the new home of its greatest enemy, the political willand indeed the democratic willto prevent that may be lacking.
"I think if you spoke with people in the administration, they would say, 'Yes, we know.' But whether they can deliver in an era where there is intense pressure to increase defense spending is not clear," says Schonberg. "Foreign aid is never popular, and the problem of development just seems so insurmountable. I think it would be very hard, if only for no other reason than the fact the economy here wasn't doing well."