After a long period, Tanzania mainland suffered its first suspected terrorist attack on Monday when eight people were wounded in a blast at a restaurant in the northern town of Arusha.
Arusha is the country’s tourist hub and headquarters of the regional group the East African Community.
The significance of the attack is that while East Africa, the Horn, West and North Africa have been wracked by terror attacks, the countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), in which Tanzania is a member, have largely been spared. Southern Africa has thus looked insulated, in a strange way, against the terrorists’ malevolent hands.
Even SADC countries that have had violent political episodes like Zimbabwe, and its newest member, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which has endured years of appalling conflict, have not witnessed classic terrorism attacks – car bombs, suicide bombers, and sieges of buildings as with the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2013, the blowing up of football watching centres, and Boko Haram and Al Shabaab-type insurgencies.
It has thus become the one region of Africa where you are less likely to be murdered by terrorists. In fact, the incidences of terrorism in Africa stretch along the middle of the continent like a belt signposting the meeting of the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa.
The landlocked West African countries tend to be a mess, but the coastal nations of West Africa, according to the latest “Global Terrorism Index” provided by the Institute for Economics & Peace, based on a survey of 2007-2011 data, are safer. West Africa’s record, however, is dragged down considerably by Nigeria.
So why does southern Africa remain the safest place from terrorism?
Looking at the index, it seems the further you are away from the Sahara/Sahel, the safer you are likely to be. It is possible that the open desert, rather than dense forests, are good for terrorism because terrorists need to raise money in modern ways—selling drugs, kidnapping, and taxing businesses, to keep afloat.
Distances from so-called “core group” of terrorists and the “North” where the specific types of social and political alienation, and religious contestation, keeps them supplied with goods and people to train also seems to play a role.
In addition, though it is still debatable whether democracy – particularly the lack of it - and poverty feed terrorism, aside from a few bad apples like Angola, southern African nations tend to have far better human rights records than the rest of the continent.
On a global scale, the index found a correlation between human rights standards and terrorism.
Also, the human development indicators, of especially the smaller nations like Botswana and island states like Mauritius and the Seychelles, are ahead of most others on the continent.
In Southern Africa, where terrorism incidents are low, Freedom House lists the countries mainly as free or partly free. These include nations such as South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. Here are the numbers:
-Charles Onyango-Obbo, Twitter:@cobbo3 and Samantha Spooner: Twitter:@Samooner