The US State Department is offering millions of dollars in rewards for the capture of several terrorist leaders in West Africa. The scheme will be counter-productive, says Thomas Mösch.
A total of $23 million dollars (18 million euros) is being offered in rewards to those who help track down and capture five terrorist leaders in West Africa. It would appear that the US has two messages for the rest of the world. Firstly, we have recognized that terrorist groups are a global threat and secondly, we are determined to hunt down their leaders until we capture them.
However, there is the danger that Africa detects quite a different message in the State Department's announcement. And the United States has only itself to blame. On May 23, President Barack Obama called for an end to "a boundless war on terror" declaring that terror could not be fought by military means alone.
With this pronouncement, Obama raised hopes that the US was about to open an ideological front in the battle against America's adversaries. He renewed his promise to close down the Guantanamo detention center and expressed skepticism about the use of drones for the killing of alleged terrorists in Pakistan.
Many Africans, especially Muslims in West Africa, feel there is now a huge discrepancy between the president's words and deeds. Nigeria serves as an example. Of the five terrorist leaders hunted by the State Department, the highest reward - $7 million - is being offered for the capture of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau. Initial reactions from northern Nigeria, which is the focus of Boko Haram's violent campaigns, suggest that Washington is perceived to be meddling in the country's domestic affairs. The Americans are thoroughly disliked by northern Nigeria's Muslims and the offer of a reward is likely to be counter-productive.
The reward for Shekau's capture is also an affront to the government of Nigeria in Abuja. President Goodluck Jonathan has launched a military offensive against Boko Haram and has been struggling for weeks to regain the initiative in his fight against the militant Islamist sect. He seems to have succeeded in stopping government troops from overstepping the mark and attacking civilians. They are reports of civilian casualties, but they are fewer than feared. Nonetheless the civilian population regards the military offensive with great skepticism, especially as it includes curfews and the closure of mobile phone networks. At the same time, high-ranking northern Nigerian officials, acting on behalf of President Jonathan, are sounding out the possibility of amnesty for Boko Haram.
Into this delicate, difficult arena, Washington has just dispatched a message which can only be interpreted as an indication of its mistrust of Abuja. It is as if the Americans are saying "Look here, you'll never manage it on your own." Many Nigerians resent this..
And should President Jonathan be in favor of the reward being offered by the United States, then why doesn't he put the money on the table himself? A quick collection round among the many corrupt politicians in his vicinity would have swiftly yielded a similar sum without even burdening the official state coffers.
Battle for hearts and minds
If Obama is serious about ending the "boundless war on terror", then he could achieve this objective with other means far more effectively. He needs only to complete certain tasks, some of which he has already mentioned by name. They include closing Guatanamo, stopping the drone attacks on Pakistan which cause the deaths of many innocent civilians and implement a policy on the Middle East which also takes into account the interests of the Palestinians. These are global issues upon which extremists base their hatred of the United States.
Thomas Mösch is the head of Deutsche Welle's Hausa Service. Most listeners live in Nigeria and Niger.