“Hezbollah” in Africa

A recent article that has appeared in various places shows – or purports to show – Hezbollah’s presence in Nigeria, and then devotes significant time to pointing out how this apparent development highlights the shortcomings of western analysts’ “conventional wisdom” regarding militant islamic groups like Hezbollah.

Now, I’m all for challenging “conventional wisdom”, but I’m also big on challenging hasty assumptions. Boiled down to the basics, the article shows eight photos of supposed “Hezbollah activities in Nigeria”; warns about the dangers of groups like Hezbollah using Africa as “forward operating bases”; and attempts to argue the logical and predictable nature of this development. I’m not so sure about that.

First, let’s look at the photos. The first photo was apparently taken with a Panasonic DMC-FX07 on 18 January 2008, according to the metadata in the file. The remaining seven photos were taken with an Acer CE5430 on 23 July 2006. While there’s no real description given of the photos per se, some quick and dirty analysis suggests the seven photos taken in July 2006 show as many as five distinct groups of people: The folks in green uniforms with white belts and hats, carrying what could be furled Hezbollah flags; the folks in white tracksuits and black shoes, with no belts or hats, and who know how to march; the folks in dark uniforms with what seem to be red berets; what seem to be Nigerian soldiers, in dark uniforms with dark belts and hats, and white gloves; and the folks in white tracksuits with dark hats and belts. Plus, of course, the goons in dark suits, who seem to be bodyguards for the folks on the reviewing stands (albeit ones doing a fairly bad job; nobody’s watching the rear.) With a few exceptions, these groups seem curiously isolated, and to not have been mingling much if at all.

Here’s the big question: are these really photos “of” Hezbollah? I’m going to say “probably not”. Look at the date on most of these photos: 23 July 2006. What was going on then? Well, the United States had just shipped more weapons to Israel, who were busy bombing and shelling Lebanon back into the stone age. These actions, amid the backdrop of the week-old war in Lebanon, created – quite predictably! – some strong sentiments in large parts of the world.

What I think you’re really seeing in these photos is a parade, a march, a rally – call it what you will – supporting Hezbollah and Lebanon. Supporting, yes, but at that point in time, “supporting” or “expressing solidarity with” Hezbollah was pretty well synonymous with “being against the US and Israel”, an increasingly-popular position among the world’s peoples.

The January 2008 photo may be in the same location as the 2006 photos, but it’s a decidedly different sort of occasion, and I’m not really sure what to make of it. Analytically, assuming that the reference to “Hassan” indicates Hezbollah’s leader is highly suspect.

The real question is not “does Hezbollah have a presence in Africa”; the answer is almost certainly “yes” (for a given definition of “presence”, anyway.) The real question is: who are the various groups of people in the 2006 photos? One group seems to be the Nigerian Army, but what about the rest? They all appear to be African, rather than, say, Lebanese, or Iranian, or whatever. If local groups in Nigeria want to express ideological compatibility with Hezbollah, that’s one thing. And if Hezbollah wants to train Africans in the finer arts of bombmaking and other tried-and-true insurgency tactics, more power to ’em, really. But, quite frankly, I suspect the odds of getting those trained Africans to Lebanon, to help aid the war against Israel, are pretty well non-existent.

That’s kind of a moot point, because nothing in these photos appears to actually support the main bit of fearmongering the article espouses: that Hezbollah are setting up “forward operating bases” in Africa. Why would they? Hezbollah doesn’t need to recruit and train more warm bodies, thousands of miles from Lebanon; they need to acquire money, material, and expertise to train the warm bodies they’ve already got. Nigeria might be useful for fundraising, or at least money-laundering, but its attractions to Hezbollah otherwise seem quite limited indeed.

Published in: Geekiness, General, History, Security | on May 27th, 2008| Comments Off on “Hezbollah” in Africa

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.