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Since the Christmas Day plot in Detroit, there has been a strong focus on Al Qaeda activities in Yemen. Reports of safe havens and training camps have led many to believe that Al Qaeda members, hounded out of Afghanistan and much of Pakistan, have sought refuge in an ungoverned area of the Middle Eastern nation, using the name Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Essential though this focus may be, the global nature of the fight means that concentrating efforts in one place means neglecting enemy forces gathered in another. This is exactly the case with another branch of Al Qaeda in North Africa – one which has gone largely unnoticed and whose increased capacity to attack presents a real threat to security in Europe and the U.S.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb emerged in the early nineties, and was originally called the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). The group was formed as an angry response to the Algerian government’s cancellation of the 1992 elections that would have handed victory to a coalition of Islamic moderates and militants. GSPC operated in a largely ungoverned area of the Sahara desert, along Algeria’s southern and Mali’s northern border, and launched attacks on Algerian government employees and institutions. The group then began to receive funding and training from Al Qaeda towards the end of the decade, and the alliance was made official in 2006 when Al Qaeda’s no. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, announced the “blessed union” in a video published on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. Since then, the group has been known as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and has claimed responsibility for its actions under its new name.

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It was last December, in a cozy Ann Arbor bookstore, that I first came across the book “The Shadow of the Sun.” I had finished all the previous books on my list (even succumbing to the chick-lit turned spiritual journey chronicle, “Eat Pray Love”) and decided to pick this one up and read it.

I was floored by its depth and detail. Written by famed Polish journalist, Ryzard Kapuscinski, “The Shadow of the Sun” outlines the tumultuous growing pains of the African continent in wrenching itself from the jaws of colonialism. In the mid-late 20th century, African leaders from Senegal to Ethiopia, from Eritrea to Mauritania, and Sudan to South Africa forged independent states through  armed uprisings and bloody coups. The tragedy being that many of these liberation struggles did not result in emancipation from greed, exploitation, and poverty. Instead, colonial leaders were merely supplanted by corrupt natives.

What I found most fascinating about this book was the author’s descriptions of the sometidead_aidmes detrimental role played by foreign aid. Wars were waged over grains of rice and packets of dry milk. Hungry adolescents were easily convinced by powerful warlords to snatch aid away from the neediest to fuel their armies.

Apparently, not too much has changed.  This very debate about the efficacy of aid has recently been raging through foreign policy blogs, online newspapers, and even talk shows. The ignitor of this debate is Zambian businesswoman, Dambisa Moyo, who argues in her new book,”Dead Aid,” that foreign aid has plunged Africa into a state of permanent dependency and painful inefficiency. Moyo’s primary arguement – over the past 60 years, a whopping 1 trillion dollars have graced the continent in the form of aid, ultimately, to amount to nothing.

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