The lure of Africa is difficult to ignore, any celebrity worth the newsprint devoted to them will tell you. Of course, it was only a matter of time before those expressions of pious concern and acts justifying the same (Madonna’s ventures in Malawi, including adopting children there, Angelina Jolie choosing Namibia to deliver a child and Bob Geldof being the overall flag-bearer of the continent anyway) would inspire others to follow in their footsteps.
Al Qaeda, according to news reports, seems to have been won over to the cause, choosing the West African nation of Mali (the poorest in the continent) to win local hearts and minds and establish a stronghold in the region as a whole.
While al Qaeda might be treading on a well-worn path, it does score well as far as ingenuity is concerned. Not for them are high-profile visits or instances of generous charity; they would rather work at the grass-root level, win friends and influence people. Last heard, they were exchanging greetings and acting neighbourly, doling out candies to kids and cash to men, bringing clothes for newborn babies and medicines for the ill. You would almost be reminded of the wise, old Magi, only imbued, in this case, with the corporate social responsibility that a global organisation of any merit would aspire to. In its moving away from the days it relied on grainy videos of carnage and vituperative exhortations to jihad, you would be forgiven for thinking that even al Qaeda has been won over to the efficacy of soft power.
Of course, all these acts of kindness do not alter the essential fact that the real objective of al Qaeda — or its affiliate al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb in this case — is to recruit fighters, run training camps and prepare the ground for more suicide attacks and other acts of terror in the future. Its stated aim is to become a player in the global jihad, and is said to pose a significant risk to the US as well. And yet, no matter how widely divergent the aims of western celebrities and al Qaeda, both seem to have realised that in poverty resides the ultimate opportunity.