Islamist militant activity on the rise in Africa


Militant Islamist groups in Africa have been growing over the last decade, with violent events up dramatically since 2010, including fatalities. There are more militant groups than ever, but al Shabaab is responsible for most violence.

The Africa Centre for Strategic Studies in late June published a snapshot of violent episodes involving Islamist groups in Africa since 2010. In the report, the Centre said that over the course of the past eight years, there has been a 310% increase in violent events (from 675 in 2010 to 2 769 in 2017). As these episodes include attacks initiated by security forces, this figure also captures the growing military responses to militant Islamist activity over the eight year period, the Centre noted.

Violent episodes involving al Shabaab have comprised between 40 and 70% of all militant Islamist group activity in Africa since 2010, with al Shabaab responsible for 450 events in 2010 and 1 600 in 2017, far above the next most active groups Boko Haram and Islamic State – these both recorded 400-450 episodes in 2017.

The number of reported fatalities linked to militant Islamist groups has increased 288% (from 2 674 in 2010 to 10 376 in 2017). This was punctuated by a spike in fatalities associated with Boko Haram in 2014-15, reaching 12 000 in 2015. The number of total fatalities has dropped by almost half since 2015. This decline is almost entirely due to the decline in deaths associated with Boko Haram, which caused under 4 000 deaths in 2017.

The number of African countries experiencing sustained militant Islamist group activity has grown to 12, the Centre said, and this comprises Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Egypt, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, and Tunisia. In 2010, there were just five (Algeria, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Somalia).

The number of active groups has also grown steadily. In 2010, there were five recognized militant Islamist groups operating on the continent: al Qaeda (in Egypt and Libya), al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al Shabaab, Hizbul Islam, and Boko Haram. By end of 2017, the number was over 20.

There has been a shift in the face of Islamist militancy in Africa over the last eight years. In 2010, it was largely dominated by AQIM and al Shabaab. Now it is shared with Boko Haram and the Islamic State (ISIS).

Despite the fragmentation in the number of groups, militant Islamist activity has been focused in five main regions: Mali, the Lake Chad Basin, Somalia, the Maghreb, and the Sinai Peninsula. The increase in activity since 2010 has resulted in a more dense geographic concentration of attacks in the three sub-Saharan theatres. Meanwhile, in North Africa, the locus of militant activity has shifted from the Maghreb to the Sinai, the Centre said.