African militant Islamist groups have demonstrated a decade of nearly uninterrupted growth in violent activity, though the focus of this has shifted over time. Militant groups in the Sahel, the Lake Chad Basin, and Mozambique have exhibited the sharpest increases in violent activity over the past year.
A June-to-June review of violent episodes involving militant Islamist groups in Africa over the past decade underscores the growing and shifting threat posed by these groups. Key findings include:
A 31-percent jump in violent events involving militant Islamist groups in Africa in the 12 months ending June 30, 2020, represents a record for violent activity by these groups. With 4,161 violent events, this period marks the first time this total has exceeded 4,000 and reflects a sixfold increase from 2011 (693).
The rise in militant Islamist group activity in Africa can be attributed to increases in four of the five main theaters of violent extremist activity in Africa: Somalia, the Lake Chad Basin, the western Sahel, and Mozambique. North Africa is the only theater that has seen a decline, continuing a trend since 2015.
The Sahel has seen the most dramatic escalation of violence since mid-2017. Events linked to the groups that formed the coalition of Jama’at Nusrat al Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) collectively grew nearly sevenfold since that time (from 147 events to 999 events for the 12 months ending June 30, 2020). The majority of violent attacks in the Sahel in 2020 were in Burkina Faso (516 vs. 361 in Mali and 118 in Niger).
The Lake Chad Basin saw a near doubling of activity since June 2017 (from 506 events to 964). Facing a relatively new threat, Mozambique saw an almost sevenfold increase (from 39 events in 2018 to 306 for the 12 months prior to June 30, 2020).
Reported fatalities linked to militant Islamist groups in Africa rose 26 percent (12,507 vs. 9,944 fatalities the prior year). This ends 3 years of relative stasis in the number of total fatalities linked to militant Islamist groups in Africa. Much of this increase is attributed to the violence in the Sahel (4,404 vs. 1,538 fatalities the prior year). Mozambique, meanwhile, saw the greatest percentage increase in reported fatalities over the past year (219 percent).
While still the most active militant Islamist group in Africa, al Shabaab was linked to 17-percent fewer fatalities over the past year, continuing a 2-year downward trend.
Trend lines also reveal an expansion in violence against civilians. Militant Islamist group attacks on civilians increased 47 percent since June 2019. Violence against civilians now represents 31 percent of militant Islamist group activity in Africa compared to 17 percent in 2017.
Militant Islamist groups in Mozambique are linked to the largest share of attacks against civilians in the past year (78 percent), followed by the Lake Chad Basin and the Sahel (42 percent and 36 percent, respectively).