Africa’s Sahel region has seen a huge surge in civilian deaths in the past five months due to Islamist militants and ethnic militia attacks, researchers said.
The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), financed in part by the US State Department, documented 2,151 reported killings in 724 direct attacks targeting civilians between November, 2018 and March, 2019.
The Sahel – the arid region between the Sahara desert to the north and Africa’s savannas and forests to the south – is increasingly prone to attacks by well-armed jihadists and reprisals by ethnic militia.
The region experienced one of its bloodiest days last Saturday when gunmen in central Mali killed at least 157 people in a village inhabited by Fulani herders — prompting government to vow to disarm vigilantes.
The biggest surge in fatalities from attacks on civilians was in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, despite deployment of thousands of Western and United Nations troops to contain the violence.
Islamist militants based in Mali regrouped after a French intervention in 2013 and now use the country’s north and centre as launchpads for attacks on neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Attacks hardened existing rivalries between ethnic groups, especially herders and farmers, leading to tit-for-tat reprisals.
In Mali, ACLED documented 547 fatalities in attacks on civilians in the last five months, a more than fourfold increase on the same period a year earlier. In Niger, it documented a fivefold increase, with 78 reported fatalities.
Burkina Faso, previously been known for stability in a troubled region, suffered 499 fatalities from attacks on civilians, a more than 7,000% jump.
The Sahel also includes Mauritania, Nigeria, Chad, and Sudan.