Africa: Midyear Update - Militancy in Africa

Geneva — An increased tempo of attacks brings surging needs

Remember those 10 crises and trends to watch in 2019 we presented back in January? We've been keeping an eye on them, reporting on how areas from climate change to political transitions in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo are impacting humanitarian needs and response. With 2019 just about half over, it's time for an update.

Here's what's changed over the past six months, what we're paying special attention to, and how it may affect the lives and livelihoods of people on the ground. Look for two updates every day this week, including today with Yemen and militancy in Africa.

Be sure to share your thoughts - and ideas for our continuing coverage - at [email protected] or @thenewhumanitarian

Violent jihadism continues to gain ground in Africa, representing a serious trial for weak and neglectful governments and driving up humanitarian needs for civilians. Extremist groups operate in Egypt and Libya, and across a belt of Sahelian countries. They are also newly active further south in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Mozambique, and have a historical hold in Somalia.

What's new:

There has been an increased tempo of attacks by jihadist groups under the banner of Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) along the joint borders of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. Nigeria's Islamic State West Africa Province is known to be cooperating with ISGS. Around 4.2 million people are displaced in the Sahel - a million more than in 2018 - as a result of the violence. In the DRC, so-called Islamic State is also supporting factions within the Allied Democratic Forces, a shadowy Islamist rebel group that has been fighting the Congolese and Ugandan governments for decades.

Why we're watching:

In Nigeria, ISWAP (a "Boko Haram" splinter group) is building a proto-state on the islands in Lake Chad. It offers some basic public services to citizens in a long-neglected region. It has built a formidable military capability against a demoralised Nigerian army that has generally failed to win the trust of civilians. There is a popular distinction in northeastern Nigeria between ISWAP and the indiscriminately murderous original Boko Haram group. Meanwhile, the jihadist coalition, ISGS, has proved particularly deadly this year, exploiting ethnic and anti-government grievances. From central Mali it has spread to northeastern Burkina Faso and western Niger - developments we have extensively reported.

There are concerns a southwards push could see ISGS launch attacks against communities and perceived Western interests in coastal Benin, Togo, and Ghana. In the DRC, Islamic State in the Central African Province, linked to the long-existing Allied Democratic Forces, has claimed responsibility for attacks on villages and military posts in the east of the country - a region of substantial rebel activity and ground zero for the Ebola outbreak.

In Mozambique the more perplexing insurgency of Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama - is it a largely criminal enterprise? - also has links to ISCAP. But ascribing the growth of any of these groups simply to transnational links would be a mistake. As we have noted, they are home-grown movements rooted in local conditions, with the ideology of jihad often a radical response to the governance failures of the state.

Keep in mind:

African armies have proven unprepared to deal with these guerrilla forces. Governments continue to reach for military solutions, backed by their Western partners. At the same time, an over-militarised response risks fuelling support for the extremist cause as a consequence of human rights abuses committed by the security forces and measures that restrict people's livelihoods.

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