Jihadist networks in sub-Saharan Africa: Origins, patterns and responses

Briefing 30-09-2021

Sub-Saharan Africa has become a new global hotspot for jihadist activity. Armed groups have increasingly developed strong Salafi jihadist ideologies and forged ties with jihadist movements predominantly active in the Middle East, namely Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known by its Arabic acronym, Da'esh. The rise of jihadist activity in the region of the Sahel, Lake Chad, the Great Lakes and the Horn of Africa, and more recently in northern Mozambique, cannot be attributed solely to the influence of jihadist ideology from the Middle East. A number of factors have contributed to the deterioration of security, among them poverty, corruption, various local grievances, separatist movements, pre-existing intercommunal violence between herders and farmers over land rights (exacerbated by the consequences of climate change), weak state presence, and lack of prospects for young people. In Mali, jihadist groups emerged from the conflict triggered by the separatist Tuareg movement. More recently, in Mozambique, grievances and poverty in one of the country's poorest provinces, Cabo Delgado, provided fertile ground for jihadist ideology, nurtured further by foreign preachers and returning students. The spike in violence attributed to jihadist groups and their ties to foreign movements has prompted international stakeholders, including the European Union, to launch counterterrorism operations, also involving local actors. The European Parliament has condemned these terrorist groups on several occasions and supported EU military and civilian missions in the region. Nevertheless, the military approach that the international community has preferred up to now has not succeeded in addressing deeper community grievances and strengthening state presence.