/ 2 March 2022

Half the deaths from terrorism were in sub-Saharan Africa in 2021

Somalia Unrest Bombing
Government soldiers look at the scene of suicide bomb attack in Mogadishu on January 16, 2022. (Photo by AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)

Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for almost half of global terrorism deaths in 2021, while the Sahel region is home to the world’s fastest-growing and most deadly terrorist groups, 

according to the latest Global Terrorism Index report, released on Tuesday. 

The report found that violent conflict remains a primary driver of terrorism, with more than 97% of terrorist attacks in 2021 taking place in countries in conflict. 

The report found that 48% (3 461 people) of all terrorism deaths globally occurred in the four sub-Saharan African countries of Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali and Niger.

Isis, an Islamist militant jihadist group, replaced the Taliban as the world’s deadliest terror group in 2021, with 15 deaths per attack in Niger. Terrorism deaths in Niger more than doubled in 2020, rising to 588. 

The Mail & Guardian reported on Wednesday that the US has sanctioned four alleged Isis financial facilitators based in South Africa, who it believes are funnelling funds — generated through theft, extortion of local populations and kidnapping for ransom — out of the country.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari wrote at the time of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last year that the “war on terror” was not over, it was instead shifting to Africa. He cited the rising threat of terrorist groups in Africa, from Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Sahel region to al-Shabaab in Somalia, and the rising insurgency in Mozambique.

According to the index, “The Sahel is of serious concern”. 

The expansion of Islamic State affiliates has led to a surge in terrorism in many countries in area. As a result, terrorism deaths increased by 1000% between 2007 and 2021. 

Forty-three percent of deaths attributed to Islamic extremist groups occurred in the Sahel region in 2021, but deaths by Islamic extremist groups have been recorded as far south as Mozambique.  

The Islamic extremest groups include Islamic State in West Africa, Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab. 

“The situation in the Sahel is rapidly deteriorating, with eight attempted coups in Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea and Chad in the last eighteen months,” said the index.

A coup d’état was launched in Burkina Faso (also in the Sahel) on 23 January 2022 and the next day the military announced on television that President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré had been removed from his position. After the announcement, the military declared that the parliament, government and Constitution had been dissolved. 

According to the index, the underlying drivers for coups are complex and systemic, including poor water utilisation, lack of food, malnutrition, strong population growth and weak governments, with most of the terrorist activity occurring along borders where government control is weakest. 

A trend identified in the index is that as the conflict in Syria subsided, Isis and its affiliates have shifted focus to sub-Saharan Africa and the Sahel region in particular. Because of this, deaths in the Sahel region accounted for 35% of global terrorism deaths in 2021, compared with just 1% in 2007.

The Islamic State in West Africa is the most lethal group in the Sahel. In Niger it was responsible for 23 attacks, killing on average 15.2 people per attack. There is a strong statistical relationship between criminal activity and terrorism in the Sahel, according to the index. 

“The increase in violence [in the Sahel] shows no sign of abating,” the report found. 

Anathi Madubela is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the Mail & Guardian.