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Surge in Militant Islamist Violence in the Sahel Dominates Africa’s Fight against Extremists

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A 70-percent annual increase in violent events linked to militant Islamist groups in the Sahel propelled a new record of extremist violence in Africa in 2021.

Highlights

A near doubling in violence linked to militant Islamist groups in the Sahel in 2021 (from 1,180 to 2,005 events) highlights the rapidly escalating security threat in this region. This spike was the most significant change in any of the theaters of militant Islamist group violence in Africa and overshadowed a 30-percent average decline of violent activity in the Lake Chad Basin, northern Mozambique, and North Africa regions.

Overall, militant Islamist group violence in Africa climbed 10 percent in 2021 setting a record of over 5,500 reported events linked to these groups. This continues an upward pattern seen since 2016. Nevertheless, the annual rate of increase was much less than the 43-percent increase reported in 2020.

Africa-wide, reported fatalities linked to militant Islamist groups dropped by 7 percent in 2021 over the previous year, to an estimated 12,700 deaths. This includes a 14-percent decline in fatalities linked to violence against civilians, revealing a decrease in every theater except the Sahel.

Incidents of battles involving militant Islamist groups and both state and nonstate armed forces comprised 52 percent of all reported violent events in 2021. This reflects significant escalations in battles in northern Mozambique, Somalia, and the Sahel, continuing a trend from the past several years.

Militant Islamist violence in Africa remains largely concentrated in five theaters, each comprising distinct locally based actors and context-specific challenges: the Sahel, Somalia, the Lake Chad Basin, Mozambique, and North Africa.