April 19, 2024

By: Shady El-Sherif, Rumeysa Bekci, Eriny Gergis




Terrorism has become a significant problem in Africa, from the Nigeria-based Boko Haram, an offshoot of Al Qaeda’s North African wing, to the Somali group al Shabaab. However, countries such as Algeria, Burundi, Congo, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Rwanda, and others have seen an increase in terrorist acts in recent years. There are many explanations of why terrorist attacks occur and some attribute it to poor economic conditions, which is consistent with the popular theory of deprivation and poverty; low education attainment, and historical events such as slavery and ethnic conflicts have also been used to explain terrorism; however, there are studies that suggest otherwise. The magnitude or scale of destruction show that these acts are properly planned and they have devastating impact for victims with injuries (sometimes death), and promote physical asset destruction. The fact is that members of terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas are neither poor nor uneducated, so calculated attacks tend to have severe economic damage.




Terrorists have increased their activities in the past few years; acts of terrorism on the continent have steadily increased as terrorists have multiplied and gained confidence in the lack of repercussions for their actions. Various incidents of high profile bombings in Kenya, abductions in Nigeria, attempted hijackings, and mass killings in villages and settlements in different countries in Africa have gone unpunished to a large extent, and have created the perception, in some, of Africa being ‘the soft underbelly for transnational terrorism’ (Mentan 2004: 2).4 This has led others to consider whether Africa is now to be considered the new frontier of global terrorism (Defence Web n.d; Oxford Research Group 2014).

The factors encouraging terrorism in Africa are complex and multidimensional, and as such cannot be limited to particular facts or events. Some scholars have over the years attempted to engage with this reality in Africa, and to posit reasons that cause, attract and fuel terrorist operations in Africa. For his part, Mentan views state failure as being high on the list, due to the lack of responsibility among the governing group to fulfil the state’s part of the social contract (Mentan 2004: ix). The proliferation of arms in Africa is identified as another issue, as used and unused arms from world wars have from time been dumped in the continent, with international arms manufacturers finding African countries to be veritable trading partners. The quest for power, by any means, among African leaders, and the ready availability of foreign arms suppliers and trainers, have ended up translating many landscapes of political struggle into military ones (Mentan 2004: ix)

Porous borders in Africa, nascent judicial institutions, weak and corrupt law enforcement and security services are some of the other factors identified. It has been proposed that the fact that there are portions of the African population who are poor and disillusioned, with religious or ethnic grievances, makes it easier for terrorist organisations to recruit for their jihad from Africa (Seequeh 1996: 9).



After its independence from colonial rule in 1960, Somalia was governed by a civilian government which was later ousted by the military in 1969. The military government, led by General Mohamed Siad Barre, collapsed in 1991, and this led to the Somali Civil War, during which time clans, groups and regions organised themselves and began competing for influence in the power vacuum that existed. Efforts to put an end to the civil war led to the creation of the Transitional National Government (TNG) in 2000, which later morphed into the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in 2004.

The TFG was greatly assisted by Ethiopian troops, but opposed by the different clan- and religion-based insurgent groups that had emerged in Somalia and coalesced under the banner of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which, at the time, controlled about half of southern Somalia. The invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia in December 2006 put an end to the expansion of the ICU, and led to its disbandment and the splintering of the organisation (Simpson 2010: 11).

Al-Shabaab, fully known as Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (HSM), was formed in Somalia against the backdrop of a past that has been marked by conflict. It emerged from the vestiges of the ICU, of which it was the youth and military wing, continuing its operations in the southern part of Somalia. The group al-Shabaab was originally a remnant of Al-Itihaad Al-Islamiya (AIAI) – a Wahhabi (puritan, ultra-conservative) Islamist terrorist organisation which operated in Somalia in the 1980s with the aim of replacing the regime of Mohammed Said Barre with an Islamic state. When the AIAI was defeated, remnants of the organisation then joined the ICU, from which al-Shabaab emerged (Agbiboa 2014: 27)



This woman outside a hospital in Mogadishu heard that her son was among the victims




A suicide bomber has killed at least 10 people at an army training camp in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu.

Many of the injured have been taken to hospital, a witness told the BBC.

The attacker was waiting among new recruits who were queuing up outside the camp, news agency AFP quotes an officer as saying.

No group has said it was behind the attack, but security facilities are a common target for Islamist militant group al-Shabab.

A military officer quoted by state media said that 10 people had died, but a witness at a Mogadishu hospital told the Reuters news agency that he had counted 15 bodies.

Army officer Mohamed Adan saw 15 dead at the camp, AFP reports.

Relatives of some of those thought to be caught up in the attack gathered outside the hospital where casualties were being treated.

“My son is dead. I have seen with my eyes. Many boys perished,” Reuters quotes Amina Farah as saying.

“They were asked to come for recruitment and then bombed.”

Army recruit Ahmed Ali told Reuters that the camp was “overcrowded with new recruits and soldiers when the blast occurred”.

The militant group al-Shabab has been operating for more than a decade, fighting for control of the country against the UN-backed government in Mogadishu.

An African Union force is supporting the Somali army. (BBC News- 15.06.2021)



Boko Haram

Boko Haram, a diffuse Islamist sect, has attacked Nigeria’s police and military, politicians, schools, religious buildings, public institutions, and civilians with increasing regularity since 2009. More than five thousand people have been killed in Boko Haram-related violence, and three hundred thousand have been displaced. Some experts view the group as an armed revolt against government corruption, abusive security forces, and widening regional economic disparity. They argue that Abuja should do more to address the strife between the disaffected Muslim north and the Christian south.

The U.S. Department of State designated Boko Haram a foreign terrorist organization in 2013. Boko Haram’s brutal campaign includes a suicide attack on a United Nations building in Abuja in 2011, repeated attacks that have killed dozens of students, the burning of villages, ties to regional terror groups, and the abduction of more than two hundred girls in April 2014. The Nigerian government hasn’t been able to quell the insurgency, and in May 2014 the United States deployed a small group of military advisers to help find the kidnapped girls.

The official Islamic name for Boko Haram is Jama’atu ahlis sunna lidda’awati wal jihad which is the Arabic for ‘Group Committed to Propagating the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad’/ ‘People of the Tradition of the Prophet (SAW) for Preaching and Striving’, though the easier name of Boko Haram is more commonly used in referring to the group (Okpaga, Chijioke and Eme 2012). The name Boko Haram in the Hausa language translates as ‘the book is sin’, which has been given the connotation that ‘Western education is forbidden’ (even though the group has purportedly refuted this, saying the name actually means ‘Western civilisation is forbidden’. For them, this means that anything that has to do with Western culture and way of life is actually forbidden, and not just education (Onuoha 2010: 57). This is based on the ideology and philosophy of Boko Haram that outwardly opposes any knowledge that contradicts the principles of Islam. It abhors Western liberalism as a whole, maintaining that ‘democracy and the current system of education must be changed otherwise this war [that is yet to start] [will] continue for long’ (Daily Trust 2009). Darwinism, for instance, is seen as an absolute contradiction to the Islamic philosophy of existence; so are issues dealing with the rights and privileges of women, the idea of homosexuality, multi-party democracy and others, which are all seen as opposed to Islamic civilisation (Onapajo, Uzodike and Whetho 2012: 343).



The Road to Radicalization

Boko Haram was created in 2002 in Maiduguri, the capital of the northeastern state of Borno, by Islamist cleric Mohammed Yusuf. The group aims to establish a fully Islamic state in Nigeria, including the implementation of criminal sharia courts across the country. Paul Lubeck, a University of California, Santa Cruz professor who researches Muslim societies in Africa, says Yusuf was a trained Salafist (an adherent of a school of thought often associated with jihad), and was strongly influenced by Ibn Taymiyyah, a fourteenth-century legal scholar who preached Islamic fundamentalism and is an important figure for radical groups in the Middle East.

Boko Haram came into prominence with its first recognised attack against state security forces in December 2003, when it attacked police stations and public buildings in Yobe State (Onuoha 2010: 57). From this time the activities of the group gained momentum and became more worrisome. The first recognised leader of Boko Haram was the late Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf, whose teachings were said to bear semblance to those of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan in seeing any form of Western influence on Islamic society as un-Islamic and to be fought against (Alao 2013: 74).16 As indicated above, Mohammed Yusuf was killed in police custody in 2009.







The leader of the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, has killed himself, rival Islamist militants said in an audio recording.


In audio obtained by news agencies, the Islamic State West Africa Province (Iswap) said Shekau died detonating explosives on himself after a battle between the two groups.

Shekau was reported dead last month and has been reported killed before.

Neither Boko Haram nor the Nigerian government have confirmed his death.

What did the recording say?

In the undated audio recording, a voice thought to be that of Iswap leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi said Shekau “killed himself instantly by detonating an explosive”.

Iswap fighters hunted down the warlord and offered him the chance to repent and join them, al-Barnawi said.

“Shekau preferred to be humiliated in the afterlife than getting humiliated on earth,” he said.

When reports of Shekau’s death in a clash circulated last month, the Nigerian army said it would investigate.

Army spokesman Brig Gen Mohammed Yerima told the BBC at the time the army was looking into what happened, but that it would not issue a statement until it got definitive proof.

One journalist with close links to security agencies said that Shekau died when Iswap attacked Boko Haram positions in the Sambisa forest, north-east Nigeria.

He has been reported dead numerous times before, only to resurface.

The official media outlets of the Islamic State group have also not yet commented on the claims.

What next for Boko Haram?

By Mayeni Jones, BBC News, Lagos

It’s unclear what Shekau’s death will mean for Boko Haram but it’s unlikely to spell the end of jihadism in West Africa.

For one, the Islamic State West Africa Province has become increasingly prominent in the region and has carried out a number of successful attacks against the Nigerian military.

Analysts say the group may now be wooing Shekau’s former fighters.

This is both good and bad.

It may result in less violent clashes between the two groups. But it would also mean that the so-called Islamic State’s footprint in West Africa receives a massive boost.

Alternatively, Shekau’s fighters could decide to join forces with other extremist groups in the region, or create their own faction.

This would be potentially disastrous for the already embattled north-east of Nigeria as it could lead to more infighting between the different groups, with civilians caught in the middle.

Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)

AQIM is as formed in 1998 as an outgrowth of the Algerian civil war. This group was formed as a Salafist group for preaching and combat (GSPC), and the members of this group focused on attacking against military and government targets, as well, as they sought to expand in Sahara in order to find more opportunities for fundraising and for finding new areas in operation and training. This group was founded by a former member in the Armed Islamic group.


AQIM’s lineage extends back to a guerilla Islamist movement known as the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which violently opposed Algiers’ secular leadership in the 1990. In 1998, several GIA commanders grew concerned that brutal tactics, such as beheadings, were alienating their Algerian constituency and broke away to found the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). GIA, now defunct, was delisted as an FTO in 2010.

In the 2000s, the group aligned with al-Qaeda in the 2000s to stage high-profile attacks and improve recruiting and fundraising. In 2006, the (GSPC) rebranded itself as (AQIM).

In 2003, the international sphere started to pay attention to this group when it took 32 European tourists’ hostage in the Sahara. Some of the hostages were freed by the Algerian army; others were released, reportedly in exchange for a ransom payment. By early 2007, it was conducting attacks in Algeria while still implanting itself in the social fabric of northern Mali through marriage and business ties, as well as increasingly through local recruitment. In 2012, this group continued to play a significant role in governing Southern Mali. In 2015, this group continued to conduct serious attacks against French, UN and Mali forces.


The main objectives of this group are to end North Africa of Western influence, as well as to overthrow governments deemed apostate, including those of Algeria, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia. Their ideology is to blend global Salafi-jihadist dogma with regionally resonant elements, including references to the early Islamic conquest of the Maghreb and the Iberian Peninsula (Spain). This group has declared Maghreb and Sahel as near enemies and Spain and France as far enemies.

Latest Manifestation of AQIM in Africa:

In November 2020, after 5 months since the leader of AQIM Abdelmalek Droukdel died in a raid by French forces, the AQIM announced that Ubaydah Yusuf al-Annabi would be the new leader of this group.






“Somalia: Attack kills 10 at Mogadishu army training camp”. BBC News. 2021: Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-57483311

Africa Development, Volume XLIV, No. 3, 2019, pp. 5-30, Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, 2019

Elu, J.; J. Price “The Causes and Consequences of Terrorism in Africa” Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-968711-4. – 2015, p. 724-738

Jones, M., Lagos “Abubakar Shekau: Nigeria’s Boko Haram leader is dead, say rival militants” BBC News. (7 June 2021)

Laub, Z., & Masters, J. “Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)”. Council of Foreign Relations. (2014).  Retrieved From: https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/176152/al-qaed.pdf