AnalysesArmed Violence

Earthquake, Terror Attacks, Coups … 10 Of Africa’s Most Fatal Incidents In 2023

From the stretch of the western Sahel through the Horn of Africa, including the Lake Chad Basin and Great Lakes regions, over 40 million people are displaced as a result of conflict — nearly a tenth of that number within the last year.

The world has become less peaceful in recent years. With conflict-related deaths increasing by 96 per cent and escalating in 79 countries, according to this year’s Global Peace Index, it’s become extremely difficult to silence the guns for global peace. 

Africa is one of the worst-affected continents as many countries grapple with violent extremism, political violence, police brutality, climate disasters, and economic downturns. In West Africa, for example, more than 1,800 terrorist attacks were recorded in the first half of the year, resulting in nearly 4,600 deaths and an unprecedented rise in humanitarian needs in the region.

It’s hardly different in other parts of the continent. From the stretch of the western Sahel through the Horn of Africa, including the Lake Chad Basin and Great Lakes regions, over 40 million people have been forcibly displaced as a result of conflict — more than double the number as of 2016. Nearly a tenth of those displacements happened within the last year, too.

Many have died from political strife and dictatorial rule. Hundreds have died as a result of religious dogma, too, and not just because of attacks from jihadist insurgents. For example, between April and July, over 400 bodies were exhumed in Kenya of members of a church whose pastor had persuaded them to starve to death so they could escape the end of the world.

Thousands of lives have been lost to environmental disasters as well. There was the September earthquake in Morocco that claimed about 3,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people. There was El Niño in eastern Africa that resulted in 179 deaths and displaced over 770,000 people across five countries.

In this report, we want to reflect on 10 of the deadliest incidents that shook the continent this year — in no particular order. 

  1. Sudan conflict

Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, was thrown into a bout of violence on April 15 when heavy gunfire and explosions hit different parts, raising tensions between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) under Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, Burhan’s deputy turned archrival also known as Hemedti. 

The two had jointly carried out a military coup and halted a transition plan after protesters helped bolt longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir out of office in 2019. Each is now seeking to take control of Sudan.

Fighting between the warring generals, largely concentrated in the capital and the western region of Darfur, has led to the death of over 9,000 civilians and another 5.4 million displaced from their homes. Efforts by both regional and international bodies have not really stopped the fighting or produced any significant results.

There are indications that rebel groups like the Sudan Liberation Movement and The Third Force have joined the war, further plunging the country into an even more dangerous phase and worsening any attempts at restoring peace in the terror-plagued region.

  1. Airstrikes by Nigerian Army

On Dec. 3, two drone strikes by the Nigerian Army killed over 100 civilians who had been out for a religious procession in Tudun Biri, a village in the Igabi area of Kaduna.

The Nigerian Military has become notorious for killing civilians in airstrikes targeted at terror groups, often with little accountability. So far, since February 2014, when a military aircraft shelled Daglun, a village in the country’s Northeast, there have been at least 17 documented incidents of such mishaps, resulting in the death of over 400 civilians. 

These attacks on civilians raise questions about intelligence gathering and coordination among the country’s security agencies. Although there have been calls for an independent enquiry into the incidents and compensation for victims of the attacks, it still remains elusive as there has been practically no support from the military for victims of previous accidental bombings.

Nigeria’s northwest has been grappling with insecurity for years now. Terrorists have raided villages, masterminding abduction of locals, including children, for ransom, and mass killing across Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina, Zamfara, Kaduna and parts of the North-central.

  1. Earthquake in Morocco

In September, a rare and powerful earthquake left people and animals under dust and rubble for days as at least 2,681 people lost their lives in the ruins of several Moroccan villages in the province of Al-Houz.

Homes crumbled into dust and debris, robbing the mud-brick villagers of everything they’d worked for. Some remote villages were wiped off completely. An estimated 300,000 were affected by the magnitude 6.8 quake, which was more disastrous because of its relatively shallow depth.

The disaster also revealed a shift in global alliances as Moroccan authorities cherry-picked aid from countries and rejected some. Officials said it’s to avoid a lack of coordination that “would be counterproductive”.

It was the deadliest the country had experienced in more than 60 years. In 1960, the country was struck by a magnitude 5.8 earthquake near the city of Agadir, killing at least 12,000 people.

  1. Attempted coup in Sierra Leone

Coups are staging a comeback in Africa, riding on the relapse of democratic principles on the continent. This also coincided with a shift in regional alliances as international peacekeeping efforts waned.

In November, a coup attempt in Sierra Leone left at least 19 people, including 13 soldiers, dead as gunfire jolted the capital city, Freetown, awake. Armed men had tried to break into an armoury at a military base before attacking two of the city’s main prisons and releasing some of the inmates.

This comes on the heels of successful putsches in other parts of the continent. In August, a group of senior military officers deposed President Ali Bongo of Gabon barely an hour after he was announced as the winner of a highly disputed presidential poll. The coup put an end to the Bogo dynasty, whose family had held power for almost 56 years.

A month earlier, Niger’s president, Mohammed Bazoum, was ousted from office by the country’s presidential guard. The landlocked country became the third Sahelian state under military rule.

  1. Massacre in Northern Burkina Faso

On Sunday, Nov. 5, an armed group struck Zaongo in Burkina Faso’s northern Centre-North region, killing at least 70 people, mostly children and elderly people, in what appeared to be the latest large-scale killing of civilians in the country. Several other locals sustained varying degrees of injuries. Houses were burnt and destroyed by the armed men who are yet to be identified by authorities.

Burkina Faso is currently plagued by an insurgency that spilt from neighbouring Mali.  

The West African country recorded 1,135 deaths attributed to al-Qaeda and ISIS-linked terrorist groups in 2022, a 50 per cent increase compared to 2021, according to the Global Terrorism Index released in March. 

Attacks by armed groups in 10 of the country’s 13 regions have sparked a rise in humanitarian needs and brought the total number of internally displaced people to nearly 2 million in just over two years.

In January 2022, military officers from the Patriotic Movement for Safeguard and Restoration took power from President Christian Kabore in a coup, citing worsening security situations.

  1. The Karma Massacre

Considered to be the deadliest in Burkina Faso since 2015, uniformed men suspected to be members of the 3rd Battalion of the Rapid Intervention Brigade from the Burkina Faso Armed Forces summarily executed about 156 civilians in the northern village of Karma.

The men killed 83 men, 28 women, and 45 children as they burned houses and looted property.

According to multiple accounts by survivors, the incident happened during a six-hour operation by the army. They believed it was in retaliation for attacks by jihadist armed groups against Burkinabè troops earlier in the month.

“On April 20, a convoy of hundreds of apparent Burkinabè soldiers arrived in Karma at about 7:30 a.m. on motorbikes and in pickup trucks and armoured cars. They said the soldiers surrounded the village and went door to door, searching and looting homes, beating and ordering out villagers. The soldiers then rounded up the villagers in groups and opened fire, including on people who ran for cover, hid in houses, or begged for their lives,” witnesses told Human Rights Watch.

Insurgency in Burkina Faso has displaced nearly 2 million people as the West African country grapples with jihadist campaigns that spread from neighbouring Mali.

  1. The Tabatol Attacks 

After ousting Mohammed Bazoum from power in a July Coup, Niger’s military announced that it recorded a deadly attack on its soldiers by insurgents terrorising the country’s western border with Mali. 

On Oct. 2, armed groups, numbering hundreds, attacked the soldiers when they were returning from an operation near the town of Tabatol, Tahoua region, killing at least 29. They were attacked with improvised explosive devices and “Kamikaze vehicles”.

Niger’s military declared a three-day national mourning period following the attacks.

The country is battling violent campaigns that have spread from Mali and Nigeria, killing hundreds of people and displacing about half a million others. 

In July, President Mohammed Bazoum was toppled by members of his own presidential guard, citing worsening economic and security problems.

HumAngle had earlier explained how the country is still buried deep in the orgy of violent extremism four months after the military coup.

  1. 64 killed in Mali complex conflict

A wave of attacks over a 24-hour period left 64 people — 49 civilians and 15 soldiers — dead. The attacks were carried out by al-Qaeda-linked jihadists in restive northeastern Mali. 

The attackers struck a passenger boat on the Niger River near Timbuktu and an army base in Bamba, in the northern Gao region.

Mali has been hit by armed conflict since 2012, when rebel and insurgent groups took up arms against the government over a battle for territorial control.

The military took over power on the promise of improving security, but the country has not recorded any significant gains since it seized power in 2021. 

  1. Boat mishap in Kwara

In June, a boat conveying residents who were returning from a wedding capsized on the Niger River in Patigi area of Kwara state. More than 100 people were confirmed dead, including women and children, and 144 others were rescued from the river. Because the accident occurred around 3 a.m. in the middle of the night when locals were already in bed, many of the victims drowned. 

It’s learnt that the boat, carrying about 300 passengers, was overturned by a strong tidal wave before hitting a tree. The accident sparked a conversation about safety regulations guiding the country’s inland waterways. 

  1. A deadly weekend in Lala Camp

What happens when internally displaced people seek succour in a camp, only for it to turn out as their final resting place? Earlier this year, armed men raided the Lala IDP camp in the Ituri province of northeastern DR Congo.

No fewer than 46 IDPs were killed in cold blood, half of them children. Authorities and civil societies blamed the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo militia group for the attack.

Observers said the attack is the deadliest in the area in more than a year.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has been locked in one of the world’s longest-running conflicts. The Congolese army has been fighting rebel groups, including the M23, in its mineral-rich eastern region. Hundreds of armed groups are jostling for control of territory there.

This has resulted in the death and displacement of many Congolese citizens. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, at least five million people are internally displaced, and one million more have fled abroad. 

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Abiodun Jamiu

Abiodun is an investigations reporter at HumAngle. His works focus on the intersection of public policy and development, conflict and humanitarian crisis, climate and environment. He was a 2022 Solution Journalism Fellow with Nigeria Health Watch under its Solution Journalism Africa initiative project.

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