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Terrorist Activities Intensified Across Africa In 2020 ㅡ Report

“The 4,958 reported events linked to these groups represents a record level of violence, continuing an upward pattern seen since 2016.”

The rate of terrorist attacks in Africa continued on a “steep upward slope” last year, setting a record and worsening instability on the continent, the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies has observed.

The academic institution domiciled within the U.S. Department of Defense stated last Friday that there was a 43 per cent spike in militant jihadi violence in the region in 2020. 

With 4,958 violent incidents linked to different terrorist groups, the upward trend extremist violence has been sustained since 2016.

The number of deaths recorded, estimated to be a little over 13,000, also rose by about 33 per cent compared to the previous year.

Most countries battling terrorist organisations including Somalia, Mozambique, as well as those in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin “experienced sharp increases in violence in 2020”.

“Militant Islamist activity in Africa continues to be driven by locally based groups, reflecting context-specific realities in each theatre rather than a monolithic threat across the continent,” the centre said.

“Incidents of battles involving militant Islamist groups rose 60 per cent in 2020. This reflects a rise in clashes with state security forces in every theatre.”

Violence against civilians also rose sharply by 29 per cent, with the highest increases recorded in Mozambique, the Lake Chad Basin, and the Sahel.

Importantly, the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies noted that the surge in violence indicates the “steady growth in capacity among groups in each of the respective theatres over the last several years”. 

“Among other factors, this is seen in their willingness to take on state security forces, as well as these groups’ increased sophistication to tap revenue streams as part of what often amounts to organized criminal activity,” it added.

Sources cited by the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies for its report include HumAngle, the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED) project, SITE Intelligence Group, Stanford University’s Mapping Militants Project, and the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC). 


The Lake Chad Basin, occupied by four countries, Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, and southern Niger, experienced a 60 per cent increase in extremist violence in 2020. 

While there were 766 terrorist attacks in 2019, the number grew to 1,223 the following year. This was mostly due to the activities of Boko Haram and the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP).

“With 4,801 reported fatalities, this theatre has the highest death toll linked to militant Islamist groups in Africa. This figure represents a 45 per cent increase over 2019. Battles accounted for 59 per cent of all 2020 fatalities,” the centre observed.

Within the Lake Chad area, it continued, “Nigeria remains the locus of militant Islamist group activity,” with over half of the reported incidents taking place there. 

A study of infographics recently released by the Islamic State, summarising events of 2020, showed that more civilian and military fatalities were recorded in Nigeria.

The group said it carried out a total of 343 attacks in the country where it killed and injured 2,990 people, including 200 armed militia members and 2,645 officials of the Nigerian Army. 

It also said it destroyed 180 vehicles, including 39 Armored Personnel Carriers. It claimed to have attacked military barracks 78 times and seized 169 vehicles.

In comparison, the group claimed to have killed and injured 2,748 people in Iraq and 1,327 people in Syria.

Besides Boko Haram and ISWAP, other major militant organisations in Africa include Al Shabaab in Somalia and Mozambique, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, Al Hijra and Al Muhajiroun in Kenya and Tanzania, as well as Islamic State affiliates in Egypt, Libya, Somalia, and other places.

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'Kunle Adebajo

Head of Investigations at HumAngle. ‘Kunle covers conflict alongside its many intricacies and fallouts. He also writes about disinformation, the environment, and human rights. He's won a couple of journalism awards, including the 2021 Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Journalism, the 2022 African Fact-checking Award, and the 2023 Michael Elliott Award for Excellence in African Storytelling.

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