Africa Report: Review of the year 2021

Africa Report: Review of the year 2021

[Notice: The Critical Threats Project frequently cites sources from foreign domains. All such links are identified with an asterisk (*) for the reader’s awareness.]

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The United States faces a rapidly deteriorating international security environment. The Critical Threats Project (CTP) is dedicated to producing ongoing assessments of threats against the United States and its allies and helping our readers understand their nuance and magnitude. The Salafist-Jihadist movement in Africa is one such rapidly growing but often overlooked threat. The PTC has strived to provide the assessments necessary to understand this challenge in 2021 and will continue and expand its efforts in 2022.

Highlights of 2021

Western policymakers overlook the Salafi-jihadist threat in Africa due to “political exhaustion, competing priorities and political obstacles,” argues Emily Estelle, AEI researcher and CTP research director. She writes that the growth of Salafi-jihadist insurgencies undermines other political objectives, including public health and economic growth, in part because of the growing economic damage caused by terrorism in Africa. African Salafist-jihadist groups also pose a growing threat of external attacks as they develop local capacities that can be reused transnationally.

The West Point Counterterrorism Center (CTC) US Military Academy and CTP hosted a series of debates on Islamic State and al-Qaeda in Africa. The first debate focused on the importance of the affiliation of African extremist groups to the Islamic State. The second debate focused on the external threat posed by African Salafist-jihadist groups. The third panel discussion, moderated by Katherine Zimmerman of the AEI, examined the evolving global terrorist threat and lessons learned from the past 20 years of counterterrorism efforts.

CTP provided cutting-edge analysis of ISIS’s new establishment in southern Africa. Estelle analyzes the rise of the Islamic State in Mozambique in foreign policy and an AEI-CTP report with Jessica Trisko Darden, published shortly before the rise of the militants made international headlines. Estelle and Trisko Darden argue that the Mozambican insurgency “promises to spread to neighboring countries and provide lasting refuge for extremist militants with regional and global ambitions while imposing a heavy humanitarian price”. They present several recommendations for defeating the insurgency and resolving the underlying grievances.

Figure 1. The Salafist-Jihadist movement in Africa: December 2021

See the full map.

Source: CTP at AEI.

Read an overview of the Salafi-jihadist threat in Africa here.

More detailed analysis

  • On the Salafist-jihadist movement: “Al Qaida & ISIS 20 years after September 11” (Katherine Zimmerman, Islamists, September 8)
  • On regional security dynamics: “Coups and conflicts benefit autocrats and jihadists” (Emily Estelle, CTP, November 5)
  • On East Africa: “Islamic State bombings in Uganda call East Africa’s counterterrorism response into question” (Liam Karr, CTP, December 13)
  • On North Africa: “Anchoring Libya Creates Options for ISIS in Northwest Africa” (Kathryn Tyson with Emily Estelle, CTP, December 9)
  • Regarding West Africa: “The Mali-Wagner Group agreement threatens the achievements of the fight against terrorism in the Sahel” (Brian Carter and Emily Estelle, CTP, October 14)