Jihadism in the Sahel: The unstoppable spread towards the Gulf of Guinea

By Marie Toulemonde
Posted on Tuesday, 26 July 2022 11:38, updated on Wednesday, 27 July 2022 14:29


After Mali and Burkina Faso, jihadists have been trying to expand their operating area for several months. As a result, Côte d'Ivoire, Benin and Togo are now facing more and more regular incursions.

The sun had barely risen on 26 June when the Beninese police station in Dassari was attacked by armed men. Two police officers were killed, and another was seriously injured. Located 20km from the border with Burkina Faso on the edge of the Pendjari National Park, the commune was not the target of an isolated act.

Since 2022, more than 20 terrorist attacks have been recorded in Benin. 10 days earlier, 30km away, jihadists had struck in Togo, in the Savannah region where the armed forces repelled a similar assault, just one month after the first deadly jihadist attack in the country, in which 8 soldiers were killed.

Further west, Côte d’Ivoire, which had already been hit hard in 2016 by the Grand-Bassam attacks, has been trying for a year to repel Hamza Katiba’s men, who came from Burkina Faso and had already successfully infiltrated the Comoé Park region.

Fears that the jihadist threat might spread in West Africa, which many experts and intelligence services had foreseen several years ago, are now a reality as the Gulf of Guinea is the new target. The three coastal countries are now confronted with these armed group fighters from Mali and Burkina, mainly those affiliated with the Groupe de Soutien à l’Islam et aux Musulmans (GSIM).

Worrying dynamics

This dynamic is all the more disturbing because it is accompanied by the increasing spread of jihadist ideology among the population. Everywhere in the border areas, “endogenous centres are developing, made up of local recruits who feed on the fragility of the territories: tensions over access to resources, community stigmatisation, and the existence of criminal networks that are quick to become radicalised,” says Mathieu Pellerin, an Ifri researcher, in a report published last February.

This “descent to the south” can be traced back to the Algerian civil war and the black decade from 1991 to 2002. Jihadist movement towards the Sahel, which was initially forced by the repression carried out by the Algerian authorities against terrorist groups, accelerated in 2012, with the fall of Gaddafi.

10 years later, it is clear that the Sahel is more than ever plagued by jihadism. And the phenomenon continues to spread. The various military operations conducted by France, the UN and regional military forces have not succeeded in extinguishing this fire, which is spreading a little more each day towards the Gulf of Guinea.

From the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) to GSIM, from Algeria to the borders of Benin and Côte d’Ivoire, which groups are present on the ground and how have they evolved? How have alliances and internal splits influenced the strategy of the different armed groups? Two decades of a war that states seem unable to fight are explored in the infographics below.

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