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Jihadist Groups Are Expanding into Benin

Image: AFP


Jihadist groups affiliated with al-Qaida and the Islamic State have been perpetrating violence in West Africa’s Sahel region for nearly a decade. Recently, they have begun extending their reach into the coastal states. As a result, Benin has fallen victim to frequent and violent attacks.


What is a Jihadist Group?

The Oxford dictionary defines Jihad as “a holy war fought by Muslims to defend Islam.” Therefore, Jihadist groups aim to promote and organize based on achieving political, social, and religious objectives that align with their relative interpretations of Islamic law.  Some of these groups have resorted to violent means and have maintained a fundamentalist Islamic perspective. Some groups, like ISIS, seek to establish an Islamic state or caliphate governed by strict adherence to such interpretations of Islamic law.


Background on Jihadist Groups in Africa

The Salafi-jihadi movement has grown steadily worldwide since the 1980s and the 1990s. Since the September 11th attacks, a global crackdown on al-Qaida and its relative networks has found itself in international security policy. In the past decade, however, “[there] has been a period of the clear expansion marked by the exponential growth of rank-and-file membership and increases in the number of active Salafi-jihadi organizations and their territorial reach in Africa.” According to the American Enterprise Institute, Salafi-jihadi groups have gained a stronghold in West Africa as Western nations (ex., United States, United Kingdom, European Union, etc.) shifted their policy away from counterterrorism to geostrategic competition.


Over time, the nature of jihadist activity in West Africa has undergone significant changes, with varying levels of activity in different regions across the continent. The proliferation of weapons and political instability has allowed jihadist groups to form strongholds in areas of low governance. In the Sahel region, specifically, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) have carried out a range of attacks against the people of the Sahel region. Other parts of West Africa, such as Nigeria and Cameroon, have faced challenges from Boko Haram and ISIS West Africa. In recent months, Benin has experienced frequent and violent attacks.


What have been the effects on the people of Benin?

We no longer have a normal life,” testified one man to the Associated Press. The jihadist attacks in Benin alone have caused the deaths of hundreds and the displacement of millions. Additionally, the government’s response has brought concern to human rights groups as “arbitrary arrests of those working with jihadists, particularly ethnic Fulani” have taken place. Many have fled in fear for their safety, and as a result, they have been forced to sacrifice their health and wellness. The increase in violence has further destabilized the nation’s economy, creating a more substantial opportunity for the jihadist groups to continue their strongholds. These conditions may worsen without intervention by the African Union or its international allies. Stay tuned for any new developments. 

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