The Africa File is an analysis and assessment of the Salafi-jihadi movement in Africa and related security and political dynamics.
Africa File: 2021 Year in Review
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The United States faces an international security environment that is rapidly deteriorating. The Critical Threats Project (CTP) is dedicated to producing continuous assessments of threats to the US and its allies and helping our readers understand their nuance and scale. The Salafi-jihadi movement in Africa is one such threat that is growing quickly but is often overlooked. CTP has endeavored to provide the assessments needed to understand this challenge in 2021 and will continue and expand our efforts in 2022.
Highlights from 2021
Western policymakers neglect the Salafi-jihadi threat in Africa because of “political burnout, competing priorities, and policy hurdles,” argues AEI Research Fellow and CTP Research Manager Emily Estelle. She writes that the growth of Salafi-jihadi insurgencies undermines other policy goals, including public health and economic growth—in part because of the ballooning economic damage from terrorism in Africa. African Salafi-jihadi groups also pose a growing external attack threat as they develop local capabilities that can be repurposed transnationally.
- “Why experts ignore terrorism in Africa” (Emily Estelle, Foreign Policy, April 19)
- “The economic cost of terrorism in Africa” (Emily Estelle, AEIdeas, June 29)
- “It's a mistake to think some jihadis are only focused on the ‘local’” (Emily Estelle, The Hill, September 23)
CTP and the US Military Academy at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) hosted a debate series on the Islamic State and al Qaeda in Africa. The first debate examined the importance of African extremist groups’ affiliation with the Islamic State. The second debate focused on the external threat posed by Africa Salafi-jihadi groups. The third debate, hosted by AEI’s Katherine Zimmerman, examined the evolution of the global terrorist threat and the lessons learned from the past 20 years of counterterrorism efforts.
- “Swapping jerseys: What changes when African extremists join the Islamic State?” (AEI-CTP-CTC counterterrorism debate series, July 8). Listen to the podcast here.
- “Scoping the threat: Do African Salafi-jihadi groups threaten the West?” (AEI-CTP-CTC counterterrorism debate series, July 27)
- “20 years after 9/11: Counterterrorism lessons for future frontiers” (AEI-CTC counterterrorism debate series, September 10)
CTP provided leading analysis of the Islamic State’s new foothold 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 militants’ surge grabbed international headlines. Estelle and Trisko Darden argue that the Mozambique insurgency “promises to spread into neighboring countries and deliver an enduring haven to extremist militants with regional and global ambitions while exacting a steep humanitarian toll.” They present several recommendations for defeating the insurgency and resolving underlying grievances.
- “The Islamic State resurges in Mozambique” (Emily Estelle, Foreign Policy, June 16)
- “Combating the Islamic State’s spread in Africa: Assessment and recommendations for Mozambique” (Emily Estelle and Jessica Trisko Darden, AEI and CTP, February 24)
- “Confronting Islamist insurgencies in Africa: The case of the Islamic State in Mozambique” (Emily Estelle and Jessica Trisko Darden, Orbis, July 1)
- Emily Estelle discussed Mozambique on the BBC News (March 29) and BBC's “Newshour” podcast (March 12)
Figure 1. The Salafi-Jihadi Movement in Africa: December 2021
View full map.
Source: CTP at AEI.
Read an overview of the Salafi-jihadi threat in Africa here.
More featured analysis
- On the Salafi-jihadi movement: “Al Qaeda & ISIS 20 years after 9/11” (Katherine Zimmerman, The Islamists, September 8)
- On regional security dynamics: “Coups and conflicts benefit autocrats and jihadis” (Emily Estelle, CTP, November 5)
- On East Africa: “Islamic State bombings in Uganda challenge East Africa counterterrorism response” (Liam Karr, CTP, December 13)
- On North Africa: “Libya foothold creates options for the Islamic State in northwestern Africa” (Kathryn Tyson with Emily Estelle, CTP, December 9)
- On West Africa: “Mali–Wagner Group deal threatens counterterrorism gains in the Sahel” (Brian Carter and Emily Estelle, CTP, October 14)