Africa File

The Africa File is an analysis and assessment of the Salafi-jihadi movement in Africa and related security and political dynamics. 

April 14 BriefingThe COVID-19 Pandemic Will Strengthen the Salafi-Jihadi Movement in Africa

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

The COVID-19 pandemic may cause a mass crisis of legitimacy in Africa as states struggle to contain the disease, heightening existing tensions, reopening old wounds, and creating new grievances. The pandemic also increases the likelihood of catastrophic state collapses. Such a legitimacy crisis—and particularly its worst possible outcomes—create myriad opportunities for the Salafi-jihadi movement, which is already strengthening in Africa.

The effects of poor governance are already being felt and will only worsen in the coming weeks and months. The pandemic and its economic effects could lead to the loss of nearly half of all Africans’ jobs.  Widespread hunger will increase as food production and distribution breaks down and humanitarian aid is disrupted. Weak health care systems will be overwhelmed. Humanitarian crises will compound.

Meanwhile, lockdowns are leading to abuses and accusations of police brutality. The crisis is also an opportunity to fight—belligerents in Libya’s civil war, taking advantage of international distraction, have intensified attacks since the outbreak began.

Where governmental legitimacy is already limited or nonexistent, this unprecedented crisis will only bolster the arguments of anti-government armed groups including Salafi-jihadis. Al Shabaab, al Qaeda’s East African affiliate, is already blaming foreign forces for the outbreak to present itself as a legitimate governing force for Somalis. In Mali, where Salafi-jihadi groups are already undermining the country’s parliamentary elections, a poor pandemic response will only be another argument in favor of the jihadist’s own rule (no matter how flawed their own response). Blaming and conspiracy theories about the virus’ origin and spread could also heighten ethnic conflicts that already facilitate Salafi-jihadi insurgencies in West Africa. States’ use of emergency powers to target already marginalized groups will also deepen preexisting grievances.

But perhaps the greatest mid- to long-term consequences may be the destabilization of states whose stability we now take for granted. Failing economies brought on by stay-at-home orders, falling oil prices, and the cessation of tourism are breaking the social contract that many have made with repressive governments: stability in exchange for acquiescence. Anti-government protests will likely emerge as the pandemic wanes. Some states will attempt to use the lockdown to shore up their power but will likely cause more backlash when restrictions lift; the Algerian government may be using the crisis to target independent journalists who covered long-running anti-government protests.

Other governments already criticized as weak and ineffective may appear more so; for example, the Tunisian government (the lone democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring) faced criticism as elderly people queued for their pensions as the outbreak emerged. In Ethiopia, the postponement of high-stakes elections risks heightening political tensions and ethnic violence. Other high-population states that appear to have overcome periods of unrest, such as Egypt, Nigeria, and Kenya, may see instability reemerge.

The collapse of any of these states would set off a regional wave of instability and could set off a dramatic expansion of the Salafi-jihadi movement. The movement’s strength depends on its ability to connect to aggrieved and vulnerable Sunni Muslim populations; it expanded in 2011 because the Arab Spring create these conditions. The pandemic could do so again on an even larger scale.

A near-term Salafi-jihadi escalation is also likely. Strain on local and international security forces will disrupt counterterrorism operations and lift pressure from militants. The Nigerian Army is preparing for large-scale lockdown operations, for example, which would draw forces away from combatting the Islamic State–linked insurgency in the country’s northeast. Disruption of international efforts, such as Interpol’s monitoring of militant and criminal activity in East Africa, will also lift pressure. And the pandemic is intersecting with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, beginning in late April; the Islamic State tends to surge attacks and announce new organizations during this period.

The COVID-19 pandemic will do lasting damage across Africa. On current trajectory, the Salafi-jihadi movement will likely benefit from it.


Read Further On:

Central Africa

North Africa

West Africa

East Africa


At a Glance: the Salafi-jihadi Threat in Africa

Updated April 14, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic will hasten the reduction of global counterterrorism efforts, which had already been rapidly receding as the US shifted its strategic focus to competition with Iran, China, Russia, and North Korea. The US administration has begun to withdraw troops from Afghanistan after signing a peace deal with the Taliban on February 29. The future of US forces in Iraq and Syria is uncertain following the destruction of the Islamic State’s physical caliphate and its leader’s death, though the group already shows signs of recovery. The US Department of Defense is also considering a significant drawdown of US forces in engaged in counterterrorism missions in Africa.

This is happening as the Salafi-jihadi movement, including al Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates and allies, continues to make gains in Africa, including in areas where previous counterterrorism efforts had significantly reduced Salafi-jihadi groups’ capabilities. The movement was already positioned to take advantage of the expected general reduction in counterterrorism pressure before the pandemic hit; now, a likely wave of instability and governmental legitimacy crises will create more opportunities for Salafi-jihadi groups to establish new support zones, consolidate old ones, increase attack capabilities, and expand to new areas of operations.

The Salafi-jihadi movement is on the offensive in Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali, where it has pressured the Malian government to offer negotiations. It is also stalemated in Somalia and Nigeria and persisting amid the war in Libya. Conditions in these last three countries favor the Salafi-jihadi movement rather than its opponents in the coming year.

Libya’s civil war, reignited on a large scale in April 2019, will continue to fuel the conditions of a Salafi-jihadi comeback, particularly as foreign actors prolong and heighten the conflict. Counterterrorism efforts in Somalia and Mali rest on the continued efforts of international coalitions, support for which is eroding in both host and troop-contributing countries and on local partners that have demonstrated their inability to govern effectively or establish legitimacy in their people’s eyes.

Amid these conditions, US Africa Command (AFRICOM) is shifting its prioritization from the counterterrorism mission to great-power competition, a move also intended to reduce risk after a 2017 attack killed four servicemen in Niger. US and European powers aim to turn over counterterrorism responsibilities to regional forces of limited effectiveness—such as the G5 Sahel, which is plagued by funding issues, and the African Union Mission in Somalia, which is beginning a scheduled drawdown

The Salafi-jihadi movement currently has four main centers of activity in Africa: Libya, Mali and its environs, the Horn of Africa, and the Lake Chad Basin. These epicenters are networked, allowing recruits, funding, and expertise to flow among them. The rise of the Salafi-jihadi movement in these and any other place is tied to the circumstances of Sunni Muslim populations. The movement takes root when Salafi-jihadi groups can forge ties to vulnerable populations facing existential crises such as civil war, communal violence, or state neglect or abuse (all now likely to be exacerbated by the pandemic). Local crises are the incubators for the Salafi-jihadi movement and can become the bases for future attacks against the US and its allies.




Central Africa


Islamic State militants announced their intent to establish a caliphate in Mozambique after escalating attacks in the past month. A militant announced this intent in a video filmed after an attack in northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado Province, the insurgency’s epicenter, on March 24.[1] The Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCA) claimed two major attacks in late March that included seizing a Mozambican army barracks and occurred near a $60 billion foreign-run natural gas project.[2]

The scale and brazenness of the attacks indicate a drastic increase in capabilities and tactical skill; the group has shifted from hit-and-run attacks with rifles to using automatic weapons in sustained attacks on security forces. This has allowed them to overcome security forces and raid cities. The militants have also changed their approach to local civilians by avoiding civilian casualties, redistributing looted goods, and emphasizing their alliance with local populations against elites seen as corrupt, signaling an effort to exploit local anti-government grievances to gain popular support.

The Mozambican government has relied on foreign mercenaries to combat the Salafi-jihadi insurgency. Militarized interventions will likely heighten local grievances and counterproductively drive popular support to the insurgents. Russian Wagner Group mercenaries entered Mozambique in November 2019 and withdrew in March after suffering defeats. Mercenaries, identified as either Russian or South African, conducted helicopter attacks on insurgents in northern Mozambique on April 8–9.

Forecast: ISCA will take control of a northern Mozambican population center and declare it a part of the Islamic State’s caliphate this year, possibly during the upcoming Ramadan period. (As of April 14, 2020)




North Africa


The Libya war has escalated along with the COVID-19 pandemic. Warring forces are trading offensives and counteroffensives on the outskirts of Tripoli, Libya’s capital and largest city. The fighting, alongside an ongoing oil blockade, is having disastrous humanitarian consequences and will severely exacerbate the country’s COVID-19 outbreak.

This month also marks the anniversary of the current iteration of Libya’s civil war, which began when Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) militia coalition, launched an assault on Tripoli in April 2019. The LNA is heavily reliant on foreign backers, notably the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. Haftar’s forces seek to take control of the capital from the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).

The GNA relies on local militias and increasingly military aid from Turkey, which has ramped up to stop the LNA from breaching the capital. The 2019–20 Tripoli war has caused more than half the civilian casualties suffered in Libya since the end of the 2011 civil war that ousted longtime dictator Muammar al Qaddafi.

The LNA and its backers escalated attacks in early April, likely to capitalize on international focus on the COVID-19 pandemic to make a decisive advance into Tripoli. LNA forces intensified infantry and artillery attacks in Tripoli’s suburbs in early April to seek control of major roads leading into downtown Tripoli. GNA-aligned forces counterattacked and regained control over Airport Road, a major supply line to the south where the LNA had attempted to advance in late March.

A GNA counteroffensive is threatening a key LNA military position west of Tripoli. GNA-aligned forces backed by Turkish drones resumed a counteroffensive dubbed “Operation Peace Storm” and seized several population centers surrounding Wattiya Airbase from the LNA on April 13, including coastal Sabratha and Surman. The LNA retaliated with heavy rocket fire on Tripoli on April 14.

Fighting is also ongoing on the secondary front toward central Libya. LNA- and GNA-aligned forces have traded strikes on the Abugrein front south of Misrata (the home base of many GNA-aligned militias) and at the LNA’s Jufra airbase in central Libya.  

The fighting in Tripoli and its environs will have increasingly devastating humanitarian consequences. The suburban warfare is displacing civilians into the more densely populated city center and will likely exacerbate the spread of the coronavirus. The LNA has also targeted health care facilities, notably striking one of Tripoli’s premier hospitals at least three times in less than one week.

Local officials in an LNA-controlled area south of Tripoli also shut off a pipeline carrying water to the city, demanding the release of a GNA prisoner and financial concessions. It is not clear if these officials acted with LNA guidance or permission. An ongoing oil export blockade by LNA-aligned forces is also harming the Libyan health care sector, already weakened by the war and worsening civilians’ circumstances more broadly.

The current fighting for Wattiya Airbase west of Tripoli may exacerbate these dynamics if it reaches Zuwarah, which houses an export terminal responsible for significant energy flows to western Libya and to Italy. The LNA began negotiations with Zuwarah leaders while parrying the initial GNA attack toward Wattiya in late March.

The Libyan and Syrian wars are growing more entangled. An unspecified Russian force recruited around 400 former Syrian *opposition *fighters to deploy to Libya to support the LNA, reportedly by protecting oil fields.[3] The fighters, who are now members of a Russian-backed Syrian Arab Army corps, will deploy for three months at a time for $1,000 USD per month. This deployment comes as Haftar grows more closely aligned with Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Haftar-aligned officials recently reopened the Libyan embassy in Damascus.

The Syria and Libya conflicts are increasingly merging, both tactically and strategically. Syrian fighters recruited by Turkey have fought for the GNA since January 2020. Haftar and Assad are seeking to leverage their diplomatic relationship to enhance their legitimacy as both seek to consolidate control over their countries. Russia, the UAE, and Turkey are also competing across the two theaters. A recent warming between the UAE and Assad may, in part, reflect a UAE effort to pressure Turkey in Syria to reduce its capability to support the Libyan GNA.

Forecast: The LNA’s backers will likely inject more support to prevent the loss of Wattiya Airbase. The most likely case is a grinding stalemate that settles in the Tripoli suburbs, prolonging the humanitarian crisis and exacerbating the spread of COVID-19. This outcome is made more likely by the revamping of an EU naval mission in the Mediterranean to enforce the UN arms embargo on Libya, which will likely have a disproportionate effect on Turkish military support for the GNA. Such a stalemate, or the less likely but possible loss of Wattiya, could degrade the LNA’s cohesion and reduce support for the war in its base in eastern Libya. This would introduce new conflict and create opportunities for dormant Salafi-jihadi groups to reemerge in the east. 

Alternately, the LNA will bring sufficient pressure on Tripoli and Misrata to lure Misratan forces away from Tripoli and secure defections among Tripoli-based militias, enabling either a military takeover or a negotiated settlement. This outcome would set conditions for insurgency, likely quickly.

All of the most likely outcomes—stalemate, LNA fragmentation, and LNA Pyrrhic victory—preserve and worsen the conditions that will allow Salafi-jihadi groups to strengthen. (Updated April 14, 2020)





Islamic State activity continues to increase in Tunisia. Security forces *arrested a reported Islamic State sympathizer planning attacks against government and security targets during Ramadan on March 28. This arrest follows an Islamic State–linked suicide bombing near the US Embassy in Tunis on March 6. (For more on the March 6 bombing, see the March 16 Africa File.)

The Islamic State also maintains a haven in a remote mountainous region of central-western Tunisia where it predominantly conducts defensive attacks. The Islamic State’s al Naba newsletter on April 2 claimed two improvised explosive device attacks targeting Tunisian military vehicles in the Mt. Mghila area in January and March.[4]

Forecast: The Islamic State also may be preparing to escalate attacks and possibly establish new provinces in Tunisia and Algeria during Ramadan. The Islamic State claimed a bombing in southern Algeria in February, its second claimed attack in since November 2019 following a more than two-year silence. Islamic State–linked militants also attacked a checkpoint near the US embassy in Tunis in early March. The Islamic State typically surges global attacks during Ramadan, which begins in late April, and has also used the Islamic holy month to establish new provinces, with a growing focus on the African continent in recent years. (As of April 14, 2020)





West Africa


Salafi-jihadi groups are disrupting Mali’s legislative elections by kidnapping candidates from multiple parties, including an opposition party leader. Mali held the first round of voting on March 29 and is still scheduled to hold the second round on April 19. The elections are an important step in the implementation of Mali’s 2015 peace agreement and can be seen as an “attempt to renew the legitimacy of the national parliament and the current government” as it faces the overlapping challenges of the pandemic, economic woes, ethnic violence, and a Salafi-jihadi insurgency.

Suspected Jama’at Nusrat al Islam wa al Muslimeen (JNIM) militants *kidnapped opposition party leader Soumaïla Cissé in Mopti Region on March 25, days before the first round of voting. The lead mediator negotiating Cissé’s release has since been *kidnapped himself, though other members of Cissé’s party were *released on April 2. The kidnappings have targeted members of *multiple political parties and occurred in the Koulikoro and Mopti Regions to the north and east of the capital Bamako. The Macina Liberation Front, a JNIM component comprised of primarily Fulani members, is active in these areas.

JNIM has paired the kidnapping campaign with frequent attacks on Malian Army and UN peacekeeper forces in northern and central Mali, including two attacks on military bases at Tarkint and Bamba that caused dozens of casualties on March 19 and April 6.[5] JNIM is trying to pressure the Malian government to break ties with France as a precondition for negotiations.

JNIM has also sustained regular *attacks targeting security forces in northern Burkina Faso. The Salafi-jihadi insurgency in Burkina Faso is displacing civilians into dense cities and camps and will likely worsen the country’s COVID-19 outbreak.

The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) may be attempting to ease tensions with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb affiliate JNIM. An April 10 audio recording allegedly from an ISGS official suggested that ISGS and JNIM should exchange prisoners and cease clashes.[6] The message was addressed to JNIM deputy leader and Macina Liberation Front head Amadou Koufa. ISGS and JNIM (or JNIM-linked groups) have *clashed at least *three *times this month in different areas near the Mopti-Timbuktu regional border in central Mali. These clashes follow a March 12 *incident near the Mauritanian border that killed an ISGS deputy leader.

ISGS and JNIM cooperate at times but also clash over territory, economic opportunities, and personnel. The groups will likely resolve their dispute and deconflict.

The French-led Operation Barkhane intensified operations targeting ISGS as a new European task force prepares to deploy to the Sahel. A flurry of French airstrikes targeted ISGS in the Gourma and Liptako regions that join Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso between March 25 and April 7. ISGS forces clashed with Nigerien forces near the Malian border on April 2, indicating they retain some offensive capabilities while under pressure but may temporarily lack the ability to marshal large-scale assaults on military bases.

An international special operations task force, dubbed “Takuba,” will deploy in summer 2020 to base in the Liptako region and target ISGS. The taskforce will likely weaken ISGS in the short term, though the organization has relocated and reappeared more lethal following concentrated French pressure in the past. Pressure on ISGS may also consolidate more control of the Sahel Salafi-jihadi ecosystem under JNIM, which has a more effective local governance strategy.

Ethnic violence has spiked in central Mali for the past two months. Salafi-jihadi groups, notably the Fulani contingent of JNIM, stoke and exploit ethnic violence to ingratiate themselves with vulnerable Fulani communities. Security force abuses against local populations also feed this dynamic. JNIM has claimed attacks on the Malian Army as revenge and preemption for attacks on the Fulani to present itself as the Fulanis’ only viable source of protection.[7]

Forecast: The perceived illegitimacy of the Malian elections will fuel unrest with interest groups in northern Mali, possibly distracting the state from counter-Salafi-jihadi efforts and creating more opportunities for Salafi-jihadi groups to establish mutually beneficial agreements with other anti-government groups. Salafi-jihadi groups will begin to establish governing institutions—such as courts—in the Burkinabe-Malian-Nigerien tri-border area in the next six months, though it may mask these efforts to facilitate a deal with the Malian government. Salafi-jihadi groups may also work through local governance structures to present themselves as legitimate interlocutors and avoid scrutiny. Attacks on Fulani civilians will drive greater popular support to JNIM, which will present itself as a more moderate alternative. (Updated April 14, 2020)



Lake Chad 

Salafi-jihadi militants conducted the deadliest attack against Chadian soldiers in the Lake Chad Basin since 2015. Militants killed nearly 100 Chadian soldiers stationed at Lake Chad’s Bouma Island on March 24. Neither the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWA) nor the Boko Haram faction led by Abubakr Shekau have explicitly claimed the attack, though both have released media related to attacks on Chad. ISWA is more likely responsible for the attack because it already operated around Bouma.

ISWA has also released subsequent media about attacks on Chadian forces that highlight its crossing of the “artificial border” between nation-states, a common Islamic State talking point.[8] Shekau released a statement on April 1 *warning the Chadian president against attacking his group.

Chadian forces *retaliated with a joint military campaign dubbed “Wrath of Bouma” in partnership with Nigerian and Nigerien forces on March 31. The retaliatory operations targeted both ISWA and Boko Haram in multiple areas. The operation culminated on April 8 when Chadian troops had driven militants out of the country.

The aftermath of the operation reveals ongoing tensions among Lake Chad states. Chad’s president expressed frustration with the perceived failures of partner forces in the Sahel—where Chad participates in the UN peacekeeping mission—and the Lake Chad basin, saying that Chadian troops will no longer participate in military missions outside Chad. The Nigerian army *countered with a statement emphasizing their role in the Wrath of Bouma operation and denying Chadian claims to have occupied Nigerian territory. The Chadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs yielded to backlash on April 12, walking back Deby’s statement and clarifying that Chadian troops will continue to participate in regional joint task forces but will no longer take unilateral action outside Chad’s borders.

Boko Haram may be making a comeback in Cameroon's Far North region. Suspected Boko Haram militants conducted a suicide vest attack that killed seven Cameroonian civilians on April 5. Militants also attacked the town of Zigague the same day, killing two soldiers. Boko Haram regularly raids Cameroonian territory for supplies or kidnapping for ransom but has not conducted a large attack in recent months. Civilians have begun to flee the region fearing a larger insurgency and unresponsive authorities.




East Africa


Al Shabaab is increasingly threatening Americans, including by developing extra-regional attack capabilities. The New York Times reported that an al Shabaab operative undergoing aviation training in an African country was arrested in recent months. Another al Shabaab–linked individual and trainee pilot was arrested in the Philippines in July 2019. This attempt to develop the capability to attack international aviation is not new—al Shabaab conducted an abortive laptop bomb attack on a plane leaving Mogadishu in 2016—but it comes as al Shabaab is increasingly emphasizing its intent to target Americans in East Africa and beyond.

Al Shabaab has surged attacks targeting foreign forces in the Horn of Africa since fall 2019. The group conducted its first attack on an American military position in Kenya in early January, killing three Americans. This attack followed an operation targeting a joint US-Somali base in Somalia in September. Al Shabaab is also likely responsible for an attack plot targeting Nairobi hotels that caused the US embassy to issue a security alert in February.

AFRICOM has stepped up airstrikes on al Shabaab in response to the growing threat, including at least six strikes in April. The campaign has killed several senior leaders, including an al Shabaab leader who planned the January attack on the American base in Kenya in February and most recently a founding al Shabaab leader and shura council member in early April. Leadership attrition could disrupt al Shabaab’s operations in the near term, particularly if ongoing internecine disputes (described below) make members more prone to accuse each other of spying or blame others of compromising security.

AFRICOM faces accusations of failing to accurately report on civilian casualties caused by airstrikes in Somalia. AFRICOM has announced a plan to release quarterly reports on its investigations into allegations of civilian casualties, with the first report due by the end of April. Amnesty International issued a report stating that AFRICOM airstrikes near Jilib in February caused civilian casualties. A public backlash risks amplifying a long-running al Shabaab propaganda campaign that has falsely accused AFRICOM of killing Somali civilians.

Al Shabaab is attempting to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to strengthen its claim to provide responsive governance in Somalia. Al Shabaab addressed the pandemic in a press release following a “consultative forum” held in southern Somalia in mid-March.[9] The group blamed the virus’ transmission on the present forces from Christian-majority nations.

The forum itself was not focused only on COVID-19. It included both al Shabaab figures and community leaders and was officially intended for discussion of al Shabaab’s ongoing campaign against the Somali Federal Government (SFG). Islamic legal scholars at the conference issued fatwas denouncing upcoming Somali federal elections and AFRICOM’s airstrike campaign. The forum may have also been intended to cohere the group and mend rifts following several internal fractures between senior leaders.

Somali religious leaders are attempting to promote the government’s pandemic control measures with the expectation that al Shabaab will attempt to undermine the SFG’s response as un-Islamic. The SFG closed Quranic schools in Mogadishu and is trying to convince Somalis to adapt their religious practices to social distancing.

Al Shabaab has labeled SFG officials apostates in the past and argued that the government is leading Muslims astray. Al Shabaab will also likely undermine the humanitarian response to COVID-19 in large parts of the country as it has for past drought and famine crises.

Al Shabaab’s emir took direct control of the group’s Mogadishu operations following intra-leadership disputes and has increased the tempo of attacks in the capital. Umar expelled the leader of the Amniyat intelligence brigade, Mahad Karate, from al Shabaab’s executive council, and possibly from the organization entirely, in early February after Karate objected to Umar’s support for attacks targeting civilians in Mogadishu, following a December 2019 truck bombing that killed more than 80 people in the capital.

The Umar-Karate dispute also stems from financial and clan-based tensions. Amniyat Mogadishu Division Leader Muse Moalim also left the group in protest but was captured and executed in mid-March. Umar then assumed Moalim’s role of overseeing Amniyat operations directly, according to Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency. Al Shabaab attacks in Mogadishu increased significantly in March compared to February.

Kinetic operations are also ongoing in Somalia. Al Shabaab seeks to recapture its former stronghold of Janaale, in southern Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region, which Somali forces backed by US AFRICOM and African Union peacekeepers seized in mid-March. Tensions are also high in southern Somalia’s Jubbaland State, where a dispute between the SFG and state authorities has also increased tensions between the SFG and Kenya. This instability has also drawn in more Ethiopian forces, which conducted several strikes targeting al Shabaab on April 12. Kenyan-Ethiopian competition and internal Somali dynamics can degrade security and draw attention and resources away from the counter–al Shabaab fight. (For more on the Jubbaland State dynamics, see the March 16 Africa File and the daily Gulf of Aden Security Review.)

Forecast: Al Shabaab will attempt to capitalize on backlash to the SFG’s pandemic response to present itself as the more legitimate governing force in Somalia but may suffer its own delegitimization if its efforts—potentially including disrupting aid—are seen as causing harm in the areas it controls. The pandemic may reduce targets available for al Shabaab’s campaigns, potentially leading to fewer attacks (especially if the planned 2020 elections are postponed). The pandemic may also delay al Shabaab’s efforts to execute a spectacular attack in Kenya. (Updated April 14, 2020)



 Ethiopia postponed its parliamentary elections due to the pandemic. The upcoming elections are considered a test of the country’s reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who upended the country’s minoritarian rule in 2018, leading to hope for change but also significant ethnic unrest and accusations that Abiy has amassed too much power.  The country’s electoral board postponed the vote scheduled for August. This will extend past parliament’s current term and will likely require an interim government to be formed. Opposition parties and figures have thus far supported the move but warned that they must be included in next steps. These tensions may rise as Addis Ababa tries to manage the dual challenges of insufficient health infrastructure and a population largely reliant on day-to-day subsistence earrings.

[1] “’Amaq Video Shows Aftermath of ISCAP Raid in Mocimboa da Praia (Mozambique),” SITE Intelligence Group, March 24, 2020, available by subscription at

[2] “Just 2 days After Major Raid in Mocimboa da Praia, ISCAP Claims Attack on Mozambican Army Posts in Quissanga,” SITE Intelligence Group, March 25, 2020, available by subscription at

[3] For additional sourcing, see:;; and  

[4] “IS Reveals 2 Operations Targeting Tunisian Soldiers on Mount Mghila in Naba 228,” SITE Intelligence Group, April 2, 2020, available by subscription at

[5] “JNIM Claims Deadly Attack in Tarkint, Urges Malian Government Break with France and Pursue Talks,” SITE Intelligence Group, March 21, 2020, available by subscription at; and “JNIM Claims Killing Nearly 30 Malian Soldiers in Raid on Military Base in Bamba,” SITE Intelligence Group, April 13, 2020, available by subscription at

[6] “Alleged Audio from IS Official in Mali to JNIM Commander Acknowledges Fighting Between Groups,” SITE Intelligence Group, April 10, 2020, available by subscription at

[7] “JNIM Claims Ambushing Malian Soldiers Allegedly En Route to Massacre Fulanis,” SITE Intelligence Group, April 2, 2020, available by subscription at

[8] “ISWAP Claims Killing over 70 MJTF Troops over the Course of 5 Battles in Lake Chad Region,” SITE Intelligence Group, April 6, 2020, available by subscription at

[9] “Shabaab Convenes ‘Consultative Forum’ on Jihad in East Africa, Civil and Military Issues,” SITE Intelligence Group, March 26, 2020, available by subscription at

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