Jihadists across Africa boosted by Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan
The collapse of Kabul has spread a message of terror far beyond the country’s borders, writes Jonathan Clayton

Jonathan Clayton
The Times, London,24 August 2021

More than 200 people were killed in four separate raids last week in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso; evidence of the jihadists’ growing confidence of victory on the continent as chaos unfolds in Kabul. The death toll from the worsening insurgency linked to surrogate groups of al-Qaeda and Islamic State has risen to more than 700 since the start of the year, and several thousand since 2018. The mayhem has displaced seven million people in the west African Sahel region, which has also been crippled by drought. 

The failure of thousands of United Nations, regional, and western troops — including about 300 British soldiers in Mali — to defeat Islamist insurgents has reawakened fears that the biggest threat to Europe now lies across the Mediterranean, from a plethora of jihadist groups. Tony Blair, the former prime minister, has written that the decision to abandon Afghanistan has left “every jihadist group around the world cheering”. Organisations monitoring such groups and their websites agree. They argue that the fall of Kabul was widely celebrated on extremist social media, with triumphant praise for the Taliban. African-based groups had already drawn inspiration from the US decision to quit Afghanistan. Now, according to regional experts, they are certain to step up their attacks. 

Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo are also battling Islamist extremists. A new fear is that some of the sophisticated US weaponry left behind in Afghanistan could be smuggled into Africa along the well-used drug routes via Pakistan and the dhow trade from the Gulf states to east Africa. Libya, now the favoured departure point to Europe for people traffickers, is also home to many radical Islamist groups. “It appears Africa is rapidly becoming the epicentre of armed Islamist activity and abuse. In the Sahel, these groups have overwhelmed the region’s armies and fed on challenging geography and weak and often corrupt governance,” Corinne Dufka, Sahel director at Human Rights Watch, told The Times. She said these groups had cleverly exploited ethnic, economic and religious lines to garner more recruits. “The crisis should be of concern to us all, given the geopolitical dynamics and their spread to elsewhere in west Africa, including coastal states.” 

Large parts of Burkina Faso, previously one of the most stable countries in Francophone Africa, are now under the control of Islamists who mix jihad with banditry, drug smuggling and people trafficking. In Niger, militants have killed more than 420 civilians and driven thousands from their homes since January. Support for the Islamists has flourished in part because of an incompetent response by the region’s corrupt governments. National armed forces have been accused of killing innocent civilians, eliminating political rivals, and harassing local populations during botched crackdowns on alleged militants. “The countries and their international partners should address head on the issues that have underscored decades of instability and opened the door to abusive armed groups: weak governance, rampant corruption and security force abuse, compounded by global warming and population growth,” Dufka said. 

Before Kabul fell, Iyad Ag Ghaly, head of the Islamist umbrella grouping Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), was quoted by the BBC monitoring unit as saying: “We are winning.” He was referring to France’s decision to draw down its forces from 5,000 to about half that number by early next year. JNIM, formed in 2017 to eject the “occupying Crusader enemy”, has waged an increasingly successful campaign of violence against civilians, local security forces and UN peacekeepers. 

In another blow to efforts for a united response to the Islamist challenge, Chad said at the weekend that it would cut its contribution to the G5 regional force — which also includes Mauritania — from 1,200 troops to 600. Chad has its own problems with jihadist violence in the Lake Chad region that borders Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon. At the beginning of the month militants killed at least 26 Chadian soldiers and wounded 14 in an attack attributed to Boko Haram, the Nigerian group notorious for kidnapping schoolgirls. Boko Haram, once dismissed as a rag-tag band of illiterate youths, recently merged with a former rival, the Isis-affiliated Islamic State West Africa Province (Iswap), and relaunched a campaign of kidnappings and killings in Nigeria and across the border in Niger. To the south, al-Qaeda groups have created mayhem in the notorious “three border” zone where Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger meet. Ten people were killed in the latest attack on Saturday. 

Britain sent 300 troops in December to bolster the 16,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, where the Sahel crisis was triggered after militants linked to al-Qaeda took control of the north of the country in 2012. The French presence is deeply unpopular both at home and in many parts of Mali, where France is remembered as an exploitative colonial power. “Many people are afraid because the situation is likely to be the same [as Afghanistan],” wrote Bouraima Guindo, editor-in-chief of Le Pays, a Malian newspaper. “The presence of those foreign soldiers is very necessary because if they leave tomorrow, the situation will be more dangerous.”*****

Rwanda Troops in Mozambique Claim Progress Against Jihadists

Agence France-Presse
VoA,5 August 2021

Rwandan forces in Mozambique, deployed less than a month ago to help battle jihadists, said Thursday they have scored successes in driving out the militants wreaking havoc in the country’s gas-rich north.

The forces last week helped the Mozambique army regain control of Awasse — a small but strategic settlement near the key town of Mocimboa da Praia seized by militants in August last year.

“We are progressing well in Cabo Degaldo province,” Rwanda Defense Force spokesman colonel Ronald Rwivanga told AFP via phone text.

“We have registered successes on two fronts and are closing in Mocimboa da Praia,” he added, referring to the port town that has been occupied by the militants since August 12, 2020.

The town, from where the first Islamist attacks were staged in October 2017, has since last year become the de-facto headquarters of the IS-linked extremists.

Mozambican military forces have been struggling to regain control over the province, which is home to one of Africa’s biggest liquefied natural gas projects.

Rwanda said the insurgents had fled Awasse to other small towns near Mocimboa da Praia “but we are closing in on” them.Rwanda’s 1,000-strong force deployed on July 9, following an April visit to Kigali by Mozambican leader Filipe Nyusi.

Weeks after Rwanda rolled in, neighboring countries, under the aegis of the 16-member regional bloc Southern African Development Community (SADC) started sending in troops.

Botswana became the first SADC country to send in boots on July 26, deploying 296 soldiers. President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who chairs SADC’s defense and security arm, has been outspoken on the urgent need for regional stability.

Regional powerhouse and immediate neighbor, South Africa announced on July 28 it would deploy 1,495 soldiers.

A day later, Zimbabwe unveiled plans to dispatch 304 non-combatant soldiers to train Mozambique’s infantry battalions.

Angola will deploy, from August 6, 20 specialized military air force personnel while Namibia will contribute N$5.8 million (about $400,000) towards the anti-insurgency offensive.

The European Union on July 12 formally established a military mission for Mozambique to help train its armed forces battling the jihadists.

Former colonial ruler Portugal is already providing training for Mozambican troops, with Lisbon’s military instructors expected to make up half of the new EU mission.*****


Angoche Sultanate

The Angoche Sultanate was established in 1485 along an archipelago off the Northern Mozambique coastline. Centered on the cities of Angoche and Moma, the sultanate also had a number of vassal territories surrounding them. They were finally removed from power by the Portuguese colonial government in 1910.

The settlement of Angoche dates back to about the start of the sultanate. As one of the first settlements in Mozambique, it became a major trading centre, with important gold and ivory markets. The Sultans of Angoche expanded to rule over all the archipelago, with Angoche serving as the major city of their realm. However, for all its early trade, the city became replaced by Quelimane as a major port. The Sultanate was hurt by the settlement of a new group of people on its hinterland, who blocked access to the mainland and imposed tolls on passing caravans. During this period Angoche suffered from an economic decline, with the Sultans losing their political influence. However, the city still remained a centre for Islam and its expansion onto the mainland of Mozambique.

During the 19th Century, the Sultanate quickly supplied a growing demand for rubber, ivory and slaves. The latter became increasingly important throughout the century, as the European anti-slavery movement grew. The independence of the Sultanate from European Empires made it a focus for the slave trade. In 1847, many businesses had relocated to Angoche from cities under Portuguese control, to escape the taxes and duties imposed there.

The growing demand for slaves was the reason behind Angoche’s expansion onto the mainland, where they could control the caravan routes and create their own slave bases. Musa Muhammad Sahib (who later became a sultan himself) realised this expansion of the Sultanate under the rule of Sultan Hasani Usufu. He relied on the widespread circulation of firearms to help him achieve this. Musa enslaved the Marrevoni of the interior (at the behest of one of the vassal tribes), bringing more ivory and rubber with his conquest.

In the 1860s, the Portuguese attacked the Sultanate, however their early campaign proved fruitless and they still had no direct control over Angoche.Following the death of the ruling monarch in 1877, Angoche descended into a civil war with 7 different claimants competing for power. By 1890, Mahamuieva, also known as Farelay had emerged victorious, and would rule until the end of the sultanate in 1910, when the sultanate was conquered by a well-equipped Portuguese military expedition.

Further reading


  1.  Henriksen, Thomas H. (1978). Mozambique: a history. Collings. p. 86. ISBN 978-0-86036-017-9.
  2. ^ Syed, Muzaffar Husain; Akhtar, Syed Saud; Usmani, B. D. (2011-09-14). Concise History of Islam. Vij Books India Pvt Ltd. p. 162. ISBN 978-93-82573-47-0

[Thanks to Paul Trewhela for this information]