Counter-terrorist operations continue to grip much of the Sahel, namely Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso. But jihadist groups are now beginning to move southwards and gain ground in West Africa and the Gulf of Guinea. There is an increasing risk that cities in the Gulf of Guinea face the threat of attack.
Burkina Faso is the country that has experienced the most rapid deterioration of its security environment in recent months both in sporadic killings but also in other areas that rarely pass through the filters of the international media including kidnappings and targeted killings. State officials are regularly targeted by jihadists which has led to the latter having full control of certain areas.
About 60 unclaimed attacks have been reported in eastern Burkina Faso since February 2018. With incidents also mounting in the south west of Burkina Faso, the extension of jihadism into Gulf of Guinea — Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo and Benin — is a real prospect.
For the last year, Benin, Togo and Ghana have been supply and refuge areas for jihadist groups operating in eastern Burkina Faso. They are now developing operational capabilities.
Benin experienced its first reported armed attack when French tourists Patrick Picque and Laurent Lassimouillas were kidnapped from Pendjari National Park, in north western Benin. The two were later freed in Burkina Faso by French commandos.
Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana are also vulnerable to jihadist incursions. There are risks that such incursions could trigger the same ‘Muslim-Christian’ religious war that has overtaken the Central African Republic. All three countries have large Muslim populations in the northern parts of the country and a predominantly Christian southern population. The northern parts of these countries are all characterised by poor governance and perceived injustices, making them ideal recruiting grounds for jihadist groups affiliated with: Al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Jamaat Nosrat al-Islam Wal-Mouslimin (JNIM) or the Islamic State in the Great Sahara (ISGS).