Violent extremists in Africa often have transnational ties but take advantage of local conflicts, according to a June 2015 report from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. The full report, entitled “Jihadism in Africa: Local Causes, Regional Expansion, International Alliances” analyzes the origins, evolutions, and current status of jihadist groups across Africa. The following are excerpts from the full report, focusing on Libya, Algeria, and Tunisia.

The transnational terrorism of the twenty-first century feeds on local and regional conflicts, without which most terrorist groups would never have appeared in the first place. That is the case in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Syria and Iraq, as well as in North and West Africa and the Horn of Africa. Groups like al-Shabaab, Boko Haram and al-Qaeda in Somalia, Nigeria and Algeria operate within and profit from local conflicts. Anyone wishing to understand (and counteract) such forces must delve into the specific circumstances within these countries, as well as others such as Mali and the region they are based in. The effects of the multitude of personal ties, recruiting networks and ideological influences connecting jihadist movements are felt across countries, regions and even continents. Yet understanding the specific conditions on the ground remains key to analysing events currently playing out in a group of countries running from East Africa to Mauritania and extending as far north as Tunisia and south to the Swahili coast.

Research, politics and public debate frequently emphasise the supraregional and global aspects of jihadism, while underestimating the local anchoring of individual groups and national differences between them. For these reasons the picture of a jihadist threat directed towards large parts of the continent also shapes the solutions put forward by the West, where sweeping approaches are prioritised at the expense of addressing local causes.

Libya: A Jihadist Growth Market

By Wolfram Lacher

If Algeria was central to North Africa’s jihadist movements in the past, Libya is where their future lies. After decades underground or abroad, Libya’s jihadists grasped the opportunity offered by the collapse of the Gaddafi regime. Like all political forces that have emerged since the 2011 uprising, Libya’s jihadist groups are first and foremost local phenomena that have gained a foothold only in individual cities. But they are far more closely networked transnationally than other actors, and have been able to turn their strongholds into hubs of regional exchange with the Maghreb, the Sahel and Syria. Their rapid growth at the local level was initially driven by a strategy of operating openly amidst society, with their provision of charitable and state-like services cultivating a positive or at least ambivalent public image. Subsequently, they exploited the escalation of political tensions into renewed civil war. With the ongoing conflicts preventing any rebuilding of the state, Libya’s role as the epicentre of North African jihadism is set to grow in coming years.

Click here to read more

Going “Glocal”: Jihadism in Algeria and Tunisia

By Isabelle Werenfels

Algeria’s militant Islamists were among the African continent’s very first jihadists in the early 1990s. Only in Egypt had Islamists been quicker to take up arms. The origins of the Algerian jihadist groups are to be found in national conflicts that had festered since independence and erupted into civil war in the 1990s. These groups internationalised in the 2000s, not least after losing support and influence at home. Tunisia, on the other hand, had but a scattering of jihadist actors before 2011. The “Arab Spring” was a game-changer for Algerian and Tunisian jihadists, largely in their favour. New geographical vistas opened up: the jihadist triangle of Algeria–Mali–Mauritania, existant since the mid-2000s, has been joined by a new Algeria–Tunisia–Libya axis, while the civil war in Syria and the massive strengthening of the Islamic State (IS) in the Levant have further intensified jihadist networking between the Maghreb and the Near East. But the developments in Syria and Iraq have also had negative effects on jihadist dynamics in the Maghreb, massively heightening competition for new members and splitting the spectrum between supporters of al-Qaeda and of IS. All Maghreb jihadists operate within a permanent tension between local social and political circumstances, national goals, and global objectives. Although their propaganda is directed particularly loudly against the “far enemy”, meaning above all the French, the Americans and Israel, their immediate target remains the Maghreb regimes, the “near enemy”. The fact that global jihad possesses local and national dimensions generates ideological contradictions and intra-jihadist conflicts. Tactical differences between individual groups and periodic signs of pragmatism can thus be explained in terms of local particularities.

Click here to read more