AFRICA – Christians threatened as Islamists push for control of Africa’s Sahel

National Catholic Reporter | Jonathan Luxmoore | April 13, 2020

As the coronavirus threatens new social and economic dislocations across Africa, it will be but one more complication in the continent’s francophone Sahel region, which faces a campaign by Islamist militants seeking territory that increasingly is targeting Christian communities in the area.

The campaign is most intense in three countries — Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso — located in the central to western portion of a narrow band of territory called the Sahel that stretches across the continent from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. It is an area of climate transition between the northern desert portion of the continent and the southern portion.

With Christian communities increasingly targeted, aid agencies are warning that instability could soon engulf other countries, too.

“Violent groups throughout the region are taking advantage of weak or nonexistent governance structures and porous borders,” explained Michael Stulman, a manager with the U.S. charity Catholic Relief Services.

“The international community must work with national governments to implement a bold plan to end violence and suffering, and to support long-term development to keep the violence from spreading.”

The Senegal-based expert spoke as attacks continued over a wide swath of the Sahel, prompting appeals by Catholic church leaders for more decisive moves to secure order and stability in a region now facing additional ravages from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stulman told NCR that the violence required “a regional, if not global, response.”

“These three countries are at the center of the conflict — but recent attacks along the borders between Burkina Faso and Benin, Ivory Coast and Ghana highlight risks the violence could spread throughout West Africa,” Stulman added.

“Insecurity is a reality for all humanitarian workers and it’s becoming increasingly challenging to reach vulnerable populations. If the violence continues unabated, we can expect the numbers of displaced to rise dramatically. We’re likely to see development gains and economic growth moving backwards.”