As mentioned above, there is a religious factor at play. In both countries, as well as in Ghana, Muslims represent less than 20% of the predominantly Christian population. Latent religious divides, already exploited by jihadists in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, could be a new focus area for JNIM propaganda and preaching in this region.
Finally, there is friction within Islam in both Togo and Benin, which is quite similar to other nations in the region. The traditional organizations, often Sufi in nature and more or less close to the government are themselves challenged by youth that is more receptive to fundamentalist and revolutionary expressions of Islam. This tension is very easy to exploit for jihadists, as they represent an attractive vanguard for this youth. In order to avoid validating jihadist propaganda, this reality should be noted as a point of vigilance to be considered from a perspective that goes beyond the security lens.
Ghana, Ivory Coast and Guinea: the next targets?
Ghana, which gained independence from Britain, is the English-speaking exception in this region. It is more highly developed than its neighbors but is currently hit by a major economic crisis: the country has declared itself bankrupt. This precarious position is compounded by an explosion of tensions in the north. This is partly due to the jihadists, though this threat is not yet very palpable to the population. The more destabilizing factor has been the arrival of many Burkinabe refugees on Ghanaian territory. The feverishness is causing sparks to fly between the farming and pastoral communities, with repression of Fulani herders and a temptation to take justice into one’s own hands.
Ivory Coast is ahead of its neighbors in its apprehension of al-Qaeda (AQIM) and its Sahelian branch JNIM, for at least three reasons:
- Abidjan has already been targeted by several AQIM schemes to launch a terrorist attack, at least one of which was successful: the 2016 Grand Bassam massacre.
- The authorities in Abidjan have hosted several prominent figures, such as former Burkinabe president Blaise Compaoré and his advisor Moustapha Liman Chaffi, who have extensive knowledge of jihadist actors and strategies.
- The Ivorian military has already conducted military operations in the Comoé National Park in May 2020, alongside the Burkinabe army.
However, this head start could play tricks on them and lead to denial of a jihadist threat that has changed shape over the past decades. Jihadists based in southern Mali and Burkina Faso already conducted infiltrations in 2015 and a series of attacks in Kafolo, Tehini and Tougbo in 2021, before stopping for an unknown reason. Attacks in Doropo in late December 2022 could signal a return of the attacks, although local insecurity makes it difficult to attribute these attacks to jihadists.
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