Over the past 18 years, there have been distinct changes in the main perpetrators of organized armed political violence on the African continent.[1] Reports regarding every type of politically violent actor have increased since 2009, yet a clear trend across reports is that organized armed conflict in Africa is now mainly perpetuated by political militias and government forces (see Figure 1).

Trend2, Fig1

Since 2007, political militias and government forces are the most active conflict agents. In 2015, political militias were responsible for 30.3% of all organized armed conflict in Africa, and government forces were responsible for 31.3% of all conflict (see Figure 2). Political militias are militant groups who use violence as a means to shape and influence the existing political system, but do not seek to overthrow national regimes. These groups operate as ‘armed gangs’ for different political elites – including politicians, governments, opposition groups, etc.

Trend2, Fig2

In 2015, political militia activity was driven largely by both targeting civilians and battles with government forces, making up 40.5% and 41.4% of all organized armed conflict involving political militias, respectively (see Figure 3). Government force conflict activity last year continues to be comprised primarily of battles, which makes up over 70% of all organized armed conflict involving government forces (see Figure 4).

Trend2, Fig3

 

Trend2, Fig4

Al Shabaab, a rebel group, continues to be the most active conflict actor in Africa, responsible for over 8% of all organized armed conflict on the continent; the group is responsible for 3% of all reported civilian fatalities in Africa last year. More largely, rebels saw an increase in their rate of conflict activity last year. This spike was driven primarily by the re-categorization of Boko Haram from a political militia to a rebel group given their shift in goals; the group is responsible for 4.4% of all organized armed conflict in Africa last year.[2]  Though responsible for less than 5% of all organized armed conflict in Africa last year, Boko Haram is single-handedly responsible for almost half (48.3%) of all reported civilian fatalities in Africa in 2015 (please see the “Violent Conflict Actors Trends” for a discussion of Boko Haram’s conflict activity). Boko Haram and Al Shabaab are the rebel groups responsible for the most reported civilian fatalities in Africa last year.

Following Al Shabaab and Boko Haram, other active rebel groups in Africa last year include the SPLA/M-In-Opposition, active in South Sudan since the civil war began in late December of 2013 (responsible for 2.1% of all organized armed conflict and 0.1% of all reported civilian fatalities in Africa last year), and the Islamic State, active in Libya (responsible for 1.7% of all organized armed conflict and 1.2% of all reported civilian fatalities in Africa last year).

Of government forces, the most active in Africa last year are the militaries of Somalia (responsible for 5.7% of all organized armed conflict and 0.3% of all reported civilian fatalities in Africa last year) and the military of South Sudan (responsible for 3.1% of all organized armed conflict and 3.4% of all reported civilian fatalities in Africa last year). The militaries of South Sudan and Nigeria are the government forces responsible for the most reported civilian fatalities in Africa last year (3.4% and 0.8% of reported civilian fatalities, respectively). These militaries were followed by the police forces of Egypt in lethality; Egyptian police are responsible for 0.5% of all reported civilian fatalities in Africa last year.

Of named political militias, the most active in Africa last year are Ansar al-Sharia, active in Libya (responsible for 1.3% of all organized armed conflict, though no reported civilian fatalities in Africa last year), and the State of Sinai, active in Egypt (responsible for 1.1% of all organized armed conflict and 2% of all reported civilian fatalities in Africa last year). The State of Sinai and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), active in Sudan, are the named political militias responsible for the most reported civilian fatalities in Africa last year; they are responsible for 2% and 0.9% of all reported civilian fatalities on the continent, respectively.[3]

Of communal militias, the most active in Africa last year are the Misratah communal militia, active in Libya (responsible for 1% of all organized armed conflict, though no reported civilian fatalities in Africa last year), and the Fulani ethnic militia, active in Nigeria (responsible for 0.6% of all organized armed conflict and 4.4% of all reported civilian fatalities in Africa last year).

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[1] Organized armed political violence refers to battles between armed groups, remote violence, and instances of violence against civilians.  It does not include rioting and protesting or non-violent events, which are events also coded in ACLED.

[2] Given the shift in the goals of Boko Haram, ACLED codes Boko Haram as a rebel organization (interaction code 2) beginning August 25, 2014, a shift from coding as a political militia (interaction code 3) previously. Additionally, given the group’s allying with the Islamic State, as well as their beginning to claim territory, naming of the group has been differentiated before and after this shift: the group is referred to as “Boko Haram – Jama’atu Ahli is-Sunnah lid-Dawatai wal-Jihad” prior to April 27, 2015, and as “Boko Haram – Wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyyah” after that date. (Please see the “Violent Conflict Actors Trends” for a discussion of Boko Haram’s conflict activity.)

[3] ACLED classifies unidentified armed groups (UAGs) with the same interaction code as political militias as these groups have many similarities to political militias, especially in that they can often act as ‘mercenaries’ and do the violent bidding of elites. These political elites (governors, political party leaders, etc.) are similar to governments in that they do not want to take open responsibility for their violent actions by name. If accounting for these groups, UAGs in Somalia and Egypt are responsible for the most conflict activity (4% and 3.4% of all organized armed conflict in Africa last year, respectively); UAGs in Nigeria and DR-Congo are responsible for most reported civilian fatalities (4.9% and 3.9% of all reported civilian fatalities in Africa last year, respectively). The conflict activity of UAGs is explored in further detail in the “Violent Conflict Actors Trends”.