In the past two decades, the primary perpetrators of organized, armed political violence on the African continent changed[1]. Organized armed conflict in Africa is now mainly perpetuated by political militias and government forces (see Figure 1).

Since 2007, political militias and government forces are the most active conflict agents. In 2016, political militias were responsible for 29.8% of all organized armed conflict in Africa, and government forces were responsible for 33.7% 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.

In 2016, political militia activity was driven largely by both targeting civilians and battles with government forces, making up 51.4% and 32% of all organized armed conflict involving political militias, respectively (see Figure 3). Government force conflict activity last year continued to be comprised primarily of battles, which makes up over 63% of all organized armed conflict involving government forces, though civilian-targeted violence by state forces has continued to increase since 2014 (see Figure 4).

Despite the persistence of political militia activity, rebel groups continued to have an active presence in conflict activity last year, constituting 20% of organised conflict. This trend is largely driven by Al Shabaab, Boko Haram (Wilayat Gharb Ifriqqiyyah) and Islamic State in Libya activity. Al Shabaab, a rebel group, continues to be the most active conflict actor in Africa, responsible for almost 7.5% of all organized armed conflict on the continent; the group is responsible for 5.1% of all reported civilian fatalities in Africa last year.

The nature of rebel activity last year shifted from 2015. Following the re-categorization of Boko Haram from a political militia to a rebel group in April 2014 given their shift in goals, Boko Haram’s activity slightly decreased from 2015-2016[2]. The group was responsible for 10% of all reported civilian fatalities in Africa in 2016, decreasing from 43.8% of all reported civilian fatalities in Africa in 2015. This change is in large part due to a loss of territorial control following large-scale military operations in Yobi, Borno and Adwama State (please see the “Violent Conflict Actors Trends” for a discussion of Boko Haram’s conflict activity). Boko Haram and Al Shabaab continue to be 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 1.7% of all organized armed conflict and 0.5% 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 0.9% 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 4.8% of all organized armed conflict and nearly 0.5% of all reported civilian fatalities in Africa last year) and the military forces of Sudan (responsible for 3.2% of all organized armed conflict and 5.8% of all reported civilian fatalities in Africa last year). Other than the military of Sudan, the militaries of Ethiopia and Sudan are the government forces responsible for the most reported civilian fatalities in Africa last year (5.88% and 3.86% of reported civilian fatalities, respectively). These militaries were followed by the police forces of South Sudan and General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army in lethality. The Ethiopian military’s lethality is attributed to the violent crackdown across the Oromia region, particularly in October 2016 following wider police violence against protesters in Bishoftu.

Of named political militias, the most active in Africa last year were CNDD-FDD-Imbonerakure, active in Burundi (responsible for 12.4% of political militia activity by a named group and 1.5% of all organised armed conflict, though 0.8% of reported civilian fatalities in Africa last year), and the BRSC: Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, active in Benghazi, Libya (responsible for 5.9% of political militia activity by a named group, 0.7% of all organized armed conflict, and 0.2% of all reported civilian fatalities in Africa last year). The Seleka militia and RRR: Return, Reclamation and Rehabilitation, both active in the Central African Republic, are the named political militias responsible for the most reported civilian fatalities in Africa last year; they are responsible for 3.1% and 2.3% of all reported civilian fatalities by political militias 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 0.2% 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 11% 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 (Jam’atu Ahli is-Sunnah lid-Dawatai wal-Jihadi) 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, when the event is directly influenced or coordinated by Islamic State leadership or doctrine. In instances where the event is conducted by the group without Islamic State coordination, “Boko Haram – Jama’atu Ahli is-Sunnah lid-Dawatai wal-Jihad” is coded with an interaction of 2. (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 Burundi are responsible for the most conflict activity (4.3% and 3% of all organized armed conflict in Africa last year, respectively); UAGs in Nigeria and Burundi are responsible for most reported civilian fatalities (4.4% and 4.2% 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”.

 

Trend 2: Agents of Violence in 2016