Somalia, Sudan, Burundi, South Sudan, Nigeria and Libya are the most violent (see Figure 1) states and Somalia, Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan, Libya and Ethiopia are the deadliest states (see Figure 2) across Africa, at present.[1]  The levels of violence these different states experience reflect the diversity of the security challenges facing countries across the African continent.

In 2016, Somalia, Sudan, and Burundi were responsible for approximately 23.3%, 11.9%, and 8.3%, respectively, of all organized armed conflict on the continent. This is a continued pattern from 2015, when these states were responsible for approximately 20.9%, 11.9%, and 8.7% of conflict, respectively, though the rate of political violence in Burundi surged from 0.5% of all conflict in 2014 to its current level. In 2016, Somalia, Nigeria and Sudan were responsible for most reported conflict-related fatalities – responsible for 18.9%, 15.9%, and 13%, respectively. Somalia replaced Nigeria as the country with the highest reported fatalities. While Somalia and Sudan’s involvement has increased between 2015 and 2016, Nigeria saw a decrease in their rate of reported fatalities – Nigeria was responsible for 29.7% of all reported fatalities in 2015; this dropped to 15.9% of all reported fatalities last year.

The differences in conflict across high activity areas underscore how political violence is closely associated with the capacity of the state and the political relationships found between regimes and political elites. Somalia continues to be the most conflict-affected country across Africa playing host to a civil war characterised by attacks involving international and Federal Government troops and Al Shabaab, violence against civilians, intra-opposition contests, and local security contests  involving militias belonging to politicians, governors, local power holders, large clan leaders and others (see Figure 3). There continues to be challenges in establishing security and rule of law as Al Shabaab has considerably strengthened over the past two years, dominating new spaces in Mudug and beyond as they seek to expand their base and accommodate multiple local affiliates and their respective contests. Conflict events and reported fatalities tend to be clustered in the southern part of the country, particularly Lower Shebelle. Besides the dominant Al Shabaab fighting, political elites are competing with militias for local dominance and regime positions in spaces that state forces do not adequately control. Conflict involving unidentified armed groups (UAGs) also continues to be high.[2] Somalia is responsible for 18.9% of reported conflict-related fatalities (or 5,550 deaths) on the continent last year, making it the country with the highest number of reported organized armed conflict-related fatalities.

Sudan continues to face multiple, overlapping and discrete crises within the country (see Figure 4). On-going sources of instability include conflict between opposing government and rebel forces which saw aerial bombardment of rebel-held areas in Darfur and South Kordofan, abuses by pro-government militias and paramilitary groups including Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and Janjaweed against civilian populations, a breakdown in negotiations between the government and SPLM-N, and sustained political and economic protests in Khartoum. Battles reached their highest levels since 1997, involving mainly opposing government and Sudan Liberation Movement/Army forces aligned with Abdul Wahud al-Nur (SLM/A-Nur)and escalating clashes between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Battles and remote violence reduced in the second part of the year, due to the onset of the rainy season when mobility is restricted, and preparations for the November renewed fighting season.

The majority of conflict in Sudan (approximately 51% of all organized armed conflict) is comprised of civilian targeting by political militias – especially by pro-government militias (such as the Rapid Support Forces). These attacks occur largely in Darfur – ensuring that Darfur remains by far the subnational region experiencing the most violence in all of Africa (Darfur experienced 773 violent conflict events in 2016, meaning 68.7% of violent conflict in Sudan was concentrated in this region and 8.1% of all conflict in Africa took place in Darfur. The next most violent region was Banaadir, Somalia, experiencing 479 violent conflict events). Sudan is responsible for over 13% of reported conflict-related fatalities (or 3,821 deaths) on the continent last year, making it the country with the third highest number of organized armed reported conflict-related fatalities.

Libya saw a decrease in all forms of violent conflict in 2016 (see Figure 5) despite increased factionalism and escalating tensions across multiple battlefronts. Conflict however remained disproportionately high in Benghazi, Sirte, and Tripoli with fatalities in Sirte doubling from 2015 as pro-Government of National Accord military forces under the Operation Bunyan Marsous outfit liberated the town from Islamic State control. The primary conflict agent was the Libya National Army, responsible more than 18% of all violent conflict in Libya in 2016. The Libya National Army, led by General Khalifa Haftar, continued their assault on Ansar al-Sharia and Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries militant positions in isolated districts of Benghazi.

The second most active group, the Islamic State, were also involved in over 17% of all violent events across Libya. Conflict-related fatalities between government forces and Islamic State witnessed close to a 450% increase from 2015; this is largely owing to the envelopment of armed revolutionary brigades previously operating as political militias into a military force, as well as a decrease in civilian-targeting as Islamic State forces lost territory in the central Sirte basin. The most notable increase in activity was the military forces supporting the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) – comprised largely of militias from Misratah – who spearheaded the assault against Islamic State in Sirte as well as a proliferation of activity by multiple political militias active in Tripoli. Over 7.7% of all reported organized armed conflict-related fatalities in Africa last year are attributed to Libya.

Similarly, Nigeria faces multiple challenges to security and stability in the country, which are largely geographically discrete, and is responsible for approximately 7.8% of all organized armed conflict in Africa last year (see Figure 6). The most high-profile involves the violent Islamist insurgency in the northeast of the country led by Boko Haram, the second deadliest non-state actor (i.e. responsible for the second most reported civilian fatalities) in all of Africa in 2016 (please see the “Violent Conflict Actors Trends” for a discussion of Boko Haram conflict activity). Inter-communal conflict in the country’s middle belt also rages on, led by the Fulani ethnic militia who were the deadliest actor in all of Africa in 2016 (responsible for 11% of all civilian casualties, a 7% increase from the previous year). These two conflict actors alone are responsible for 21% of all civilian fatalities in Africa in 2016. One quarter (25.7%) of all civilian fatalities occurred in Nigeria, making it the most dangerous African country for civilians by far.

Burundi saw the starkest increase in its rate of political violence between 2014 and 2016. There were 52 conflict events reported in Burundi in 2014; this increased sixteen-fold to 847 conflict events in 2015, and 784 last year. This is largely a result of President Nkurunziza’s term limit extension, and its aftermath. Civilian-targeted violence increased massively from 2015. The main perpetrators of violence were political militias, where attacks on civilians constituted 64.7% of all political violence in Burundi in 2016  (see Figure 7) [3]. Whilst conflict-related fatalities dropped by 56% from the previous year in 2016, political militias (mainly the CNDD-FDD-Imbonerakure – the youth wing of the ruling party) and unidentified armed groups were responsible for 87.5% of reported civilian casualties in Burundi.

Conflict remained relatively stable in South Sudan since 2015 as battles between government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army – In Opposition (SPLA-IO) continued unabated. In the second half of 2016, this conflict remained largely localised to the Greater Equatoria region. Violence by state forces and political militias rose to 44.7% of all political conflict in South Sudan (see Figure 8) as government forces attacked villages in the aftermath of battles with SPLA-IO rebels. Attacking villages is aimed at targeting civilians perceived to be supporting rebels [4]. The backdrop to this violence saw the political process stall as Riek Machar was dismissed as vice-president and fled to South Sudan in July 2016. The South Sudanese military and SPLA-IO dominate the conflict landscape, responsible for 58.2% of all political violence and over 70.5% of conflict-related fatalities in 2016. Many discrete ethnic and communal militias remained a prominent feature of violence in 2016, including Murle Ethnic militia, mainly active in Jonglei state.

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The least violent states in 2015 (when riots and protests are excluded) include Gabon, Mauritania, and Swaziland, all of whom are responsible for 0.02% of reported conflict events on the African continent.

[1] Riots and protests are excluded from the count.

[2] For more on the conflict activity of unidentified armed groups, please see the “Violent Conflict Actors Trends.”

[3] For more information surrounding the Burundi Crisis of 2015, please see ACLED’s local-level coverage of Burundi and the accompanying country-specific dataset, drawing on information from crowdsourcing in addition to usual ACLED coding methods.

[4] For more information on the on-going conflict in South Sudan, please see ACLED’s November 2016 conflict trend update.

Trend 4: Trends in Violence by Country in 2016