Sub-Saharan Africa a Persecution Powder Keg—Recent Nigerian Attack Kills More Than 200 Christians
The killing began on Thursday. It didn’t stop until Sunday.
By the time Muslim The Fulani are a large ethnic group in West Africa. A third of all Fulani people are pastoralists, making them the largest nomadic community in the world. militant herdsmen ended their four-day killing spree (June 21-24) on northern Nigerian villages in Plateau state surrounding the city of Jos, Christians there tell us the death toll was at least 200.
Women and children were especially vulnerable. Currently, a dusk-to-dawn curfew is in place, however, our partners tell us that the violence continued despite the curfew.
In 2018 alone, militant herdsmen have targeted and killed more than 600 Christians in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region, raiding Christian villages and setting fire to homes and churches.
Christians Under Fire
Throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, we are hearing horror stories of Christians being targeted and persecuted. Across the world’s second-largest continent, Christians are under fire right now in West Africa, East Africa, Central Africa and now Southeast Africa, as each day new reports surface, bringing news of attacks and how governments are becoming increasingly hostile toward believers.
In many areas governed by Islamic law, Christians are denied or are the last to receive community services and relief, including food and medical care. Difficult living conditions like these are forcing some new believers to revert back to Islam simply to make a better life for their families. For Christians in areas like the Horn of Africa peninsula, freedom to worship is simply not a reality.
The world’s second-largest continent—including 1.2 billion people, thousands of ethnic groups and 54 internationally recognized countries—is currently a persecution powder keg.
Below, we offer snapshots of each region to share what’s happening in these specific areas—and the pain our brothers and sisters in Christ are walking through right now.
Record-High Violence in West Africa
(Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Benin, Niger, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Ghana, Gambia, Senegal, Togo, Mauritania):
In Nigeria’s Middle Belt, Fulani militant herdsmen pose what some have called an even greater threat than the Islamic extremist group an extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria. In 2018, Fulani herdsmen violence has reached a record high. In Benue state alone, 492 people have been killed. Muslim militants are targeting Christian villages like those in this recent attack—raiding communities, kidnapping and raping women and children and killing the men. In April, Fulani militants attacked a church in Benue state, killing 19 worshipers, including two priests.
The video below explains what’s happening to Christian villages throughout northern Nigeria:
In addition to militant Fulani herdsmen, Boko Haram continues to brutally attack Christians and communities, raiding villages and kidnapping women and children.
Despite Nigerian President Buhari’s claims that Boko Haram has been defeated, the group that aims to establish an Islamic caliphate in West Africa is showing those claims to be little more than propaganda. Boko Haram fighters continue to attack, using both armed assaults and suicide bombers, targeting both Christians and Muslims. Recently (June 17, 2018), suicide bombers, suspected to be Boko Haram militants, attacked the town of Damboa in northern Nigeria’s Borno state, killing 31 people.
In fact, the overall number of attacks by Boko Haram increased from 2016 to 2017. Research by BBC Monitoring shows the group killed more than 900 people in 2017 (slightly more than in 2016), consistently mounting attacks during the year. The report said the insurgency has left an estimated 20,000 people dead and displaced at least 2 million.
The group is now spreading beyond Nigeria into neighboring countries like Cameroon and Niger, and to a lesser extent in Chad and Benin. In 2017, Boko Haram led 32 attacks on Cameroon and this year has claimed three. In Cameroon, the group’s method is increasingly suicide attacks versus armed assaults. In February, the Islamists attacked two villages in northern Cameroon, setting fire to more than 100 huts, a church and school. Earlier in February, a Boko Haram attack in Gitawa left six dead, including a pregnant woman. Five of the victims were Christians.
No Religious Freedom in East Africa
(Eritrea, Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda):
In East Africa and the Horn of Africa peninsula, terrorist groups like al-Shabaab are attacking Christians, and dictatorships continue to make moves to intentionally destroy religious freedom.
For example, in Eritrea the dictatorship targets Christians for “detention” and imprisonment. Those who believe in Jesus are considered a threat to the state. According to one religious liberty report, for example, Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki was said to “fear Christian evangelism because it could destabilize and disunify the country.”
The Eritrean government enlists community members to spy on certain Christian groups whom they see as “agents of the West.” Today, thousands of Christians are held in detention without being charged with a crime or given the opportunity for trial. Other Christians, not yet detained, continue to flee the country. And leaders of the church like Ogbamichael Teklhaimnot, who was just released after 11 years in an Eritrean concentration camp, share about being tortured and asked to recant their beliefs or sign statements that vow they will not practice their faith, gather to worship or express their beliefs in any way. The government is infamously known for locking Christians in metal shipping containers where some have died of heat exhaustion and suffocation.
Currently, in the country, radical Muslims are gaining support from the government, including possibly even supplying one group with weapons. These Muslim adherents claim to be ‘Muslim first’ and see leaving Islam to convert to Christianity as a betrayal of their community. They are increasingly targeting Christians with violence and the state, who outlaws most Protestant groups, offers no protection. In fact, the state denies persecution is even happening.
In East African countries with tribal societies like Somalia, persecution against Christians comes from the tribe. Inside Somalia is a patchwork of competing clans, containing clan-based militias and religious groups that pursue a strong Islamic identity—against a background of a strong tribal identity.
That’s why converting to Christianity means not only a betrayal of Islam and the Muslim community but also a break with the clan’s norms and values as well. In tribal societies, this is a very serious offense. For example, Somaliland which declared independence in 1991 (still unrecognized) would seem to be a region free of Islamic militant activity. But Christians are also persecuted there by the tribal society.
In these East African countries, Christians must worship in secret and live in constant fear of being imprisoned and tortured for their beliefs.
Intra-Country Conflicts Dominate Central Africa
(Burundi, the Central African Republic, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo)
In Central Africa, intra-country conflicts are destabilizing governments in these countries and as a result, extremist groups are increasing their power and using it to violently oppress Christians.
In Rwanda, the country has closed thousands of churches and arrested at least six pastors since February 2018 for “noise pollution” and failing to comply with building regulations. And in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s eastern province of North Kivu, leaders of the church have been targeted and killed. Reportedly, at least 15 armed extremist groups are operating in the area.
One Catholic church leader has characterized North Kivu as being “in total chaos.”
“We are completely abandoned by everyone,” he said
The constant conflict has also led to millions of displaced and impoverished people, as warring factions continue to disrupt economies—causing widespread famine exacerbated by an environmental drought.
Southeast Africa’s New Jihadist Movement
(Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe)
In southeast Africa, a number of attacks, including several beheadings, have raised alarms over the emergence of a new jihadist movement in the southern half of Africa—a section previously untroubled by violent Islamic extremism. Human Rights Watch reports that the group, al-Sunna wa Jama’a, has killed 39 and displaced 1,000 people in a spate of attacks, beginning October 2017. June 2018 has been a particularly violent month of bloodshed and loss.
Residents report attacks on June 5- 6 and June 12 in the Mozambique province of Cabo Delgado. On June 6, a group of men armed with machetes and AK-47 assault rifles reportedly raided the village of Namaluco. They killed six people and set on fire more than 100 houses. And on June 12, just before 2 am, an elderly man was beheaded and at least 100 homes burned down when a group of six men stormed another village. The assailants were carrying machetes and had their faces covered.
The Urgency Is Now Because the Need Is Great
Open Doors is going to where the needs are. Right now, we are rushing critical aid and support to African believers whose lives are immersed in persecution. These Christ followers are risking all they have to follow Jesus.
Please join us as we strengthen the church in sub-Saharan Africa. We are reminded of the Scripture that first led Open Doors Founder Brother Andrew to this work:
“Wake up! Strengthen what remains, and is about to die …” (Rev. 3:2)
Through our support and prayers, we can intercede for believers in Africa, standing with them and strengthening that which remains.
Let’s remind our brothers and sister in Africa that they’re not alone, and they’re part of God’s family.