President Mohamed Bazoum
Once a country known for cross-religious harmony, Niger has entered the top 50 of the World Watch List, reflecting how pressure is increasing on Christians in this Muslim-majority nation.
Most of the population regard Islam as part of their ethnicity: if you are a Nigerien, you are a Muslim. Believers from Muslim backgrounds are therefore the most vulnerable to persecution, and often come under intense pressure from their families and communities to renounce their faith.
Historical Christian communities are generally allowed to practice their faith in private, but in regions under Islamist control, Christians must gather with caution because of an increased threat of violence from militant groups like Boko Haram. In regions near the border with Nigeria, churches have been burned and pastors forced to flee their homes. Meanwhile, the local authorities have occasionally stopped believers from meeting, and the registration process for churches is long and difficult.
The persecution dynamic is changing rapidly in Niger, with the country jumping 21 places to enter the World Watch List top 50. This is due to a dramatic rise in violence against Christians. In the past five years, the Sahel region has seen a huge increase in violent Islamist attacks, and the government of Niger has lost a lot of territory to the jihadists. Since 2020, the country has been experiencing a series of attacks by Islamic militants and protesters also at times take their revenge by burning churches. The unpredictability of the situation makes Christians vulnerable.
The pandemic—which has enabled Islamic militants to expand their influence in Niger—is likely a contributing factor in this latest rise. More widely, this trend reflects the increasing violence facing Christians across sub-Saharan Africa.
Those who convert to Christianity from a Muslim background face the most pressure from family and society. Christians living in areas under Islamist control or in the region bordering Nigeria are most susceptible to violent attacks, as are those living in the west where Niger borders Burkina Faso and Mali.
Open Doors works through local churches and partners in Niger to strengthen persecuted Christians through economic empowerment programs, leadership and discipleship training, persecution survival training and pastoral care for new believers.