Jihadist violence against Christians is becoming commonplace in countries across the continent of Africa, with more than half the countries in the region scoring very significant levels of persecution.
Five of the countries in the Top 10 on Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian are in Africa: Somalia (No. 2), Eritrea (No. 4), Libya (No. 5), Nigeria (No. 6) and Sudan (No. 10).
In its Jan. 17 announcement of the 2023 World Watch List, Open Doors said violent Islamist militants are attempting to destabilize Sub-Saharan Africa using extreme violence.
The Islamist campaign of terror is fueled by a lethal mix of trafficking, changes to the climate and an influx of mercenary soldiers from the shadowy Kremlin-backed Wagner Group, Open Doors reported.
Wybo Nicolai, founder of the World Watch List and former Open Doors global field director, told The Alabama Baptist the picture of persecution in Africa has “changed a lot in the last five years.”
Though there is persecution all over the continent, violence has grown more widespread in countries to the east. There had been hope things would change for the better, he said, but Christians are increasingly being attacked in countries like Kenya and Tanzania where Christians are a majority.
‘Heading into catastrophe’
“The whole region is heading into catastrophe,” said Frans Veerman, managing director of World Watch Research. “The aim of Islamic State and affiliated groups is to destabilize the entire region, establish an Islamic caliphate — ultimately across the entire continent — and, long-term, they are confident this is within their reach.”
The violence is most extreme in Nigeria, where militants from the Fulani, Boko Haram, Islamic State West Africa Province and others conduct raids on Christian communities, killing, maiming, raping and kidnapping for ransom or sexual slavery, Open Doors reported.
Lisa Pearce, interim CEO of Open Doors US, described Nigeria as “in the heart of the fire.”
“Christians are being driven from their homes, women are being raped and the pattern is expanding across Africa,” Pearce told The Alabama Baptist.
She described preparing for a recent visit to Christian brothers and sisters in Africa, who asked her to bring a black outfit and running shoes.
“The logic was that if we were attacked, I had a better chance of getting into the bush to hide if I was wearing black and running shoes,” Pearce explained. “That’s me for a week, but that’s believers in Nigeria and many other African countries every day of the week.”
Religiously motivated killings in Nigeria have risen from 4,650 documented for the 2022 World Watch List report to 5,014 documented for the 2023 report. That number represents 89% of the number of Christians killed for their faith globally.
Open Doors reports that Nigeria’s government continues to deny the violence is religiously motivated.
“It isn’t just governments in Africa that aren’t facing up to the true nature of this religiously motivated purge, it’s governments across the world. The price of this denial is incalculable, not just to Africa, but to the whole world,” Veerman said.
Between Dec. 18 and Dec. 21, 46 individuals were killed in mainly Christian areas of Kaduna State, reported Morning Star News.
Luka Biniyat of Southern Kaduna People’s Union told Morning Star that thousands of individuals have been killed in hundreds of attacks in Kaduna in the past eight years. Christian leaders believe the herdsmen seek to take over the lands of Christians and impose Islam.
In Borno State on Dec. 19, Islamic State West Africa Province terrorists burned homes, killed livestock and destroyed harvests. In the same area nine days before ISWASP invaded a home, killing a Christian woman and her preborn baby and shooting her husband.