Violent Religious Extremism in Africa: A Stench to Our Common Humanity

by Lesmore Gibson


From-Mali-the-rebels-can-menace-the-Mediterranean-according-to-Staffan-De-Mistura-Photo-AFP-cover (1)

Telling the Horrendous Reality

From West Africa to Central and East Africa sub-regions the challenges that inhibit experiencing sustainable peace are evident. These sub-regions have been confronted with the menace of violent religious extremism that has led to wanton destructions of human lives, sources of livelihood and other properties and valuable assets. For instance, the current terror situation perpetuated by al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Jabhat Ansar al-din operating predominantly in greater Sahel countries. The terror activities of the two religious extremist groups have created situations of abject fear and suspicion among people of different religious belongs within the region. Sadly, some non-Muslims have increasingly become more suspicious of all Muslims because of the activities of the extremist groups. In Mali to be specific, the Tuareg rebels have caused significant damage to both human and materials through their employment of religious and cultural emblems. The rebels claim to be fighting for the cause of justice for their own people. The idea that their fight is informed by the need for justice makes them more susceptible to be lured and used by violent religious extremist groups. Unfortunately, AQIM and other extremist groups capitalise on the situation to further aggravate an already volatile environment within the greater Sahel region.

Similarly, Boko Haram – whose full name is Jama’atu ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-jihad, an Arabic expression meaning; ‘People committed to the propagation of the Prophet’s teachings and jihad’ – have become a political and religious menace in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. This violent religious extremist group continues to wreak havoc through the killing and maiming of innocent people and the abduction of innocent women and girls in the north-eastern part of Nigeria, the northern part of Cameroon and targeted bombings in Chad. Boko Haram’s indiscriminate violence has led governments and politicians to call on religious leaders of all stripes to unite against the group in an attempt to prevent the spread of their provocative ideology across the West and Central Africa sub-regions.

Meanwhile, in the Central African Republic the activities of the remnants of Seleka rebels and the Anti-Balaka groups have continued to militate against the stability of the country. The Seleka and Anti-Balaka rebels have given unpleasant twist of the socio-political turbulence by assuming religious identities, even when their actions contradict the religious teachings they claim to represent. Many innocent people have been heavily affected by the socio-political and cultural violent activities of the militia groups.

The East African sub-region is not without its own sad stories of violent attacks that have consumed many innocent human lives. The sub-region has been grappling with the heinous activities of the Al-Shabaab jihadist group, with Kenya and Somalia bearing the brunt of their dastardly acts. The activities of the Lord’s Resistance Army within the sub-region have been worrisome. The inhuman acts of these groups using religious emblems have affected the peace and tranquillity of a number of countries within the sub-region.

A call to liberate religion…

As Blaise Pascal has asserted: “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” This presupposes that religion can be taken hostage and instrumentalized to cause violence. The cases of the extremist groups operating within Africa and elsewhere are classic examples of the instrumentalization of religion to cause pains and untold hardship and suffering to many people. The extremists have been misguided themselves and they have in turn misled many young people to embrace crude, rogue and fallacious teachings.  As a result,  numerous young people offered themselves as foot soldiers to these networks of violent extremists. I premise my argument for redeeming religion from misuse by these groups on the facts of the cruel and gruesome activities these extremist networks undertake. God is neither dead nor God powerless to cripple or even annihilate the extremist networks.  However, he chooses to use human agencies in this work. Mainstream religious leaders and institutions are duty-bound to vigorously utilize all available platforms to condemn in the strongest terms the misuse and manipulation of religion and sacred texts. The task of redeeming religion from the clutches of extremists and some politicians rests squarely with religious leaders who are entrusted with a stewardship mandate.

Critical literacy is most essential in religious education and formation. Inculcating the skill of critical thinking in students through both formal and non-formal religious programmes is vitally important. It will enable young people to ask the right questions at the right time, in the right place and with the right kinds of focus and intention. Not only will it help them to investigate issues more carefully, but such literacy will reduce their susceptibility to being easily recruited by extremist groups. Parents must also help to create space for their children to develop and exercise critical thinking skills at home. Such avenues are speedily shrinking in many African families.

My closing words…

I must acknowledge that there are ongoing initiatives at continental, regional and national levels in Africa aimed at confronting and nullifying messages and actions of the various extremist groups. The initiatives are not only religious, but political and military also. However, more religious initiatives are required since the extremists use religious messages and platforms to wreak havoc on innocent people and to rape the environment. No one should be left out in the battle against violent religious extremism.  Religious misfits like Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, AQIM, MOJWA, Ansar al-din, Lord’s Resistance Army, Anti-Balaka, Seleka rebels are a menace to human society and their networks of terror must be resisted.

Let’s resist violent extremism anywhere we find it until it becomes unattractive everywhere we find it.

Lesmore Gibson Ezekiel

Doctoral Fellow

University of KwaZulu-Natal

South Africa



  1. Pascal, Blaise
  2. Comolli, Virginia 2015. Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Islamist Insurgency. London, United Kingdom: C. Hurst & Co. (Publishers) Ltd.
  3. Botha, Anneli 2014. Radicalization in Kenya: Recruitment to al-Shabaab and the Mombasa Republican Council. Pretoria, South Africa: Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Paper 265
  4. UNDP 2014. Preventing and Responding to Violent Extremism in Africa: A Development Approach. Regional and Multi-Country Project Document.
  5. Sodipo, Michael O. 2013. Mitigating Radicalism in Northern Nigeria. Africa Security Brief No. 26. Washington, D.C. & Addis Ababa: A Publication of the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies.

One response to “Violent Religious Extremism in Africa: A Stench to Our Common Humanity”

  1. Hadjara Shibkau says:

    This is the true description of Africa. Until we join forces together to fight against religious extremism – if not,our continent stands to fall.
    It is possible to forge for peace at all cost? What would be the consequences? We need more education among our people who are ignorant, more tolerance and appreciating each other among the educated, and a lot more of truth and sincerity from the religious elites. Can we all come together to achieve this?

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