In 2021, the Sahel crisis entered its tenth year. Despite the transnational nature of the crisis, each country has experienced different patterns of violence and transformations in the midst of a protracted conflict. This report looks at the patterns of violence in Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali. It concludes with a review of the wider Sahel region. The report finds that both the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and the Al Qaeda-affiliated Jama’at Nusrat Al Islam Wal Muslimin (JNIM) have shifted their efforts to geographic areas beyond the immediate reach of external forces in the face of military pressure in the tri-state border region (or Liptako-Gourma). Renewed engagement in local conflicts has allowed jihadist militant groups to enlarge their scope of action, reassert their influence, remobilize, and gain resources to rebuild. This can be seen clearly in Niger’s Tillaberi and Tahoua regions, the eastern parts of Burkina Faso, and central Mali.
It is often assumed that Niger is less overrun by armed groups than its neighbors Mali and Burkina Faso. However, the country faces several challenges. These include the Boko Haram insurgency in the Lake Chad Basin, the Sahelian insurgency led by ISGS in northern Tillaberi, and JNIM activity in southwestern Tillaberi. The rampant banditry that has destabilized the south-central region of Maradi along the border with Nigeria could allow jihadist militant groups to expand their areas of operation (ICG, 29 April 2021). The southward advance of jihadist militants into littoral states, and the increase in jihadist militant activities in countries bordering Niger such as Benin, risk strengthening links between groups in the Sahel and Nigeria. This would in turn shrink the geographical space between the different theaters of conflict.