Africa was supposed to be the Islamic State’s success story. Observers saw the group’s rising attacks there as proof that the continent had become the new center of global jihad. In August 2021, the United Nations even declared that “the most alarming development in recent months is [the Islamic State’s] relentless spread across the African continent.”
In reality, the Islamic State faces many problems in Africa, largely of its own making. Chief among them is factionalism. Three prominent African jihadists died over the last few months, two at the hands of other jihadists. Where the Islamic State attempted to exploit local grievances, it has now been sucked into local conflicts. To the disappointment of the Islamic State’s leaders, the group is now party to fights between different Fulani clans, and between nomads and farmers.
The deaths of three legendary jihadists — Abubakar Shekau, Abu Musab al Barnawi, and Adnan Abu Whalid al Sahrawi — reveal the limitations of the Islamic state in the region, as well as the way local conflicts feed into organizational rivalries. Internal disputes are compromising the Islamic State in West Africa, and the Central Islamic State has had little success in addressing the problems.