Over the past decade, there has been a significant rise in violent extremism and domestic conflict in key regions of Africa. There are multiple epicentres of violent conflict that have emerged in specific zones, such as the Sahelian region between Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger in West Africa and the Lake Chad region between Niger, Nigeria, Chad, and Cameroon with strong interconnectivity with developments in North Africa. This paper examines why these countries are experiencing a spike in violent conflict now. North Africa and the Sahel region represents regions that faced parallel and interrelated challenges including political, social, economic and security; these challenges have contributed to the weakening of the systems of governance, collapse of the security state due to the presence of armed groups within their territories or civil strife of ethnic or tribal nature. The last decade has exacerbated an already fragile situation with the onset of the “Arab Spring” and its regional external effects. With Libya having fallen into a protracted civil war after Gaddafi‘s demise, violent conflict erupted in its neighbourhood, including in Mali and Chad, as well as in West Africa as in Nigeria and Burkina Faso. The snowball effect of Arab Spring countries’ political turmoil had also threatened the fragile security of the Sahel.
The underlying causes of the Libyan conflict that led to the collapse of the regime and had reverberations on various insurgencies in the Sahel regions, including links between transnational jihadist groups such as Al Qaeda and Daesh that span the entire area. Others with local/localized rebel groups have a presence that predates that of Al Qaeda such as the Tuareg rebel groups in Northern Mali, or getting emboldened to intensify their activities in the region with the Libyan conflict spilling over its neighbours, with insurgencies from Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria or one that re-emerged as an offshoot of a rebel group (Thurston, 2020).
I offer an explanation based on the diffusion theory from the constructivist tradition in international relations which posits that ideas, events and concepts can travel and spread across borders to produce a contagion effect. Authors such as Strang and Meyer, Dowd, Guichaoua, Thurston and Ronen analyzed the rising security threat of jihadist groups in Mali and its spillover effect on neighbouring Algeria and Sahel countries, transnational movement of militant groups in the Sahel region and the outbreak of Islamist violence.