Tanzania Election Tracker 2020


Tanzanians are heading to the polls on the 28th October. The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party has governed Tanzania since independence in 1961, and is the second longest-ruling party in Africa. President John Magufuli swept into power in 2015 with a promise to end corruption and expand infrastructure. However, his strong-handed governing style has been strongly criticised, with human rights groups and opposition parties accusing Magufuli of increasing repression ahead of the polls, intimidating political rivals and restricting the press.

Campaign rallies are in full swing, with early signs of tension between opposition groups and the ruling party. Tundu Lissu, the presidential candidate from the main opposition Chadema party, has publicly stated he believes the elections will not be free, fair or transparent.  Fears have been raised by citizens about the potential outbreak of violence if the election is not held in a transparent manner and the outcome delayed.

Tanzania’s incumbent President and presidential candidate of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party,John Magufuli speaks during the official launch of the party’s campaign for the October general election at the Jamhuri stadium in Dodoma, Tanzania. PHOTO ERICKY BONIPHACE/ AFP

Election Contenders

Magufuli’s main opponents are likely to be Lissu, who recently returned to Tanzania after spending nearly three years in Belgium for medical treatment after a failed assassination attempt, and former foreign minister Bernard Membe from the ACT-Wazalendo, who was expelled from the CCM in February.

Initially, opposition parties were set to head to the polls without a coalition or alliance in place to unseat the ruling CCM. Recent media reports have indicated that the country’s two leading parties, Chadema and the third biggest party in the country, ACT-Wazalendo, led by Zitto Kabwe, have decided to form what has been dubbed a “loose collaboration”, and endorse a common candidate for the polls in each region. ACT-Wazalendo’s supporters will vote for Lissu while in exchange, Chadema has endorsed ACT-Wazalendo’s candidate in Zanzibar (the island is a semi-autonomous region with the Tanzanian federation).

However, an obstacle to this loose collaboration may lie in Tanzanian law, which requires parties interested in forming an official coalition to sign an agreement at least 90 days before elections are held, and have it approved by the country’s Registrar of Political Parties. While an informal collaboration may not technically break the rules, the Registrar of Political Parties has already issued a warning to party officials against endorsing each other’s candidates.

Outbreaks of Violence

Several instances of violence have been reported in the mainstream media and social media platforms, such as:

  • On 6 October, police reportedly arrested an unspecified number of Chadema opposition supporters in the Coast Region attending an alleged unauthorized rally by Lissu. Police officials claimed to be upholding Lissu’s temporary suspension of his campaign by the National Electoral Commission (NEC).
  • On 7 October, Lissu was involved in a stand-off with the police for nine hours on his way to Dar es Salaam to meet with party members.
  • Accusations of hired thugs and police officers led to the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Simon Sirro ordering an immediate investigation into the claims that Serengeti Parliamentary candidate for Chadema, Catherine Ruge, was assaulted by the police officers on 14 October 2020.
  • Some video clips have gone viral showing assets belonging to Chadema candidate for Chato constituency and a local party official being torched. Geita Regional Police Commander Sikoki Mwaibambe confirmed the incidents, saying a group of seven to 10 people stormed the home of the Chadema parliamentary candidate for the constituency, destroying a perimeter fence and torching a shed.

Human Rights Abuses

There have been a series of accusations against the CCM regarding human rights abuses stemming from their decision in December 2019 to withdraw its declaration from Article 34(6) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. This declaration allows individuals and NGOs to take their cases directly to the African Court. Human Rights Watch has warned that Tanzanian authorities continue to step up repression of opposition parties, non-governmental organisations and the media, ahead of the elections.

National Electoral Commission Partiality

Tanzanian human rights activist Fatma Karume said in an interview that the National Electoral Commission (NEC) is most likely not an independent entity, and has members of the CCM party appointed as returning officers.

Election Campaign Suspensions

Despite a pledge of fairness, the NEC has suspended the election campaigning of several opposition leaders for allegedly breaching the Ethics Committee regulations by violating section 21(a) and (n) of the code of ethics for presidential, parliamentarian and councillor election elections:

  • Lissu recently had his campaign activities suspended until 10 October after being accused of making seditious statements at one of his rallies. The NEC stated he was suspended from 3 October for breaching the elections code of ethics.
  • ACT-Wazalendo has faulted the five-day campaign suspension slapped on the party’s presidential candidate, Seif Sharif Hamad, saying it shows the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) is not independent. Mr Hamad becomes the second presidential candidate after Mr Lissu to have his campaigns suspended.
  • Chadema’s parliamentary candidate for Kawe Constituency, Halima Mdee, was also handed a seven-day campaign suspension?.
  • Mtwara Urban Constituency’s candidate Maftah Nachuma (on the Civic United Front ticket) suffered a 10-day suspension.

Election Observers Participation

Chadema’s Secretary-General John Mnyika told the media that he is concerned about the lack of permission given to a number of important international observers and local NGOs – namely the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), Tanzania Constitution Forum (TCF), the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) and the Tanzania Election Monitoring Committee (TEMCO) – to monitor the elections and provide voter education prior to the election day. Election observation is important because it provides additional resources in the pre-election preparation and can be an oversight mechanism to safeguard election processes involving voter registers being up-to-date, ballot materials being delivered throughout the country and the appropriate technologies being adopted to avoid election fraud. The government’s actions may result in the election outcome being contested.

In a response measure, on 15 October, the CCM sought to calm diplomats’ concerns about fairness in the run up to the election. The ruling party leadership met with envoys from various countries and assured them of fairness and legality of the polls. The CCM’s Secretary-General Bashiru Ally met with diplomats from Kenya, Mozambique, the USA and seven countries from the European Union.

Tundu Lissu, Tanzania’s former MP with the Chadema main opposition party, who was shot 16 times in a 2017 attack, returned after three years in exile to challenge President John Magufuli in the October elections. PHOTO STR/AFP

Restricting Media Freedoms

The limiting of freedom of expression and media came into effect on August 10th, after Tanzania’s communications authority restricted cooperation between international and local media outlets. Local media outlets must seek permission to broadcast international news content, and will be punished if content is deemed “offensive”. Magufuli has defined “offensive” as anything that is contrary to his views and statements about current affairs within Tanzania. There are many reports of journalists facing harassment and detainment in Tanzania under Magufuli’s leadership.

Tanzania recently passed the Online Content Regulations 2020 that make it an offence for Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp users to post messages which “ridicule, abuse or harm the reputation, prestige or status of the United Republic of Tanzania” ahead of the election.

COVID-19 and the Media

While the world battles with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, this is an opportunity for Tanzania to emulate Malawi’s successful hosting of their election earlier this year under challenging conditions. Unlike Malawi, Magufuli declared the country “coronavirus-free” thanks to prayers by citizens. A recent Al Jazeera interview with Muthoki Mumo from the Committee to Protect Journalists for Sub-Saharan Africa highlighted  that it has become increasingly difficult for journalists to do their job under Magufuli’s presidency. Journalists are restricted from reporting on the coronavirus and its impact on the elections. Magufuli has positioned himself as the gatekeeper of all information related to the coronavirus pandemic in the country.  As a result, the government has not updated its national statistics for the virus since June, and there have been no regulations or restrictions implemented. The citizens are effectively being denied the right to credible information on what’s happening in their country. Political analyst Aikande Kwayu wrote that the Tanzanian government’s response to the pandemic “has revealed, rather than informed, the governance style under the current administration”. Rather than cooperating and engaging with medical experts, Magufuli has cast doubt on their professionalism and taken the science into his own hands.

Incumbency Abuses

In general, an incumbent has a political advantage over challengers during an election period. The incumbent often has more name recognition based on their position of previously holding office. Incumbents also tend to have easier access to campaign finance, as well as the use of government resources that can be directly and indirectly used to boost the incumbent’s re-election campaign. In this case, the CCM and Magufuli appear to have made full use of the advantages of incumbency.

The ruling party’s campaign strategy has seen Magufuli’s face and the party’s signature green-and-yellow colours found on posters, leaflets and billboards across the country, with coverage of his campaign dominating the news. Media freedom remains restricted and is tightly controlled by the government.

As a direct result, Chadema’s blue-and-white signature colours or posters are absent on the streets and their campaign messages are missing from the airwaves. Also, the party has raised concerns about new taxes, making it considerably more expensive to produce electoral materials. In order to counter these government created obstacles,  Lissu and his party have utilised the social media space, which has less government control, to grow its popularity and support.

More recently, ballot papers have been altered from the standard alphabetical order to a supposedly random sequence which sees Magufuli’s and the CCM name appear first and main opposition candidates, Chadema and Lissu, appear last.

Dr Craig Moffat is Head of Programme: Governance Delivery and Impact at Good Governance Africa.
Monique Bennet is a senior researcher at Good Governance Africa. She has a keen interest in data science, data visualisation and statistics using the R programming language. Throughout her studies, research topics such as development, democracy and the environment within the context of developing countries have been her focus areas.
SIXOLILE NGQWALA holds a Masters of Commerce (MCom) in economics from the University of Fort Hare, where he was involved with the National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS) in econometric research (econometric modelling, data coding, data mining, data analysis and interpretation). He has a BCom Hon in economics, and an undergraduate degree in Business Management and Industrial Psychology.

Immediate Vacancy

Good Governance Africa (GGA) is an independent, non-profit African based civil society organisation established with the aim of promoting better governance in Africa and improve the lives of all citizens of the continent. GGA also seeks to build a bridge between government and the private sector in all African countries, while strengthening civil society and promoting grassroots democracy.

Currently the organisation has five Regional Offices in Johannesburg (South Africa), Accra (Ghana), Legos (Nigeria), Dakar (Senegal) and Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) that coordinate the activities in their respective regions. The Regional Office at Addis Ababa, called Good Governance Africa Eastern Africa (GGA-EA), covers GGA’s activities in Eastern Africa countries and the African Union.

GGA-EA seeks to hire qualified personnel for the following positions:

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Science isn’t enough to prevent disaster: the case of the desert locust plague in East Africa

East Africa is experiencing the worst desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) outbreak in decades. The outbreak began in early 2019 and science isn’t enough to save the livelihoods and ensure the food security of at least 39 million people who are currently at risk. Implementing existing environmental protection policies and consistent resource allocation to national and regional organisations will ultimately be the difference.

Naturally, these policies and actions should be supported by expert scientists and researchers. Desert locusts have plagued farmers in Africa and Asia since Pharaonic times and is mentioned in both the Bible and Koran. Since the United Kingdom’s establishment of the Anti-Locust Research Centre in 1945, four major international conferences have been held to formally establish a method of monitoring, controlling and preparing for future outbreaks.

Two factors have impacted the success and failure of desert locust management. First, desert locusts ignore international boundaries which means that international cooperation is crucial for successful intervention. Second, plague outbreaks are intermittent, so funding for both research and control fluctuates and needs to be more consistent. Oscillation between recession and outbreak periods can cause a lack of available funding for monitoring and control operations. Countries have become poorly equipped to cope with an upsurge because of these seasonal fluctuations.

Cooperation and coordination

The very nature of the desert locust problem calls for an approach to environmental governance that involves both state and non-state actors. Despite international organisations like the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) being a central actor in dealing with the desert locust outbreaks, states in the affected regions need to have internal policy measures implemented to ensure preparedness for predicted outbreaks. In 1962, the Convention for the Establishment of the Desert Locust Control Organization for Eastern Africa (DLCO-EA) was held to unify cooperation between the governments of Ethiopia, Somalia, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.

The DLCO-EA hoped to ensure cooperation in the control of desert locust plauges across the region. Despite having the necessary scientific understanding of how to deal with the locusts, the organisation has been unable to deal with the magnitude of the current outbreak. Lack of membership payment by Uganda, Djibouti, Somalia and Sudan, all of which owed an estimated $8 million to the organisation, is clearly a primary problem. This is nearly half of its members failing to contribute to the capacity and maintenance of the DLCO-EA. Environmental problems are inherently challenging to solve because they are embedded in complex biological systems.

Their impacts are often time-lagged so if political leaders are short-sighted, it’s unlikely that they will cooperate effectively. Effective locust control requires a well-timed coordinated response. Consider, for instance, that warning signs of a severe outbreak surfaced after the North Indian Ocean experienced its most active cyclone season ever recorded. This created ideal breeding and survival grounds across the Arabian Peninsula. Desert locusts occur in swarms due to a particular combination of weather, soil and vegetation conditions that complements its reproduction and mutation from an otherwise solitary creature into one which matures and develops into speedy swarms (gregarisation) of up to 150 million locusts⁠.

This mutation makes the desert locust one of the most destructive insect groups when met with cropland. The Desert Locust Watch agency of the FAO released frequent warning bulletins during the cyclone season and from late 2019 it was clear that breeding had gone uncontrolled in Yemen. Despite the warnings, the DLCO-EA and member states did not have sufficient supplies of pesticides, protective gear and locust control authority to allow for effective control.

Why science isn’t enough

In a recent article published in Nature, the authors demonstrate that researchers are improving their understanding of how the locusts communicate, using predictive modelling to determine outbreak locations before they happen. They consequently call for more data-driven agricultural policies. No one should disagree, but if governments aren’t prioritising this research or actively monitoring and evaluating their current strategies then the science may come too late.

In Ethiopia, for instance, there are environmental policies in place, but they lack the necessary resources, implementation and expert involvement to make a difference or show positive outcomes. Conflict and instability in Somalia have made certain areas inaccessible to control operation groups. Kenya were initially not fully prepared for the scale of the outbreak but have managed to fight back and clear the infestations. Swarm breeding in northeast Africa and Yemen is currently threatening a second wave that could migrate south into eastern Ethiopia, central Somalia and northern Kenya. The fight is not over yet.

Transnational governance on environmental issues cannot act as a substitute for strong state-based governance. Research shows that strong national environmental policies create incentives for state and non-state actors to cooperage and engage transnationally. The DLCO-EA should be complemented by member state investment into national locust control policies so that they are better able to work in synergy. The most recent Locust Watch bulletin indicates that more swarms are forming and breeding has commenced in the Red Sea near to Somalia.

Kenya is likely to be affected from mid-November but the situation seems less severe than in 2019. The Kenyan based IGAD Climate Prediction & Applications Centre (ICPAC) is using satellite technology to help monitor breeding and movement forecasts of the desert locusts. They are cooperating with environmental ministries to help inform resource allocation and control operations across the region. This kind of cooperation and coordination between science and politicians will surely make the difference in preventing future environmental disaster.

This article was first published by Daily Maverick here

Monique Bennet is a senior researcher at Good Governance Africa. She has a keen interest in data science, data visualisation and statistics using the R programming language. Throughout her studies, research topics such as development, democracy and the environment within the context of developing countries have been her focus areas.

Zimbabwe’s ban on mobile money adds to suffering of its citizens

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, which has also closed the stock exchange over forex concerns, has hit people already losing livelihood options during the Covid-19 lockdown hard

A man shows a wad of the new Zimbabwean ten-dollar notes received from an ATM outside a bank in Harare on May 20, 2020. The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe introduced this higher denomination bank note into circulation together with the Zimbabwean two-dollar and Zimbabwean five-dollar notes to ease perennial shortages of cash experienced in the country. Photo JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP

The Zimbabwean government has, for a prolonged period, been engaged in a losing battle to stem illegal foreign exchange market activities. As has been the fashion, the regime has blamed runaway inflation and spiraling price increases on nefarious activities by “market saboteurs”.

Among these innumerable efforts, in the first week of June, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) threatened to embark on an unusual exercise. It sought to pursue illegal foreign currency dealers via the surveillance of WhatsApp groups through its financial intelligence unit, in collaboration with the police, banks, mobile-money service providers and relevant regulatory agencies. It threatened to bar and freeze suspects’ mobile numbers and accounts. This proved impossible.

On June 23, the RBZ then introduced a foreign exchange auction system (FEAS), which resulted in a move from a fixed exchange rate on the interbank market, which had, since March, been pegged at one US dollar to 25 Zimbabwe dollars (ZWL). After the introduction of the FEAS, the US dollar is now officially trading at 57 ZWL, against a black-market rate of between 80 and 100 ZWL.

On June 26, three days after the introduction of the FEAS, the permanent secretary in the ministry of information and publicity, Nick Mangwana, announced a ban, with immediate effect, on all mobile-money transactions (MMTs) and trading on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE). These drastic measures were described as making way for “intrusive investigations” into illegal dealings linked to the foreign currency black market, in which EcoCash is cited as the “centre pivot”.

In terms of market share, EcoCash, a subsidiary of Econet, accounts for about 97% of Zimbabwe’s mobile-money services. In addressing a crucial gap in Zimbabwe’s cash crisis, MMT services have, nonetheless, made the country’s economy vulnerable to a multiplicity of illicit foreign currency activities.

That said, the RBZ must not lose sight of its contributory role to this crisis through its (mis)management of the nation’s banking system that led to the liquidity crisis in the first place. This birthed and nurtured the mobile-money system that has since spiraled off its radar and, hence, out of its control.

Like any other stock exchange, the ZSE serves as a critical link for investors in the country. The loudest, yet most unfortunate, message from the temporary ban on its trading is that Zimbabwe is not only closed for business but also has no regard for investors’ property rights. Indeed, typical of the proverbial “burning down the house to kill a rat” or “throwing the baby out with the bath water”, this drastic measure is not good for investor confidence.

Further to this looming ZSE national catastrophe, the repercussions of which are yet to fully play out, is the plight of citizens already burdened by a loss of livelihood options during this indefinitely extended Covid-19 lockdown, that is most concerning. After the shock announcement of a blanket suspension of mobile-money services, the RBZ emerged, seemingly to avert a crisis, and reviewed the ban. This reviewed statement indicated that the ban is on MMT agents and merchant mobile-money account holders, while individual transactions up to a maximum of 5,000 ZWL are permitted.

Despite this reversal of the blanket ban and the assurance given by RBZ, Mangwana’s utterance has led to anxiety and a loss of confidence, with some street vendors and supermarkets already declining mobile-money payments.

For citizens battling a worsening economic crisis under the lockdown, this unfortunate development further impoverishes people, most of whom are Econet subscribers, who constitute an unbanked population that has found relief in transacting through mobile-money services.

For the few that are banked, the protracted liquidity crisis has seen citizens brave endless days and nights in long, winding queues in an effort to secure limited withdrawals each week. It is not unusual to leave the bank empty-handed even after dedicating oneself to these queues.

Apart from the often prohibitive costs associated with opening and maintaining a bank account, MMTs have offered a lifeline amid Zimbabwe’s protracted liquidity crisis. The Covid-19 context has also increased the demand for mobile-money services. This is because in light of the increasing levels of police abuse and brutality, they are a safer option in the current context in which citizen mobility, even for access to essential services, is restricted.

MMT services have also fulfilled transacting needs within an already failing banking sector, which, due to Covid-19 social-distancing regulations, has been operating below capacity. The digitalised transacting on mobile-money platforms offered by EcoCash, OneMoney, MyCash and Telecash have come to the rescue of consumers.

Last Friday’s announcement is evidence of a huge climbdown by the RBZ. Mangwana retweeted the climbdown with no hint of irony. This announcement has the potential to decimate what is left of Zimbabwe’s meagre economy and points to a governance system that has failed to subordinate itself to the rule of law.

The government should manage its communications system and segment information outflows so that announcements are delivered by the appropriate authorities, in this case the RBZ and the US Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). Since this is not the first example of such a case in Zimbabwe, until such time as public officials are brought to publicly account for their utterances, with consequences, not much reform can be expected in this regard.

As observed by telecommunications expert Dennis Magaya, the government’s failure to contain illegal foreign currency activities confirms a “widening gap” between a fast-changing digital world and Zimbabwe’s current monetary policy framework. This should be subject to regular review, in line with prevailing digital advances, to ensure that while monetary operations are not beyond its purview, they remain investor- and citizen-friendly.

A long-term solution to Zimbabwe’s liquidity crisis, which inevitably fuels the illegal foreign currency exchange market, must be found. Beyond the concerns of manipulation and illegality and hyperinflation as a result of money supply mismanagement, the latest crackdown compounds already immeasurable suffering for the majority of Zimbabwe’s citizens.

This article first appeared on Business Day here

Sikhululekile Mashingaidze currently serves as Senior Researcher in the Human Security and Climate Change (HSCC) project at Good Governance Africa. Being engaged as a part-time enumerator for Mass Public Opinion Institute’s diversity of research projects during her undergraduate years ushered her into and nurtured her passion for the governance field. She has worked with Habakkuk Trust, Centre for Conflict Resolution(CCR-Kenya), Mercy Corps Zimbabwe and Action Aid International Zimbabwe, respectively. This has, over the years, enriched her grassroots and national level governance projects’ implementation and management experience. Her academic research interests are in the field of genocide studies with a commitment to deepen her understanding of girls and women’s experiences, their agency in reconstituting everyday life and their inclusion in peace-building and transitional justice processes. Socially she has a keen commitment in supporting girls education, women’s economic empowerment and the fulfilment of their equitable and sustainable development in Africa’s underserved, often hard to reach communities. She enjoys writing and telling the stories of navigating everyday life.

Fulani and Jihad in West Africa: a complex relationship

With Islamist extremism on the rise in several regions of West Africa, Fulani communities are purported to be front and center. In Mali, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso, Fulani groups have been accused of waging jihad, supporting terrorists, and committing genocide of Christians. Security forces attempting to root out terrorists have reportedly targeted Fulani communities based on their perceived support for jihadists.

Fulani are associated with modern Islamist movements in part because they are perceived to have strong historical ties to jihad. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, several prominent Fulani individuals and groups waged jihadist revolutions across West Africa, including in Guinea, Mali, and Nigeria. These revolutions shaped the region and continue to exert strong historical and cultural influence today.

In Mali, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso, Fulani groups have been accused of waging jihad, supporting terrorists, and committing genocide of Christians.

In the chapter I contributed to Extremisms in Africa Vol 3, I attempted to set the record straight regarding perceived links between Fulani and jihad in West Africa. By exploring case studies from both the 18th and 19th centuries and from modern day movements, it aimed to identify the role that Fulani individuals and groups have played and continue to play in jihadist movements in West Africa. Ultimately, I wanted to explore the strength of the foundation on which perceived equivalencies between Fulani and jihad are based.

Starting with a historical review, I discovered that Fulani individuals and groups were instrumental players in most of the successful jihadist movements in West Africa in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. With Fulani elites triggering the jihadist revolutions that brought about the Fuuta Djallon Imamate, the Sokoto Caliphate, and the Macina Empire, jihad in the region had become fully associated with the Fulani by the end of the 18th century.

However, a closer look revealed that jihadist leaders catered to an ethnically diverse group of supporters, and that narratives at this time were often based on a broader ideology rather than ethnic affiliation and loyalty. As a result, many of the fighters in these movements were not Fulani. Additionally, there are examples of jihadist leaders antagonizing and attacking Fulani communities that disagreed with them, and there are several incidents of Fulani communities and subclans refusing to participate in the jihads – for example, Mbororo groups.

Starting with a historical review, I discovered that Fulani individuals and groups were instrumental players in most of the successful jihadist movements in West Africa in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Moreover, modern jihadist movements in these regions differ from their historical counterparts in several important ways. Contemporary movements advocate for a strict and literal Salafi interpretation of Islam, while historic movements were waged under the more inclusive Sufi tradition practiced by the majority of Fulani Muslims. Twenty-first century jihadist leaders also demonstrate more ethnic diversity than their 18th and 19th century counterparts, with group leaders coming from Arab-Berber, Tuareg, and Kanuri ethnic groups in addition to Fulani. Contemporary jihadist campaigns also cater more to lower- and working-class individuals, while historic jihadist movements were predominantly waged by elite groups and clans.

Some analysis of modern jihadist movements in West Africa points to outsized Fulani participation. Fulani are reported to be disproportionately represented amongst some jihadist groups in the central Sahel, and there is evidence of both Islamic State and Al Qaeda affiliated armed groups specifically targeting Fulani communities to recruit fighters.

Yet other evidence challenges this picture. Analysts note that jihadist groups in West Africa today lack popular support, even in Fulani-majority areas, and that they represent only a “tiny fraction” of the population. Contemporary jihadist groups often cater to non-Fulani populations and have even attacked and preyed upon Fulani communities. In addition, there are several areas of the region where Fulani are a prominent minority that have not experienced jihadist movements or violent extremism. For example, Guinea, the country with the largest Fulani minority in West Africa, is not affected by jihadism and Fulani groups there are not and have not been particularly involved in violent conflicts.

There is evidence of both Islamic State and Al Qaeda affiliated armed groups specifically targeting Fulani communities to recruit fighters.

The aim of my chapter was to set the record straight regarding alleged links between Fulani and jihad, but as it turns out, the record is not straight at all. Allegations of robust links between Fulani groups and jihadist movements are difficult to substantiate due to the dynamic, complex nature of the regional context. The social, economic and geographic diversity within Fulani groups, the ethnic diversity among contemporary jihadist leaders in the region, and the predominantly socio-economic drivers of jihad in West Africa (both in the past and in the present) all complicate attempts to draw direct links between Fulani communities and modern jihadist movements. In this context, the value that highlighting such links can bring to efforts to fight terrorism in the region is extremely limited.

Conversely, the risk that such narratives will yield false equivalencies between Fulani communities and jihadist movements presents significant threats to efforts to combat the spread of Islamist extremism in West Africa. False equivalencies between Fulani and jihad, which are already common, have fueled and will continue to fuel actions against innocent civilians based on ethnic identity, which in turn breeds resentment and grievance on which jihadists can draw in their attempts to recruit new fighters for their causes. The deliberate ethnic targeting of Fulani by security and counterterrorism forces, which is taking place across the region, will breed resentment and grievance among Fulani communities, including among those who originally stood opposed to jihad.

The aim of my chapter was to set the record straight regarding alleged links between Fulani and jihad, but as it turns out, the record is not straight at all.

The relationship between Fulani groups and jihadist movements in West Africa is, and has always been, extremely complex. Narratives implying a simple relationship are harmful, both to efforts to combat the spread of violent extremism, and to broader policies and programmes aimed at stabilising and developing the region. Scholars, policymakers and practitioners interested in reducing violence in the region should avoid ethnic narratives and focus instead on understanding and addressing the political and economic drivers of the phenomenon.


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MADELINE VELLTURO is a research analyst with Stimson’s Protecting Civilians in Conflict programme. Her portfolio includes United Nations peacekeeping and multilateral institutions, as well as African geopolitics, with a focus on the Sahel region and an emphasis on pastoralism and herder-farmer conflict. She received a Master’s of Public Administration from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, focusing on international security policy and conflict resolution. Madeline lived for several years in Accra, where she founded a series of creative writing workshops for at-risk urban youth. She has also lived and worked in Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire and Uganda with local non-profit organisations in the fields of peacebuilding, literacy, entrepreneurship and public health. Madeline holds a Bachelor’s from Bryn Mawr College.