ISIS Threatens South Africa: A New Front?

Previous Grey Dynamics articles explored the intensifying insurgency in Mozambique and the Tanzanian link, analysing a potential ‘hijacking’ of a local conflict by ISIS, indicating the terror groups broader strategy in Africa. On July 3rd, the groups publication platform (Al-Naba), for the first time not only warned Western countries that investments in the LNG projects (See below) were at risk but threatened to open a new fighting front within South Africa. 

  • A local industry expert in an interview with Grey Dynamics advised 25-35% of Afghan heroin flows through Mozambique. The insurgency is almost certainly alarmed by the prospect of international intervention. This will highly likely damage their established ease of doing business. 
  • The hijacked ISIS insurgency is now directly threatening South Africa over a potential South African Development Community (SADC) military intervention in Mozambique to address the growing power of the insurgency. 
  • An additional Grey Dynamics interview with Liesl Louw-Vaudran, senior Institute for Security Studies Africa analyst, highlighted multiple influences including the ‘Tanzanian connection’. Until high unemployment and marginalisation is addressed, the conditions for a sustained insurgency are likely to continue.  
  • The insurgents highly likely have the capability of materialising the threat of successful attacks on LNG projects. This propaganda also highlights local grievances and poor governance, likely indicating a stronger strategic ambition in the region.

With a media blackout and journalists deemed ‘persona non grata’ in the region, Grey Dynamics utilises both open source and human intelligence to analyse the situation. 

Mozambique's Gas Reserves

ISIS: The Culprits

Since October 2017, 472 organized violent events occurred in Cabo Delgado, with at least 1,000 dead and 200,000 people displaced. Compared to last year, there has been a 300% increase in attacks, focused on the Cabo Delgado region. These intend to destabilize the government and international investment, stimulating ideal conditions for a sustained insurgency.

Some exiled Islamic who hate preachers from Tanzania have given birth to Al Sunna wa Jummah (ASWJ). Local warnings to officials over a growing threat were largely not addressed, with rumours of Islamic State (IS) involvement. In 2020, we witness IS flags hand in hand with sophisticated attacks on civilians, government assets, and private military contractors.

The hijacking of a home-grown insurgency indicates the growing ambition of IS in Africa, following defeat in Iraq and Syria. Resurgence and partnership are evident within insurgencies in Mozambique. These take the form of Islamic State Central Africa Province and IS-affiliated Islamic State in Greater Sahara. 

ISIS’s Lucrative Business

The flow of illicit trafficking networks through Mozambique is a lifeline for the insurgency. This makes the insurgency not only sustainable but profitable. This is highly likely a motivating factor for IS involvement, an investment the terror group will fiercely protect. A local industry expert in an interview with Grey Dynamics, advised 25-35% of Afghan heroin flows through the region.

This not only stimulates the homegrown Jihad but reverberates in supporting the Taliban’s organized crime elements. Alluvial gold reserves, illegal ruby mining, human trafficking, wildlife trafficking, as well as large-scale illegal timber trafficking. These all are lucrative revenue flowing through Mozambique’s largely unregulated shoreline and borders. The threat of international involvement in the form of South Africa and stabilizing security promoted by foreign investments in the LNG projects are a critical threat to the insurgency and its finance operations, evident by the first IS publication directly against the two. 

Illicit trade routes in South East Africa. ISIS Threatens South Africa: A New Front?

The Tanzanian Connection

52 ASJW members arrested in 2018 were Tanzanian, with 120 arrests of Tanzanian nationals partnered with Interpol anti-terror operations. 2016 witnessed Islamic State’s East Africa branch posting a video of fighters in the Tanga border in the Mtwara district. The Mtwara border region is a highly likely cross-border operating point along the Ruvuma Ravine. This gateway has even facilitated the exporting of Al-Shabaab recruits to Somalia. Islamic hate preachers such as Ponda Issa Ponda had to flee Mombasa to settle in Tanzania.

Predicted LNG Statistics for Tanzania & Mozambique

Following a similar state crackdown in 2015, many then found sanctuary in Cabo Delgado, along with the ‘new’ Tanzanian members. This not only supports the Tanzanian connection assessment but highlights a cross border insurgency that risks a spillover. A worrying reality is Tanzania’s own LNG project, located just 107km from Mtwara. The region has similar ethnic, linguistic, and religious similarities with Northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado. These all along with almost identical local grievances and now shared unrest against the LNG projects.

ASWJ's Area of Operations

New War Front?

The ramping up of the insurgency has already witnessed the intervention of the Russian Wagner Group and South African Dyck Advisory Group PMCs. A largely ineffective approach. SADC publicly committed to supporting Mozambique against the insurgency, yet it is still unclear how this support will be provided. The insurgents, by recapturing the coastal town of Mocimboa da Praia in June, and a series of amphibious and landward attacks displayed the group’s heightened capacity.

A capacity which it now threatens to use against South Africa in a new front within its borders. While it is unlikely that a new fighting front would go beyond terror attacks, this is somewhat inevitable as IS extends its strategic hold in the region. Threatening the foreign investment of Western companies such as French gas giant Total, the group has a realistic probability of shifting tactics to target LNG assets and operations to destabilise the region further in the next 0-6 months.

South Africa has a time-sensitive opportunity to stimulate a SADC response, which will require not only military intervention in Cabo Delgado but a regional development initiative to undermine the ideal conditions for terrorism. While South Africa and SADC member states delay in responding, the insurgents continue to consolidate power, which will likely spill out into neighbouring countries if left unopposed. 

This article was first published in may 2020


Umkhonto we Sizwe: The Armed Struggle of ANC in South Africa

Umkhonto we Sizwe

Spear of the Nation

Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) was created on the 16th of December 1961, as the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC).  In the light of the African nationalism and the anti-apartheid movement, Nelson Mandela founded the MK with a mission to fight South Africa’s (SA) Apartheid government. There were a series of events that shaped the ANC’s concept of creating an armed struggle. Although the meaning of the group is “Spear of the Nation,” the ANC approach in fighting against the government initially was non-violent and peaceful.

The ANC, along with the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the members of the Congress Alliance, the South African Indian Congress, the Congress of the Democrats, and the Coloured People’s Congress aimed to the recognition of black people’s rights by the SA government. However, the fact that in the 1950s and early 1960s the government implemented laws and restrictive measures showcasing further isolation of the black people, made the ANC, SACP and the Congress Alliance to review its approach and tactics for freedom and equality. 

What Led to the Formation of ANC’s Armed Wing?

Creating an armed struggle was not an easy decision for ANC, especially when its president of the time, Chief Albert Luthuli, had embraced the non-violence stance. Additionally, when the ANC took the decision to create the Umkhonto we Sizwe as its armed wing, the party was banned under the “Unlawful Organisation Bill of 1960, meaning that by launching the group it would also jeopardize the Congress Alliance. Despite the two successful ANC campaigns, the 1952 Defiance Campaign and the Western Areas campaign, the party counted a series of direct campaigns which failed to achieve substantial political change in the context of moderation and non-violence.

That said, as soon as it was clear that the passive resistance had no results, the idea of MK as an armed struggle started to take full shape. The taking-up-of-arms decision was triggered by the Sharpeville Massacre and the Langa March. On the 21st of March 1960, the government used violence to stop the peaceful Pan African Congress (PAC) demonstration in Sharpeville, killing 69 people and injuring 186 others. On the 30th of March 1960, 3 people were killed and 27 injured during fights with the police under the anti-pass campaign in Langa, Cape Town.

In June of 1961, Mandela proposed “turning to violence” to the ANC National Executive, to the Congress Alliance Joint Executives, and its formal allies, indicating the formation of an armed struggle. Not all of his counterparts or senior members agree with the proposal, including Luthuli, however, they finally agreed that Mandela would form an independent group to conduct sabotage, and actions of violence against the government, while the ANC and the Alliance member organisations would continue to continue the non-violence stance.

Training & Military Training

Umkhonto we Sizwe was founded after consultations by SACP members with the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, Mao Zedong. In October 1961, SACP members visited Beijing to meet with Chairman Mao before setting up a training camp. Mao suggested that MK do not “blindly follow the Red Army tactics,” but choose the approach of Front de liberation Nationale (FLN) in Algeria. The group received training assistance by China, the USSR, East Germany, Marxist African states, and Cuba. Within 6 months from its formation, the group had almost 250 members from both the ANC and the SACP. Given that MK was formed under harsh conditions, the only common knowledge that its members had was the strong will to fight against the Apartheid regime. The camps often lacked food, clothing, and health facilities. In this context, there were commissariats in each camp, responsible for the soldiers’ general education and well-being. General education and training included a wide range of areas from agriculture and literacy classes, to nursery and advanced motor mechanics.

Military training courses and lectures aimed to advance the skills of the troops and made them capable of conducting and operating the tasks of “the liberation struggle.” Military subjects included physical training, military tactics and engineering, firearms, anti-air weaponry, even lectures on political science and the art of warfare. The duration of the training depended on the mission for which the units was being prepared and could run from 3 weeks to 3,6, or 9 months.

The Role of USSR in the Liberation Struggle

Following the Sharpeville Massacre and the ANC and PAC banning, the USSR enhanced its formal ties with SA contributing to the liberation struggle against the apartheid regime. In July 1960, Vella Pillay, a founder member of the anti-apartheid movement, and Yusuf Mohamed Dadoo, a key player of the movement, went to Moscow to discuss with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) about the situation in SA. They agreed on a $30,000 USSR donation to the SACP for the people affected by the Sharpeville Massacre.

In December 1962, Pillay and Arthur Goldreich from SACP visited Moscow to discuss the training of MK cadres on African soil (Operation Mayibuye). By 1963, a camp was built in Tanzania offering USSR training to MK soldiers. The USSR took on the group’s training needs especially in “specialised areas” even earlier than 1962. In 1986, a group of MK soldiers was sent to the former Soviet Union to get “extensive training in conventional warfare.” Being the only willing country to offer military training at the time, the USSR provided its services to Umkhonto we Sizwe offering training that could last from 2 to 4 years.

The Liberation Struggle and the Catalytic Contribution to Angola

The “first phase” of the sabotage campaign took place on the 16th of December 1961 and it was the first Umkhonto we Sizwe violent actions against the SA government. The group used home-made bombs to attack government installations, and other symbols of the apartheid regime such as police stations and post offices in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, and Durban. The attacks were not lethal, as the targets were empty at the time.

The Umkhonto we Sizwe High Command strictly advised its soldiers to avoid all loss of life, since its main goal was to cause a psychological effect in the white population and make the government change its policies “before matters reach the desperate state of civil war.” In May of 1962, Oliver Tambo and Robert Resha who were ANC representatives abroad co-authored a memorandum explaining to the government of Ghana that these attacks were just “the first phase of a comprehensive plan for the waging guerrilla operations.”

Indeed, between 1969-1979 MK moved from sabotage to guerrilla warfare fighting against the pro-apartheid state, always aiming to avoid the loss of civilian lives. The approach included guerrilla operations in both urban and rural areas of SA including economic infrastructure such as railways, and communications networks, military and paramilitary police forces, and again government installations. Guerrilla warfare ran for almost a decade, however, it ended after the -secretly negotiated – peace agreement between MK and AP government intelligence.

On the 16th of June 1976, started a series of demonstrations by Black South African school students in Soweto. The security forces responded with massacres and atrocities enhanced, even more, the MK’s will to fight the state enemy and defend the people. The Soweto uprising gave a strong boost to MK and the opportunity to both the ANC and the PAC to recruit and train these young men and women who were afraid to be captured by the security forces. The youths were trained in MK camps in Eastern Europe and then they were missioned to go back to SA and begin operations against the apartheid system.

There was a significant increase and escalation of armed actions in 1976-1979 with almost 37 of them taking place in June 1976 – December 1978. The MK sabotaged bombed the Bantu Administration offices upgrading the group’s approach from the phase of the sabotage campaign to the first phase of guerrilla war. The guerrilla warfare run from 1979 to 1990 aiming to weaken the socio-political, economic, and military power of the SA government through a series of political and military actions. One of the Central Operational MKheadquarters was established by Joe Modise and Joe Slovo. Apart from police stations, the MK units started to attack oil refineries, the Koeberg nuclear plant, and also, military personnel following the security forces attacks on SA civilians.

During the 1980s, the MK conducted a series of bombings such as the Church Street bombing in 1983, the Amanzimtoti bombing on the Natal South Coast in 1985, the bombing in a bar at Durban beach-front in 1986 and the Johannesburg court bombing in 1987. In 1988 the armed group conducted a bomb attack, killing three people outside a magistrate court, and a car bomb at the Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg killing 37 civilians.

In the mid and late 1980s, MK played a significant role in the success of the African revolution in Angola. The Angolan government at the time was attacked by the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), the South African Defence Force (SADF), and the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in a conflict running between the 1970s and early 1980s. During this period the armed wing of the ANC contributed to the revolution offering personnel, material, and equipment while fighting in various battles in the region.

MK used guerrilla warfare and effectively cooperated with the Angolan population in the towns and cities that its cadres operated. The group achieved to defend the route from the now Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Zaire) to Luanda despite the heavy presence of the UNITA-SADF-CIA forces in the capital, significantly contributing to the overall success of the African revolution in Angola.


Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the ANC began as a small armed group with no significant military power, resources or personnel. The only strong asset the group had, was its strong will to fight against the system of the apartheid regime which was established and represented by the SA government. Right after one year from its formation, MK conducted its major sabotage campaign and then moved its approach to guerrilla warfare and bombings always aiming to limit the loss of all civilian lives. The group continued to fight the security forces and the SA government as the armed struggle of ANC until 1994 when it became a part of the African National Defence Force.  

Image: Tito Mboweni / Twitter (link)


South Africa Elections: A country at the crossroads?

South Africa Elections

South Africa is on the heels of its general elections that will mark 25 years since the end of apartheid. The country rose from five decades of white minority rule under a repulsive system of racial segregation. The first open elections in 1994 were the first in which black South Africans participated, who at the time represented no less than 77% of the country’s population. The African National Congress (ANC) won and its renowned leader, Nobel peace laureate Nelson Mandela, became president. The ANC won 63% of the vote that year and subsequently won the majority of the vote in 1999, 2004, 2009, and 2014. However, the party and the country continues to be marred by corruption scandals, a dreadful economy, failing public services, high levels of unemployment, and rising violent crime.

  • South Africa has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Crime levels reached their lowest levels in 2012 at 30.2% but have since increased, according to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

  • The country has the highest income inequality in the world and an unemployment rateatnearly 25%.

  • 53% of the country is defined as poor, the majority are black, living in rural areas or informal urban settlements.

  • South Africa is the most industrialized country on the continent, but ranked 73rd in Transparency International’s global measure of perceived corruption in 2018 – sliding from 38 in 2001
South Africa Elections

A referendum on the ANC

On May 8, 48 parties will be participating in South Africa’s elections. This is down from the initial number of 285 parties that had registered. The leading competition to the ANC is the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, and the Economic Freedom Fighters. Opinion polls indicate that the ANC will likely remain in power and the composition of parliament will not change. Nevertheless, senior officials at the ANC claim the election will be a “referendum” on saving the country.

The capture of the State

President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa took office in 2017 after a bitterly contested internal power struggle following the resignation of Jacob Zuma. Zuma resigned over allegations of widespread corruption during his presidency from 2009 until 2018. Zuma is fighting corruption charges related to a $2.2 billion arms deal in the 1990s. Ramaphosa set up a special investigating unit to address the issues of corruption. “We need to root out corruption from the face of South Africa,” Ramaphosa told a campaign event in Johannesburg. However, since he took office, no senior government official has been convicted for corruption. His lack of action rooting out corruption is not the only issue frustrating South Africans. Power outages plagued by an energy crisis and an economy that has not grown more than 2 percent annually since 2013, also have the voters shaking their heads.

South Africa Elections

Fueling the fire

Another mark on the record of the ANC over the years has been the rise of violent xenophobic attacks. Approximately 70% of foreigners in South Africa come from neighbouring Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Lesotho. The remaining 30% arrive from Malawi, UK, Namibia, Eswatini, India and other countries. A spokesperson for South Africa’s national statistics body told the BBC that there are an estimated 3.6 million migrants in the country, out of an overall population of over 50 million.

An ISS study said unsubstantiated public declarations made by senior government officials on undocumented migrants tend to “promote xenophobic attitudes and may provoke violence against foreign nationals”. During this and previous South Africa’s election campaigns, this ugly scapegoat politics has been a common theme of candidates.

On March 27, it boiled over and resulted in violent attacks against Malawian migrants in Durban. At least three people died after an angry crowd attacked foreign-owned shops and homes. Durban Mayor Zandile Gumede pleaded with leaders of all political parties to cease statements that could inflame xenophobia while on the campaign trail. These sorts of outbreaks are not new. Violence in Durban in 2015 displaced thousands of foreign nationals and attacks in 2008 on foreigners resulted in more than 60 people dead across the country. According to Human Rights Watch, South Africa’s lack of accountability for xenophobic crimes only fuels the fire.


South Africa Elections

Turning a blind eye

Rightly so, opposition leaders have focused on corruption and made it the centre of their campaigns. However, opinion polls show the ANC is still backed by a majority of voters, although support is deteriorating. It is also possible that many frustrated South Africans may choose to protest than vote on 8 May, but South Africa’s elections have historically been peaceful since 1994. The electorate should demand the same from their elected public officials and condemn or not respond to the violent xenophobic rhetoric. These are only attempting to leave them off the hook for not implementing substantive and much overdue reforms.

Image: Chic African Culture (link)


Narco links between South America and Africa

Narco links

Why does this matter?

Criminal organisations and ‘Cartels’ dedicated to drug trafficking in South America enjoy significant narco links across Africa apart from traditional markets like the United States. An informal business model has been established between South American Transnational Criminal Organisations (TCO) and recipients in Africa. This increases the frequency of drug trafficking to Europe and the U.S. as well as the long-term presence of narcotics within communities in Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau, Mali or Mozambique.

  • A decentralised drug-trafficking network has highly likely been established between different criminal actors across Africa. The provision of narcotics from South America, particularly Brazil, and the broad horizontal nature of the network provides TCO’s with business-trafficking opportunities with little governmental resistance.
  • Investment by criminal actors and an increase in local markets likely incentivise TCO’s like the Primer Comando Capital (PCC) to increase the flow of Narcotics through the African continent. Creating a self-sustaining model of trafficking will likely continue to make any humanitarian and law enforcement effort short-termed.
  • Extremist-related conflict in northern Mozambique and southern Tanzania highly likely creates an opportunity for TCO’s to partner with new actors. PCC-related networks in Mozambique and South Africa have a likely opportunity of expansion and increasing revenues.

Relevance & Importance

In March of this year, ‘Fuminho’, an alleged partner of the heads of the PCC was arrested in Mozambique, along with two Nigerian partners. In Nigeria a man was arrested on the 20th of November after travelling from Sao Paulo with cocaine hidden in a suitcase, ultimately heading to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Established narco links between South American and Nigerian associates have shown the capability to exploit environments, conflicts or corruption to their advantage.

Jihadist groups in the Sahel like AQIM or in East Africa profit from drug trafficking, turning the link between TCO’s into an informal provider of narcotics for trafficking purposes. The presence of Italian mafias along the Gulf of Guinea to obtain drugs from South America is an indicator of the attractiveness which corruption has over any other factor within the criminal market ‘industry’.

Profile of the Relationship

The nature of the trafficking narco links has evolved and developed over the years. Initially a transit point, countries like Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde provided launch pads to European drug markets. An increase in customers and trafficking actors in Africa in the last 10 years has expanded the attraction of TCO’s like the PCC or FARC rebels in Africa as a key player in the drug-trafficking industry rather than an asset.

Similar to Mexican-Colombian relations in drug trafficking, South American TCO’s have couriers or delegates in African countries establishing a decentralised smuggling and trafficking network. Similarly, members of African TCO’s like Nigerian organised crime groups have a presence in significant ports and cities in South America. For example, an arrested cocaine courier in Nigeria originated in Sao Paulo where alleged Nigerian members participating in organised crime provided the narcotics. Although only an example of the relationship, highly de-centralised organisations and informal networks are pursued by both actors to deter any law enforcement efforts and in turn increase local recruitment in ideal communities for drug trafficking.

The Ideal Environment

Terrorist Actors

It has been reported that both AQIM and ISGS provide protection and partly narco links for TCOs across the Sahel and Sahara desert. Nigerian TCOs based in the Gulf of Guinea enjoy a geographical advantage that allows them to profit from regional conflicts, incentivising an increase in the flow of trafficking. The arrest of Fuminho, although in Mozambique, allegedly involved the trafficking of weapons as well as drugs, highlighting the likelihood of the PCC and other criminal organisations like FARC indirectly providing resources to armed actors.

The conflict in Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique has likely been supported in a direct or indirect manner by the PCC and Nigerian TCO’s. Evidence of weapons being trafficked in other countries apart from Mozambique and South Africa demonstrate the capability of TCO relationships to adapt to environments and generate profits outside of traditional drug-trafficking networks.

Corruption as a Player

The government of Guinea-Bissau, as previously reported on Grey Dynamics, has become an independent actor in the drug trafficking business. Political divisions following an election that lacks legitimacy as seen by a majority of the country are the latest of events to impede an effective counter-trafficking strategy. The country has been used by both FARC and the PCC to transport large amounts of narcotics into Africa, some allegedly for AQIM but others for distribution by members of the Government. On the 15th of September, the head of migration services of Guinea-Bissau was arrested for links with drug trafficking, while in 2013 the head of the Navy was arrested in a DEA sting operation and later released on ‘good behaviour’.

The PCC-Nigerian ‘cartel’ link is the major South American actor in Africa at the moment but not the sole actor. A Colombian-Guinean drug ring was brought down in September 2019 along with arrested members from Mexico and Mali. The links between the Guinean member and the political environment of Guinea highlights the preference of criminal actors, not just TCO’s, for using Guinea-Bissau and corruption-riddled governments to enter the African drug-trafficking market.

Recruitment & Social Impact

The flat structure of the trafficking bodies likely pushes TCO’s like the PCC to act with multiple criminal actors. The spread of the network from Guinea to South Africa pushes the ‘cartel’ to engage with private-like contractors in the criminal enterprise which provide smuggling and trafficking services in limited regions. Nigerian TCO’s likely control or influence a large part of the illicit market. Still, drug-rings involving multiple nationalities and members are likely an example of other criminal organisations in Africa which have the capability to collaborate with South American cartels in importing drugs, primarily cocaine.

The localised nature and structure of the relationship between South American cartels and African counterparts will likely motivate youth recruitment due to the low attraction and cooperation it generates within rural communities. Similar to strategies observed in Mexico or Brazil, trafficking will likely create alienated communities and increase social confrontations.


The role of Africa in drug trafficking has expanded from primarily transit points to regional and international hubs. The proliferation of armed conflicts has attracted players and investors to obtain a profit from the narcotics business. High levels of corruption in countries like Guinea-Bissau or Nigeria incentivise the increase in relationships between South American criminal organisations and criminal actors in Africa dedicated to drug trafficking.

Image: United Nations (link)


The Rise of Chinese Military Contractors in Africa

Chinese military contractors

This Grey Dynamics African intelligence article analyses the rise of Chinese military contractors in Africa, providing a context for their utilisation and analysing their activities.

Key Findings

  • With over 200,000 Chinese workers, 10,000 Chinese companies, and the rollout of Belt and Road Initiative projects in Africa, security concerns exist.
  • Enter the Chinese military contractors in Africa. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) integrated Chinese Private Military and Security Companies (C-PMSCs) to protect Chinese state interests abroad.
  • Private Chinese security groups were actively involved in the 2012 rescue of 29 kidnapped workers in Sudan. The Dewe Security Group were active in training security forces in Kenya and secured a contract to protect a Chinese LNG facility in Ethiopia.
  • It is highly likely that the use of such companies in Africa will increase. Under Chinese law, bearing arms for the contractors (with exceptions) is illegal, removing the capability for lethal violence. There is a real possibility this may change as operations expand into increasingly insecure zones.

While American military contractors such as Blackwater, and Russian Wagner Group activities receive significant research, Chinese military contractors enjoy less ‘limelight’. Shandong Huawei Security Group, Hua Xin Zhong An Security Service, Beijing Security Service, DeWe Security Service, and Ding Tai An Yuan Security are some of the many active Chinese military contractors.

The Need to go Private

The soft power approach Beijing has adopted in Africa benefits from a soft military presence. Although China created its first overseas military base in Djibouti in 2017, this is highly unlikely to be a prelude for mass military expansion in Africa. However, with mass economic and political expansion in Africa, including the Belt and Road infrastructure project, protection is highly desired.

The desire is matched by significant spending power. Chinese state-owned companies in 2017 alone generated $51 billion in revenue from Belt and Road projects. While in 2020, China oversaw more construction projects than the combined projects of France, Italy, and the United States.

This is largely due to China’s willingness to invest in high-risk regions, supported by the statistic that 84% of the Belt and Road investments are in medium- to high-risk countries. The local operating environment requires Chinese military contractors in Africa, providing flexibility and with a blend of state and commercial-orientated security.

Activities & Capabilities

A key difference in Chinese military contractors in Africa compared to other key players in the alleged unarmed element. This translates to an emphasis on advising and working closely with local security and military forces. This has not only witnessed the supply of advanced military hardware for local forces but also intelligence collection and analysis on threats. A loophole exists for carrying weapons.

Consulting and equipping provide grounds to carry weapons, however, this loophole is used by Russian PMCs who actively engage in African security operations which a previous Grey Dynamics article covered. It is not yet clear if Chinese military contractors have or will adopt similar characteristics. As these companies expand into the Iraq and Afghanistan security markets, there is a realistic probability that the mandate will adapt to meet security requirements in a highly volatile environment.

There are other exemptions in armed maritime escorts in African waters, provided by the Hua Xin Zhong An Security Service. The DeWe Security Service Group is highly active, operating in DRC, Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, Djibouti, and Ethiopia. The group has trained 70,000 Chinese contractors and completed 3,000 training contracts for local African partners. The $4 billion LNG project in Ethiopia is of key importance to Chinese commerce, requiring the group to secure the site.

DeWe also trained local security forces in Kenya, under a contract to protect the $3.8 billion Standard Guage Railway in Kenya. This railway is of significant importance to the Belt and Road initiative infrastructure. Chinese military contractors are also highly active in the mining industry. In June 2020, Zimbabwe, a Chinese manager working in a mine in Gweru was charged for allegedly shooting two locals. This was cited as an isolated incident but may indicate a nefarious element.


The operations of Chinese military contractors in Africa fall under China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) role in Africa, addressed in Chapter 2 of China’s Military Strategy (2015) White Paper:

  • Participate in regional and international security cooperation and maintain regional and world peace;
  • Safeguard the security of China’s overseas interests.
  • Safeguard China’s security and interests in new domains;

It is beyond a reasonable doubt that most of the Chinese military contractors, if not all, operating in Africa support Chinese foreign policy objectives. This is not only supported by the activities but the fact that the state has a significant majority ownership in the companies and can influence the Board of Directors through a majority. This allows the PRC to expand its military footprint in Africa, without having to use official PLA forces.

Link: South World (link)


JNIM & ISGS in West Africa

JNIM & ISGS in West Africa

Key Judgements 

KJ-1. JNIM and ISGS mainly operate in the tri-border area of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. The groups comprise the leader militant Islamist groups in the Sahel adding to the sharp increase in violence in West Africa in 2020.

 KJ-2. It is almost certain that the groups continue to conduct operations to increase power over the tri-border area. Recent attacks by JNIM and ISGS indicate continued offensive capabilities despite the military pressure from foreign forces. 

KJ-3.  It is highly likely that the growing competition between the two groups escalates the tensions, therefore posing a major threat in the region. The latest incidents indicate breakdowns in relations of JNIM and ISGS and attempts of domination over the tri-border area, putting civilians at great risk.

KJ-4. It is highly likely that the growing competition between the two groups escalates the tensions, therefore posing a major threat in the region.

Conflicts between jihadi groups in the Sahel continue to pose a major threat to the stability in the region. Terrorist activity in West Africa was significantly increased in 2019 and 2020 as a result of the multiple terrorist incursions of Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) and the Islamic State in Great Sahara (ISGS). The peaceful relationship between JNIM and ISGS during early 2020 is replaced with intense confrontations as a result of the status quo change in the region.

Size, Structure, Leadership

JNIM was created on the 2nd of March 2017. The group, led by Iyad Ag Ghali, operates in the tri-border area. JNIM has 1,000 to 2,000 fighters and, as a Sunni Islamist organization, it fights foreign and non-Muslim occupying powers to implement Islamic governance in the region, identifying France and its allies as its most major adversaries. Interestingly, JNIM is an amalgam of four Al-Qaeda-linked militant Islamist groups in the Sahel: Ansar Dine, Al Mourabitoun, Macina Liberation Front (FLM) and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).  

JNIM conducted more than 64% of all violent episodes linked to militant Islamic groups in the Sahel since 2017, with FLM being the most active of its affiliate groups. FLM uses increasingly violent tactics to make progress at “the more densely populated areas” of central Mali and north-central Burkina Faso embracing recruitment and revenue generation.

According to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, some experts argue that JNIM-affiliated groups’ revenue amount to $18 – $35 Million annually, mainly earned by extortion of the groups’-controlled transit routes, artisanal mining, and kidnapping for ransom.

Although JNIM is considered to be a united group for all Salafist jihadist in the Sahel, there are four areas of operation driven by local dynamics shaping the actions of the component groups: Northern Mali, Central Mali and Northern Burkina Faso, Eastern Burkina Faso and Niger Borderlands, Southwest Burkina Faso.

JNIM’s peculiar structure makes it more complex to analyze the groups’ objectives and functions “within the larger coalition” leading to misperceptions about the groups’ strength, capacity, methods, and local support. However, the structural ambiguity weakens JNIM in terms of potential conflicts of interest and the growing competition between the groups.

ISGS emerged in May 2015 when its leader Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui split from Al-Mourabitoun and pledged alliance to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The group is based in Mali and Niger, operating along the borders. In May 2018, the leader was designated by the US a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist.” In fact, the US offered a $5 million reward for any information regarding al-Sahraoui, making him West Africa’s most wanted jihadist.

Contrary to JNIM’s numerous groups, ISGS had an estimated 425 fighters as of July 2018 following the numbers of 40 and 60 fighters estimated on May 2015 and October 2017 respectively. Although ISGS has smaller cells in comparison to other ISIS affiliates in Africa, the group continues to pose a major threat to the tri-border. The group conducted some of the deadliest attacks in the region, using highly developed and state-of-the-art tactics proving its abilities and capabilities of operation despite its limited number of fighters. ISGS carried out a series of major strikes resulting in almost 300 deaths within only two months,

Recent Attacks Proving Further Capability

Following the military coup in August 2020 and the efforts to reshape Malian politics, the country hosts foreign forces and international troops to help stabilize the West African nation: UN peacekeeping missions, French counterterrorism, EU capacity building training regional security forces, G5 Sahel Force. In this context, JNIM and ISGS focus on fighting both regional and foreign forces to alienate them and gain control over the region.

JNIM conducts assassinations and complex IED attacks against French, Malian, and UN forces. On the 20th of January 2020, the group killed over 20 soldiers in an attack against a Malian military base in Bamba, Mali. On the 14th of January 2021, JNIM released a statement claiming responsibility for VBIED and rocket attacks that took place on the 8th of January 2021 against French and Malian troops at Serma as a response to French airstrikes carried out in a wedding ceremony.

Following the French government’s announcement that a senior commander of JNIM was killed during France’s Barkhane military operation in Mali against Islamic fighters, JNIM killed 2 French soldiers in Menaka in an IED attack in January 2021. Additionally, on the 21st of January 2020, JNIM attacked a UN outpost in Aguelhok, Mali killing 10 Chadian Peacekeepers while injuring 25 others. 

In May 2019, 28 Nigerian soldiers were killed in the village of Tongo Tongo near the border with Mali as a result of the ISGS ambush. On the 1st of November 2020 members of the group attacked a military base at Menaka region near the border with Niger and killed at least 54 soldiers. Later that month, on the 11th of November 2020, ISGS attacked a military convoy in Tin-Akoff, Burkina Faso killing 14 soldiers. Between 2019 and 2020 there was a 60% increase in militant Islamist violence in the Sahel with an overall estimate of 4,250 fatalities – half of which linked to ISGS – making 2020 the deadliest year of Islamist violence in the region. 

Jihadists versus Jihadists

While JNIM and ISGS tried to maintain a jihadi unity in the Sahel, the latest incidents indicate that there are growing competition and a breakdown in relations between the two groups. In an attempt to maintain peace with ISGS, JNIM published two treatises urging all jihadis in the Sahel to work based on common goals until the confrontation started to emerge. As ISGS increases its personnel, it approaches more of JNIM’s areas of operation leading to violent clashes and confrontation among the two camps. However, while clashes escalate and weaken both groups, they put civilians at great risk forcing them to live in a regime of extreme violence and fear.

There is an increase in attacks against schools across West Africa, which according to experts, are due to either ideological reasons against the education system as a whole or because they are attacks in the wider context of jihadi violence against civilians. Schools are part of the group’s strategy against Western civilization and at the same time can be centred on recruiting potential fighters.

On top of that, they seem to be ideal targets for the groups since they are crowded, relatively unguarded, and linked to extensive media coverage that can catch global attention in the group’s favour. On the 8th of January 2020 four students were injured due to a grenade explosion at Franco-Arab Darou Kour An Hadis School, while the next day presumed members of JNIM and/or ISGS burned offices and material and threatened teachers at the primary school of Nagare village. Moreover, on the 23rd of January 2020 two teachers were kidnapped presumedly by JNIM or ISGS in Donla village.

Image: Screen Capture of Islamics State Propaganda Video


DP World: Emirati Expansionism in Africa?

DP World

Key Judgement

The expansion of DP World supports UAE ambitions of controlling maritime commerce across a vast network. This links the Americas, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Military expansion near the Gulf is to secure these interests, as well as consolidate power in neighbouring Yemen. The UAE faces competition in developing African network and infrastructure projects, despite having a significant foothold.

  • DP World is establishing a $1.1 billion, 1-500-acre deep water port in Ndayane, Senegal (near Dakar). In Angola, DP World is negotiating to operate the Multi-Purpose Terminal (MPT) at the Port of Luanda.
  • State-owned DP World lost control of the Dolareh Containment Terminal in Djibouti in 2018. A 51% stake in the neighbouring Port of Berbera in Somaliland, facilitates Emirati influence in East African geopolitics and commerce. The Senegal/Angola expansion will facilitate the UAE in North, West, and South African commerce.
  • The UAE aims to expand their military foothold, in partnership with Saudi Arabia. This is based on the expansion of military installations in the Horn of Africa. Controlling Red Sea and Bab el-Mandeb strait commerce and logistics is a strategic objective, Comoros is an extension of interest in the region.

Project Senegal

Senegalese expansion is a similar project to DP World’s $1.2 billion Posorja port in Ecuador, establishing a special economic zone adjacent. The objective is creating a ‘mega-port’, able to accommodate the world’s largest container ships. This project will highly likely establish a major logistical hub, while serving as a gateway to West and Northwest Africa. The free trade zone is likely to attract foreign capital seeking tax exemptions. The project is the single largest African DP World investment, reflecting strategic intent to increase involvement in trade corridors within the continent. Dakar is a highly favoured port for Atlantic south-bound trade from Europe, complimenting existing DP World networks in Africa and beyond. These hubs will highly likely witness an increase in commerce. The emphasis on infrastructure development now is crucial, as blockchain and automation will likely be integral parts of global end-to-end supply chains.

DP World is delisted from the stock exchange, becoming fully government owned. UAE bilateral agreements will create significant income for Senegal. Based on this, there is a realistic probability that the UAE may establish a military presence. The US seeks to reduce its footprint in the Middle East and Africa, an Emirati official stated: “Fill space, before others do”. There is currently a scramble in Africa for influence. The UAE and Saudi Arabia compete with other geopolitical strategies from Turkey /Qatar and Russia, while facing an economic powerhouse threat from China. However, the Horn of Africa is almost certainly most important for the UAE, due to the strategic location.

DP World

The Horn

The main economic challenge to the UAE strategy in Africa is a similar Chinese vision (Belt & Road initiative). Strategically, significant challenges are posed from Turkey and Qatar, especially in the Horn of Africa. The UAE lost a strategic foothold in Djibouti, losing control of the terminal to China Merchants Port Holdings (CMP). Attempting to use the port as a military launchpad into adjacent Yemen, UAE further damaged deteriorating relations with Djibouti in 2015. An Emirati base in Assab, Eritrea became a replacement for military operations. This allows the UAE and Saudi Arabia to project military power along the crucial Bab el-Mandeb strait. UAE intent to pressure Somalia to cut ties with Qatar in 2017 after an embargo was imposed. Turkish and Qatari influence proved to be prevalent, leading to Emirati re-focus on Somalian federal states.

A trade corridor from Dakar into central Africa is crucial, with an adjacent corridor from the Horn of Africa. Over 10% of global international trade travels through the Red Sea. A $442 million DP World investment in the port of Berbera in Somaliland reflects this. The objective is to be the dominant economic, political, and military force in the region. The UAE base in Bosaso, Somalia’s Puntland state, supports this assessment. The UN Security Council opposed this, coinciding with an outcry from Somalia’s federal government. The strategic expansion is not only for economic reasons, as Gulf rivalry is exported to the African continent.


On the 25th November 2020, the UAE and Comoros signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). The MoU focuses on military and defence cooperation between the two countries, which already collaborate in other fields. The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development already funds various Comorian government development projects. In January 2018, the Comorian government admitted 52,000 citizenships had been sold to foreigners, mainly from the UAE. Comoros is a country struggling with poverty and human development.

This situation places the UAE in a position to improve bilateral relations with ease through investment. The UAE is already the leading exporter to the Islands. Comoros is located opposite the East African coast, and the Indian Ocean. The small archipelago does not have the infrastructure to become one of DP World’s main logistical hubs. This does not mean it cannot become a key point of commerce. The islands are opposite Mozambique’s $20bn Liquefied Natural Gas Project. This could create an energy ‘stop off’ for Middle Eastern and Asian markets once fully operational. The islands can still be utilised for various logistical operations, and in the future, the military agreement may create a new launchpad for UAE ambitions.

Image: CGTN Africa (link)



Troll-on-Troll: Russian-French Cyber Information War in Africa

Troll-on-Troll: Russian-French Cyber Information War in Africa

This Grey Dynamics African intelligence article analyses the misinformation war between Russian and French troll-on-troll actors. It is important to assess the differences in Russian and French information campaigns, but to note the similarity when engaging with one another.

 Key Findings

  • December 2020. Facebook removes troll accounts / groups linked to individuals associated with the French military and Russian Internet Research Agency “troll farm”.
  • The operations focus on influencing public opinion in targeted African countries, such as the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali. In CAR and countries with contested interest, the primary focus is displaying the adversary in a negative perspective, while displaying themselves positively.
  • Russian and French troll-on-troll operations, in an unprecedented move, openly target and engage with each other with ironic ‘fake news’ exposés.
  • Russian operations can likely be judged as more effective. Creditable to the gap in information warfare experience and incorporation of local nationals into the networks for authenticity.
  • While French operations were likely influenced by existing Russian troll farms, countering trolls vis-à-vis is problematic and counterproductive. By mirroring inauthentic entities and individuals, this revelation increases public distrust of genuine news outlets and supports a stimulated climate of ‘fake news’.

Russian Campaign

The Russian information campaign in Africa is an extensive and well-established layer of increased engagement within African countries. In Africa, Russia has much to gain. A growing weapons export market, natural resources, and increasing geopolitical influence. Yevgeniy Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner mercenary group and Internet Research Agency (IRA) continues to be linked to ‘troll farms’ in Africa. In the case of Africa, the aim of psyops is manipulating public narrative in favour of Russian presence and activities. IRA activities have been identified in Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, CAR, Libya, Ukraine, the US, and beyond. In 2019, Facebook accounts linked to the IRA were taken down in Madagascar, CAR, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Sudan, and Libya. This did not stop the creation of new accounts.


The Russian accounts removed in 2020 include 63 Facebook accounts, 29 Pages, 7 Groups and one Instagram account. The accounts were mainly established during January-March 2020, highly likely in response to the 2019 takedown. Russian operations in South Africa and CAR were highly active, with 140,000 followers on a South African page and over 50,000 in CAR. The main difference in Russian – French operations can be identified in the willingness of Russian operations to focus on electoral politics. France avoided this approach. CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, a key Russian ally, was consistently elevated on these platforms. Simultaneously, Touadéra’s primary rival Francois Bozizé was consistently tarnished. Accounts with stolen photos and fake news outlets spread across the digital information landscape.

Russian operators even paid to promote their posts. The network became utilised to amplify each other’s posts, in line with social media algorithms to reach the widest possible audience. Posts would regularly praise Russian contributions to the region. The extent of the operations and the inclusion of local nationals supports the judgment that the Russian operation was more effective. This is also supported by the experience and emphasis of Russian actors regarding information campaigns in the cyber space compared to French operations.

French Campaign

Facebook’s removal of the French network included 84 Facebook accounts, 6 Pages, 9 Groups, and 14 Instagram accounts. One section of the network focused on Mali, an area formerly under French colonial rule (as is CAR). Since 2013, French and UN forces are active in Mali under anti-terrorism missions. Positive engagement through the network attempted to influence the receptivity of the public to their presence and impact. The French operation utilised Generative Adversarial Networks, an artificial intelligence model producing realistic imagery. Such imagery in profile pictures were used to add credibility to fake accounts. Mock cartoons were created, amplifying negative aspects of terrorists in Mali.

Contrary to the Russian operation, the French network did not focus on electoral politics. This can be interpreted as a desire for support for French troops rather than concessions from incumbent leaders. The French network did not match levels of engagement and followers enjoyed by the Russian network. French operations also attempted to boost authentic engagement through the inauthentic accounts, boosting each other’s content in groups. This attempt cannot be classed as significantly successful.


French operations were also targeting Niger, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire, and Chad, albeit to a lesser degree. Contrasting with Russia, the “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” identified was a violation of Facebook’s policy. As Russia and France both have strategic interests in Africa, the intent for such operations is self-explanatory. The capabilities of the French operation proved less effective. Intent and capability aside, as well as the success, the consequences are arguably even more significant. Russia’s troll farms are well documented. Attempting to ‘fight fire with fire’ in this case not only fell short but provided credibility to Russian troll farm actions. This will highly likely encourage Russian operations to increase, interpreting a ‘resorting’ attempt, especially in CAR.

Trolls Collide

When competing interests collided in the CAR case, the approach from the networks were practically identical. Networks attempted to expose the other as ‘fake news’, an ironic tactic from fake accounts. Martin Kossipé, the leading fake persona of the French operation labels Russian operation content as fake news. This was a common tactic from both sides, attempting to expose each other on participating groups and pages. The operations resorted to comical satire, involving cartoon animations of stereotypes and ulterior motives in CAR involvement. Both operations falsely accused authentic accounts, highly likely by misinterpretation, to be fake. This undermined credibility of authentic behaviour in the cyber space and increases suspicion of widespread fake news.

In a peculiar turn of events, the networks began to support each other. This was done by sharing one another’s post on the online community chats. The intent behind this approach is not clear but has a realistic probability of being an attempt to avoid ‘fake news’ suspicion. The accounts even befriended each other. This was all during the ongoing information war between the networks. As information warfare increases, this case study on troll-on-troll activities may be an example of what is to come. Unfortunately, this approach will highly likely damage credibility of online discussions and deter potential contributors from engagement.

Image: Bryce Durbin (link)


Djibouti Base: USAFRICOM vs. Chinese Influence in Africa

Djibouti Base

The US is in a decisive moment to influence the future of US strategic and geopolitical success in the region. By working from the Djibouti base and neighbouring East African countries. The US can simultaneously support economic and human development, an underestimated factor against terrorism, while also countering Chinese Influence in Africa and creating new markets for US products and services.

Key Judgements

KJ-1. The Djibouti base, Camp Lemonnier, the United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM) footprint not only supports the ongoing commitment against terrorism but serves as a strategic outpost for US interests in the region.

KJ-2. In contrast, China’s belt and road initiative places Djibouti as a key strategic point for projected economic trade expansion. Djibouti is also home to China’s first overseas military base – Chinese People’s Liberation Army Support Base.

KJ-3. The ‘golden standard’ of US military training can be utilised to promote closer cooperation with Djibouti and neighbouring East African countries. Forming a ‘package’ deal for infrastructure projects to reduce the reliance on Chinese loans will avoid the defaulting of payments, leading to seizure of ports and terminals necessary for the existence of the US footprint.

Chinese Influence in Africa

US Footprint

If the importance of Djibouti is in question, it is responsible to remember that since 2008, no other African country has agreed to host AFRICOM. It is the only permanent US base in Africa, and the primary base for AFRICOM operations. 4,000 troops, two-thirds of AFRICOM forces on the African continent, are stationed at Camp Lemonnier, with further additions expected following the POTUS decision to withdraw 700 personnel from neighbouring Somalia. The facility is regularly used by AFRICOM for counterterrorism, as well as intelligence operations. Located between the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea, Djibouti is of geopolitical interest to numerous powers, due to the projected international commerce that will flow through its terminals.

France, Italy, Japan, and China also have military bases present. The US and Djibouti military have a $31 million train-and-equip partnership, with direct and indirect US military payments amounting to over $200 million annually, approximately 10% of Djibouti’s annual GDP. The base is not only of strategic importance to the US but serve as a hub for NATO allies France and Italy as the partners also utilise the base capabilities. UK and German military assets are also present, as is the case for Japan, a key partner in US interests in the South China Sea. Leased in 2001, Camp Lemonnier is facing a growing threat from Chinese soft power manoeuvres in the region.

Djibouti Base

Chinese Influence

Djibouti denied authorisation for Russia to build a military base, on the grounds that the country does not want to become a proxy warfare battleground. This may be too late. Through a combination of infrastructure and economic deals, Chinese firms are the largest source of revenue for Djibouti, controlling approximately 40% of such infrastructure projects. These projects are crucial for Chinese influence in Africa and infrastructure readiness for the belt and road initiative. The Djibouti-Ethiopia Railway project and Djibouti-Ethiopia Water pipeline are part of these packages.

The most impactful project is the Dolareh port, in essence almost irreplaceable for re-supplying Camp Lemonnier. Chinese firms already control their own terminal, with the possibility of facilities legally being transferred to Chinese merchants if Djibouti fails to continue making the loan repayments. A quarter of the port’s stake has already been sold to China Merchants Ports Holdings. Significant control over the port threatens the confidentiality element of supplying the US Djibouti base.

The access to US operations through the Chinese naval base provides vital intelligence collection on AFRICOM operations. The Defence Intelligence Agency makes the assessment that ground-based lasers will be deployed by China in this decade. Lasers, along with electromagnetic weapons, are being called for by Chinese authorities to protect exploration interests. There have been at least 20 acknowledged incidents where lasers have interfered with US pilots. In 2018, a pilot suffered minor eye injuries following a similar laser incident near the base. While in February 2020, a “weapons-grade laser” was utilised by a Chinese destroyer. Through soft and hard power, the growing Chinese Influence in Africa can limit the integrity of US re-supplement, while hampering operations with plausibly deniable actions.


The 2021 National Defense Authorization Act reflects the urgency of readjusting the US position in Africa. The Pentagon requested $239 million for AFRICOM, which was not only met but increased by $38.5 million. The POTUS decision to withdraw the 700 present troops in Somalia will highly likely see a repositioning to Djibouti base. While the US and its allies at present still have military dominance in the region, this is not the case for economic dominance. While readjustments militarily are important, economic readjustment in the face of the China-Djibouti relationship is crucial.

The US is in a position to compete with China by engaging in new infrastructure projects under more favourable terms. This will not only reduce Chinese influence but will increase the viability of US bases on the continent. Common ground must also not be underestimated. By tackling terrorism and piracy, keeping the Red Sea open to commerce serves both US and Chinese interests. It is yet unclear what this new power dynamic in East Africa will manifest into, whatever the case, the US must reposition itself to ensure the dynamic does not become one-sided dominance.

Image: Zha Chunming (link)


Nigeria: West Africa’s Hub for Child Harvesting


“Baby factories” or “baby farms” are part of a wider trafficking program called “child harvesting”. It refers to the selling of children for illegal adoption, but it can also involve child trafficking for slave labour. In the case of Nigeria, along the years, baby factories established mostly in the south of the country (in Lagos, the most populous city; see Annex 1) have been found trafficking young girls (primary school to high school) and forcing them to get pregnant to further sell the babies mainly for slave labour but also for witchcraft rituals.

Depending on the sex, babies are sold for up to $6,400 each. As the police raids intensify, the price is expected to go higher, fuelling the business. Shell companies or front organisations lure young female children and teenagers with unplanned pregnancies to clinics and then they force them to cede their babies. The children are often put up for illegal adoption and in some parts of the country, killed as part of witchcraft rituals as they are thought to make charms more powerful.

Why Does This Matter

  • Human trafficking is widespread in West Africa, where children are bought from their families to work in plantations, mines and factories or as domestic help.
  • In the region, the biggest child harvesting networks are based in southern Nigeria. Despite frequent raids conducted by the local police, the threat persists.
  • Human trafficking is ranked the third most common crime in Nigeria, after financial fraud and drug trafficking. At least 10 children are sold every day across the country.
Child Harvesting

Child Trafficking in West Africa

Child Harvesting

Amid UNICEF programs and ECOWAS strategies implemented in the region, child trafficking is still very common in countries like Nigeria, Benin, Togo or Burkina Faso. More than 50% of trafficking victims in West Africa are children (see Annex 2). The legal framework of the region aimed at combating child trafficking is limited by the lack of a clear and publicly accepted definition of child trafficking in West Africa.

Perceptions of this phenomenon differ across countries in the region. In a country of origin, where the local youth is highly exposed to trafficking networks, the level of awareness is higher. In countries like Togo and Burkina Faso, low media coverage and misleading information leading to low awareness. Transit countries are more likely to perceive trafficking as a non-national issue, and this is a major obstacle to the control of national borders and coastlines.

Countries of destination are often reluctant in dealing with the issue, as it does not concern their own children. Currently, the international media is trying to make these countries accountable since the smugglers are using their venues and resources for funding the business. Unfortunately, public opinion and policymakers in countries of destination perceive child trafficking as a foreign movement organised by transnational networks whose consequences do not concern their community.

In 2002, ECOWAS established a Coordination Unit in liaison with the National Task Forces. It monitors and coordinates efforts against trafficking in persons at the sub-regional level. Under the ECOWAS Plan of Action, member states set up direct communication between their border control agencies and enhance efforts to gather data on human trafficking. INTERPOL and the Centre for International Crime Prevention (CICP) are also cooperating with ECOWAS to reduce child harvesting and trafficking.

Baby Factories in Nigeria

Nigerian security forces have tracked and dismantled a series of baby factories in recent years. Most of them were located in Lagos and the southern region of the country. Under Nigerian law, human trafficking, including selling children, is prohibited. However, research conducted by NGOs operating in the area such as UNICEF and reveal that child harvesting is the country’s third-most common crime behind financial fraud and drug trafficking. The same organisations indicate that the level of threat is stalling, with no progress registered.

In September 2019, Nigerian police have freed 19 pregnant women from properties in Lagos. According to the police forces, most of the women had been abducted for the purpose of getting them pregnant and selling the babies. The rescued girls and women are usually aged between 15 and 28, but in some cases primary school girls are also abducted.

Women are lured to Lagos, from the rural areas of the country with the promise of employment. After that, the handler confiscates their IDs and money so that they cannot leave the property. The very same tactic is also used by Indian human trafficking networks targeting African women.

Image: Haart Kenya / CGTN (link)