Christians in Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Mali are suffering increased attacks from Fulani Islamists, amidst global concerns over Islamist consolidation in northern Africa.
Violence has escalated across those parts of Africa where Christians have contact with Fulani herdsmen. The Fulani are Muslim and, though living alongside Christians for years, hardcore Islamist teachings have led to an escalation in terrorism and deadly attacks by their extremists against Christian-background farming communities.
The religious differences have exacerbated long-standing tensions between the nomadic herdsmen and farmers. In June this year, a cycle of attacks and counter-attacks in the middle belt of Nigeria saw 215 lives claimed on both sides, with professed Christians and their families bearing the full brunt of the death toll.
According to reports from Plateau State, more than 200 people from mainly Christian villages were slaughtered by heavily armed Fulani herdsmen.
Release International reported that some local Christian leaders have accused elements of the military of standing by and failing to prevent the raids. Some even claim collusion by Islamist elements in the armed forces.
‘These long-running attacks by Boko Haram and the heavily armed Fulani point to a strategy to drive Christians from the north of Nigeria’, said Paul Robinson, chief executive of Release International.
He added: ‘The government of Nigeria must protect its vulnerable Christian communities in the north. When claims are raised of cattle-rustling, militants launch co-ordinated attacks on Christian villages and gun down unarmed men, women and children. It is leading to the widespread displacement of Christians from the north, which the government seems unable or unwilling to halt’.
It is estimated that the activity of Boko Haram and its allies has resulted in the death of at least 20,000 people since 2009, and have displaced very many from their homes. In addition, many Nigerian women have been kidnapped into sexual slavery.
Aid agency Tearfund, which has been working for years in bringing the herdsmen and farmers together and helping to create a peace-building strategy with the Plateau State Peacebuilding Agency, also condemned the attacks.
Paul Mershak, Tearfund’s country representative for Nigeria, said: ‘I am horrified to hear about this most recent violence between nomadic herders and farming communities in central Nigeria, which this time has cost 215 lives. Tearfund condemns these horrendous acts and the huge cost to human life and widespread destruction this has caused’.
Last year, figures from Amnesty International claimed Fulani herdsmen killed 549 people across 14 states last year and drove hundreds more from their homes.
Kevrick McKain, vice-president of the US educational and public policy thinktank Douglass Leadership Institute, commented: ‘As a minister and a supporter of religious liberty, I believe it is vital that governments allow all people to exercise their God-ordained human right to practice their religious belief without fear of violence.
‘Our network of churches, community groups and business leaders will join with international groups to fight against violence and injustice occurring in Nigeria’.
But the terror is not confined to Nigeria. Mali and Burkina Faso have also experienced attacks in recent months. Earlier in June, Mali soldiers were involved in an attack on a Fulani village called Koumaga, which was suspected of being home to several al-Qaida-linked extremists. Some 32 Fulani citizens were killed, according to reports from the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, in Burkina Faso, a Christian pastor and his family were released after being held hostage for four days. World Watch Monitor reported that Pastor Pierre Boena, his son David and his daughter-in-law, Ami Sawadogo were released on 7 June.
The pastor, from an Assembly of God church, was kidnapped in his village of Bilhore, near the border with Mali. World Watch Monitor suggested such kidnappings could be the result of acts of violence against Fulani communities by security forces, which, it was said, had angered them.
Please continue to pray for Christians at risk from terrorist and hard-line Islamist groups across Africa, Asia and the Middle East.