The Islamic State in Africa

The Emergence, Evolution, and Future of the Next Jihadist Battlefront

December 2021 9781787383906 288pp
Available as an eBook


In 2019, Islamic State lost its last remaining sliver of territory in Syria, and its Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed. These setbacks seemed to herald the Caliphate’s death knell, and many now forecast its imminent demise. Yet its affiliates endure, particularly in Africa: nearly all of Islamic State’s cells on the continent have reaffirmed their allegiance, attacks have continued in its name, many groups have been reinvigorated, and a new province has emerged. Why, in Africa, did the two major setbacks of 2019 have so little impact on support for Islamic State?

The Islamic State in Africa suggests that this puzzle can be explained by the emergence and evolution of Islamic State’s provinces in Africa, which it calls ‘sovereign subordinates’. By examining the rise and development of eight Islamic State ‘cells’, the authors show how, having pledged allegiance to IS Central, cells evolved mostly autonomously, using the IS brand as a means for accrual of power, but, in practice, receiving relatively little if any direction or material support from central command. Given this pattern, IS Central’s relative decline has had little impact on its African affiliates—who are likely to remain committed to the Caliphate’s cause for the foreseeable future.


‘[A] significant contribution to the academic and policy-oriented literatures on African studies, terrorism and political violence, and rebellion, insurgency, and civil wars. The authors have provided a wealth of empirical information and theoretical proposals for other scholars and foreign policy practitioners to consider when pondering how best to address the expanding security challenges posed by African IS affiliates as well as Al-Qaeda’s own African affiliates.’ — The Muslim World Book Review

‘The book is a comprehensive work dealing with IS affiliates on the African continent, describing their nature, evolution, and trajectory to the point of pledging alliance to the newly appointed caliph, Abu Hasan-al-Hashimi al-Qurashi. It is thus a valuable and useful resource for researchers dealing with radical religious movements in present-day Africa.’ — H-Net

‘Everything you wanted to know about Islamic State in Africa but were afraid to ask. A well-researched and easily read book on the current debates about IS in Africa and its future ambitions.’ — Alex Vines OBE, Director, Africa Programme, Chatham House, and Assistant Professor, Coventry University

‘This thorough new study provides essential background and astute analysis for anyone wanting to understand how Islamic State’s brand has influenced the evolution of nine ongoing insurgencies in Africa.’ — Paul D. Williams, Professor of International Affairs, George Washington University

The Islamic State in Africa is the most comprehensive study to date of ISIS and its ever-expanding tentacles throughout the African continent. A must-read for scholars, practitioners, government and military officials hoping to understand the Islamic State’s operational and organisational capabilities, and the threat this group poses and will continue to pose in the future.’ — Colin P. Clarke, Director of Policy and Research, The Soufan Group

‘A solid and well-referenced work… the number of sources consulted is enormous, and the authors clearly have done a remarkable piece of work. As such this book has the potential to be a standard reference work for researchers, policymakers and the public.’ — Morten Bøås, Research Professor, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, and author of Sahel: The Perfect Storm

‘This volume is incredibly rich and unique and represents a landmark in the scholarship on the global jihad and a seminal reference for anyone interested in the geographical expansion and organisational dynamic of Islamic State. It is also highly readable and accessible for non-specialist audiences.’ — Yvan Guichaoua, Senior Lecturer, Brussels School of International Studies, University of Kent


Jason Warner is Assistant Professor of Social Sciences at the US Military Academy (West Point) and Director of the Combating Terrorism Center's Africa research.

Ryan O'Farrell is a Senior Analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation and a researcher focusing on Islamist movements in east and central Africa, conflict and development in Ethiopia and opposition-held Syria.

Héni Nsaibia is a Senior Researcher at ACLED (Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project). He is also the founder of Menastream, a risk consultancy providing intelligence analysis.

Ryan Cummings is a director of Signal Risk, a Cape Town-based political risk consultancy.

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