As the COVID-19 outbreak begins to spread in earnest in Africa, we can expect so-called jihadi groups on the continent to try to take advantage of the crisis to unleash violence and recruit members. We are already seeing indications that this has started happening. Governments, development workers, and aid agencies need to be made aware of this threat and take steps to deny these brutal militias more room to operate.
Over the past two weeks, Africa has seen a dramatic rise in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, with recorded cases climbing from 1,017 on March 20, to over 7,177 on April 3, with at least 293 deaths and reaching fifty African states. If the spread of COVID-19 across Africa reaches anywhere near the levels of China, Europe, or the United States, panic, chaos, and confusion will ensue. Already stretched resources currently earmarked for state security forces fighting violent extremists and the provision of healthcare and humanitarian supplies to communities in need may have to be diverted to deal with a widespread outbreak. Based on past experience, if this happens, we can expect jihadi groups to exploit the situation in both their narratives and operations.