No Respite from violent persecution for Africa's Christians

“I smeared the blood of my dead colleagues on my mouth, ears and on my head so that the attackers would think I was dead.” This was how one school pupil, Julius Insingoma, survived the massacre of nearly 40 schoolchildren by Islamists in Mpondwe, Kasese District, western Uganda.

Gunmen from jihadi group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) stormed the boarding school as children were singing Christian hymns and preparing for bed. Julius took shelter in a gap in the ceiling from where he watched his young friends being hacked to death with machetes. The gunmen left, but Julius fell from his hiding place, the thud alerting them to his presence.

It was then that he coated himself in the still-warm blood of the dead children, so that the returning gunmen thought he was just one more corpse. He was able to escape the scene before the school building succumbed to the flames.

The African caliphate

The sickening details from the Mpondwe massacre have been widely reported. The world has sat up and taken notice of this despicable atrocity – but the world has no understanding of the scale of this problem, nor why it is happening.

Islamist mass killings of Christians are a regular occurrence in sub-Saharan Africa, and particularly in hotspots of terrorist activity such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), northern Mozambique, as well as northern and Middle Belt Nigeria (see Persecution Overview | Barnabas Aid for more on how our persecuted brothers and sisters are suffering in these lands).

The cause is Islamism. The ADF are not just rebels or militants, but jihadists. They are affiliated to the Islamic State (IS – also known as ISIS, ISIL, Daesh). Along with Islamic State Mozambique they form the Islamic State Central Africa Province. The violence in Nigeria and across West Africa is carried out by the Islamic State West Africa Province, jihadi group Boko Haram, and other Islamist extremists.

Terrorist groups affiliated to IS or al Qaeda have proliferated across sub-Saharan Africa, to the extent that observers are making sobering predictions of an African caliphate stretching from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean.

“Heaps of Christian corpses and rivers of their blood”

Governments and the international community rightly condemned the massacre in Uganda, but one simple fact has been largely ignored: the victims were Christians who were targeted for that very reason.

The ADF terrorists who carried out this reprehensible act have been slaughtering Christians in their hundreds in north-eastern DRC. In northern and Middle Belt Nigeria, more than 11,000 Christians have been murdered by Islamists since 2015. One expert rightly called this “a Christian genocide”.

We should not ignore that people of all religions and none end up as victims of jihadi violence. Islamic State Mozambique (ISM) has perhaps made the clearest declarations that Muslims who refuse to support the Islamist cause will also be killed.

But ISM has also made a point of rejoicing in social media statements when Christians specifically are killed by “the soldiers of the caliphate”. Its leaders have boasted of building their Islamic province “on heaps of Christian corpses and rivers of their blood”.

In a 2022 poster campaign (pictured above) IS rejoiced in the killing of Christians and the burning down of church buildings across Africa, a campaign they termed their “Harvest of African Christians”. Christians are not the only victims; other groups are targeted by jihadists, including moderate Muslims.

Atrocities like that in Uganda – and the dozens of similar attacks across Africa – are often blamed on economic downturns, marginalisation and lack of opportunity, corrupt or authoritarian government, or environmental problems that reduce the supply of arable and pastoral land. All these play a part, but naïve commentators are making these aggravating factors into primary causes, ignoring – whether deliberately or otherwise – the stated aim of Islamists across Africa: to kill as many Christians as they can.

“Where was the security?”

“Where was this security when these killers came to Uganda?” This was the pointed question raised by Ugandan MP Florence Kabugho. “There is no reason why this attack should have taken place,” declared Daniel Bwambale, a Ugandan expert on government and law, adding, “There are air assets available, unmanned aerial vehicles, artillery and most definitely enough personnel.”

These questions echo the cries of Christians in Nigeria, who have long called for their government to do more to prevent the ongoing Islamist violence. “I have never seen a nation so comfortable watching the killings of its citizens on a daily basis,” said a senior Nigerian bishop in April this year, adding that “nothing has been done for the past 15 years”. 

“Almost on a daily basis we hear people being killed in their tens and hundreds,” he continued. “The government must wake up.”

The bishop was speaking at the reopening of a church in Ondo State, Nigeria, where more than 50 believers were gunned down by IS-affiliated terrorists during a church service in June 2022. In the days following that anti-Christian attack, one Western leader infamously said that the cause was “food security issues” and “climate change”.

Such obfuscating by governments in all parts of the world is a major part of the problem. It is clear that Christian communities are especially vulnerable to attack by vicious Islamist terrorists who are being allowed to wage jihad with impunity across sub-Saharan Africa. Yet Christian communities are not recognised as vulnerable when these facts are downplayed, ignored, or even denied.

Governments and international institutions must begin by recognising that African Christians are at particular risk of attack from Islamists. They must then take steps to protect Christian communities from jihadi violence. Our part is to continue to supply aid and practical support to beleaguered Christian communities wherever and whenever we can, and above all to pray for our brothers and sisters who are in the midst of such dreadful persecution.

Barnabas Aid continues to monitor the situation in Africa. In future editions of our Barnabas Aid  magazine we will share how you can take action on behalf of our African brothers and sisters.

One of the dormitories at the Kasese school where many young Christians were burned to death by Islamists. Officials from the Ugandan Ministry of Education survey the scene of the slaughter [Image credit: Janet K Museveni]

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