Niger is a very poor country grappling to curtail a surge in Islamist terrorism on three of its borders. The rise in attacks by jihadists against civilians makes Niger an especially dangerous place for Christians, who comprise about 0.4% of the population, which is 98% Muslim.
Groups affiliated to Al Qaeda and Islamic State (IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) are active on Niger’s western borders with Mali and Burkina Faso, while the Nigeria-based Boko Haram operates on Niger’s south-western frontier.
The 2022 Global Terrorism Index attributed 588 deaths in Niger to terrorists, the highest in a decade. The majority of the killings took place in Tillabéri province, where most churches are situated. The province includes the capital Niamey and lies on Niger’s western border. In the deadliest assault, gunmen from Islamic State West Africa Province stormed into a Tillabéri village on motorbikes, killing 70 civilians.
At the time of writing, it was estimated 348,000 Nigeriens had fled their homes because of the insurgency. Another 294,000 were refugees escaping Islamist violence in Burkina Faso, Mali and Nigeria. The crisis has exacerbated food shortages caused by poor rainfall and more than 3.7 million were estimated to need humanitarian assistance. More than 855 schools had been shut because of conflict.
The rise in terrorism in Niger is part of an increase in violence across the Sahel region, with similar surges in Mali and Burkina Faso, and Côte d’Ivoire (the Ivory Coast) also at risk. The crisis, which began in Mali with an Islamist uprising in 2012, has forced more than 2.5 million from their homes in the last decade.
Niger has a secular constitution, which was affirmed in 2019 with a law guaranteeing religious freedom. The legislation highlighted that all are free to worship, but stated that religious observance should be exercised with respect for “public order, peace and social tranquillity”.
Pray for an end to Islamist violence in Niger. Ask that Christians will find refuge in the Lord, their fortress and salvation. Pray that their steadfast faith will draw others close to God’s Word.