Al-Qaeda crowds out the Islamic State in West Africa
The momentum of West Africa’s two jihadi theatres has started to favour al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The group, which operates in the Mali/Sahel region, succeeded in consolidating its position, while Boko Haram, which pledged allegiance to the Islamic state, is less active in the Nigeria/Lake Chad region. This evolution suggests that, in the long term, the Islamic state will find it difficult to compete with al-Qaeda in the region, particularly because al-Qaeda’s strategy of “localisation” seems to be better suited to the prevailing local and diffuse operational methods of West African jihadism. Its recent alliance in Mali with the Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin group illustrates al-Qaeda’s adaptive capacity as it seeks to function as a pan-Islamic movement -- an umbrella organisation bringing together different local movements. Following this logic, AQIM’s integration of the Katiba Macina group into their alliance, a group led by Amadou Koufa, has allowed AQIM to extend its influence in central Mali. This territorial penetration creates an additional barrier for the Islamic State’s expansion strategy in West Africa. The territorial penetration appears to be less effective in Nigeria where Islamic State-affiliated groups follow operational patterns and ideological principles that are disconnected from the Islamic State as they continue to operate at a strictly local level. Under these conditions, it is likely that, if the Islamic State and its leader al-Baghdadi should disappear, Nigerian jihadist groups will eventually return to al-Qaeda’s orbit.