Home » Christians in Africa face worrying rise in killings, persecution and displacement

Christians in Africa face worrying rise in killings, persecution and displacement

by John Jefferson
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JOHANNESBURG Christianity is in deadly crisis in more than half of Africa’s 54 countries, sources say. Christian groups contacted by Fox News Digital say the faithful are being persecuted, killed and displaced in 28 countries on the continent. 

The situation is the worst in Nigeria. Mission group Open Doors US told Fox News Digital its research reports that “nine out of 10 Christians killed for their faith in 2023 were in Nigeria. However, this number is likely higher, as many deaths go unreported.”

“Nigeria is one of the deadliest places on earth to be a Christian,” Ryan Brown, Open Doors US CEO, told Fox News Digital. “Of the nearly 5,000 Christians killed for their faith in 2023 worldwide, a staggering 82% of them were in Nigeria.”

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The Nigerian research group Intersociety, the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, calls the killing of Nigeria’s Christians genocide and puts the death toll higher, claiming over 8,000 Nigerian Christians were killed or abducted from January 2023 to the end of January 2024. Most of them were reportedly savagely hacked to death with knives. Intersociety says over 18,500 places of Christian worship were destroyed across Nigeria from 2009-2023.

And this slaughter is continuing, Intersociety’s Emeka Umeagbalasi told Fox News Digital.

“(An) estimated 500-600 Christians are believed to have been hacked to death for professing to be Christians in Nigeria, covering January to the first week of April 2024,” Umeagbalasi said. “They are being killed, raped and displaced, and their homes and, sometimes, churches burnt. In some occasions, they are forced, under pain of death, to publicly change their religion to Islam.”

“With the rise of radical Islam in Africa, there is a definite increase in the targeting and persecution of Christians,” Todd Nettleton, host of the Voice of the Martyrs Radio Network told Fox News Digital. He added that these attacks come in a wide range, from “well-known groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria and al-Shabaab in Somalia, to less-well-known but equally violent groups in northern Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo and other nations.

Pastor Zachariah

“Currently, there are 28 countries on the African continent listed on the Open Doors’ US 2024 World Watch List, nations where Christians routinely face oppression, harassment and violence because of their faith in Christ.”

Despite an estimated 46% of the population being Christian, Nigerian Christians are often ripped from their homes too, with Brown of Open Doors US reporting that “of the 34.5 million displaced people across sub-Saharan Africa due to political instability, conflict and extremism, an estimated 16.2 million are Christians.” 

Brown added, “As Fulani militant (Islamist) herdsmen wish to claim land in the middle of Nigeria, where there is the best grazing, they attack Christian villages, kidnap their people, burn their homes and destroy their crops, claiming the land for themselves.”

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Al-Shabab fighters

Persecution in Nigeria is not new. Boko Haram Muslim militants kidnapped Maryamu Joseph when she was just 7 years old. She managed to escape nine years later, telling the Aid to the Church In Need (ACN) agency, “I suffered so much at the hands of these heartless, ruthless people. They put the Christians in cages, like animals. The first thing they did was forcefully convert us to Islam. They changed my name to Aisha, a Muslim name, and warned us not to pray as Christians, or we would be killed.” 

Catholic teacher Emmanuel Joseph witnessed a recent attack on a Catholic and a Baptist Church in Rubuh, in Nigeria’s Kaduna State.

“Mass had just started when we heard guns firing. Parishioners started running everywhere,” Joseph said. “Coming into the church compound, they shot three members who had left the church. They also attacked the local Baptist church and abducted 36 members of the congregation, mostly women, and killed a man there also. We are only focused on how to stay alive, looking upon God for safety in the belief that He will fight back for us.”

“Religious persecution in the north is systemic,” Matthew Man-Oso Ndagoso, the archbishop of Nigeria’s Kaduna State claimed, “I cannot build a church, yet the government employs and pays imams to teach in schools. Every year they have money to build mosques in the budget but will not let you build churches”. 

Boy selling memorabilia

Reports of persecution continue to flood in from the Sahel region — Chad, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. The latter country’s bishop, Justin Kientega, told ACN parts of his diocese have become no-go areas as jihadists work to impose radical Islam on the population.

“The terrorists gather people and tell them not to go to school,” he said. “They instruct men to grow out their beards and women to wear the Islamic veil.”

In Sudan, Brown of Open Doors US said, there’s more persecution of Christians. 

“There have been 165 churches closed,” Brown said. “Others have been attacked and destroyed. We see in Sudan and so many other places that those who oppose the Christian faith will use these volatile situations as an opportunity to lash out against our brothers and sisters. As we pray for an end to the violence, we remember these brave men and women and pray for their protection as they continue to risk so much.” 

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SUDAN CHURCH

Sudan’s year-long civil war has displaced some 8.2 million people, according to this month’s figures from the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. But Christians are only a minority here, an estimated 5% of the population.

Sudan researcher Eric Reeves told Fox News Digital it’s difficult when, for example, so many buildings of every type are being bombed in Sudan to say the burning of churches is a particular attack against Christians.

“There has certainly been an underlying dislike of the long Christian presence in Sudan, going back to the Bashir regime and even longer … confiscation of church property and curtailment of Christian activities in various ways. But the present situation is simply too chaotic to make generalizations.”

Christians are being targeted in Mozambique too. According to ACN, missionaries, priests and Christians generally have had to flee the Northern Cabo Delgado region.

“The activities of Islamic insurgent groups have intensified in the region, creating an atmosphere of fear and insecurity,” according to ACN.

The UNHCR says over 1 million people have been displaced since fighting started in 2017.

church bombing

Attacks and destruction and burning of chapels in at least 12 Mozambican communities by groups related to Islamic State have been reported so far this year.

“Our people carry only what they can in a bundle on their heads or on the family bicycle,” The Bishop of Pemba in Northern Mozambique, António Juliasse, told ACN. “Their greatest risk is to become forgotten faces, drowned out by the other wars in the world.”

A State Department spokesperson told Fox News Digital officials are “deeply concerned about rising levels of persecution globally, including of Christians. We note with grave concern that reports of intolerance and harassment against Christians around the world are increasing and more widespread. No one should ever have to fear for their personal safety or the safety of their religious institutions.

“Members of Christian communities, or those wishing to join, face limits on their rights to freedom of religion or belief in every world region and have been the target of repeated terrorist and violent attacks by mobs and violent extremists, including in Africa.

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two people recover in hospital

“The Department of State regularly engages governments, at all levels, to advocate for improvements to religious freedom, including ending violations impacting Christians. We speak out about these issues regularly and report on these developments in the International Religious Freedom report. The United States Government and the Office of International Religious Freedom uses it as a starting point for advocacy efforts that span the entire year and beyond.”

The Voice of the Martyrs’ Todd Nettleton told Fox News Digital he would like to see more action.

“It is important for our government, and other free-world governments, to identify and call out those who attack and persecute religious minorities — whether they be governments or terrorist groups,” Nettleton said. “The State Department issues its annual list of Countries of Particular Concern, which is a start, but more could certainly be done to shine a light on the suffering of religious minorities facing violent attacks in Africa and other places.”

boko haram flag

“Religious freedom is often called ‘the first freedom,’ and therefore should be a vital facet of our government’s interactions with other nations — even at the risk of offending foreign governments with whom we might want to work on profitable trade or other agreements.”

“The U.S. government should be advocating for the Nigerian government to end impunity,” Brown of Open Doors US told Fox News Digital. “For too long, extremists and groups such as Fulani militants have committed violence against Christians and various ethnic groups with no accountability. We need to urge the Nigerian government to take a strong stance against these perpetrators and break the cycle of violence that continues to expand throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

“We need the U.S. government to take a strong and vocal stance on these attacks and the insecurity they are creating.”

Nigerians in a large truck

In Burkina Faso, Bishop Kientega says Christians are prepared to die for their faith, rather than be forced to embrace Islam. 

“Many of them accept the possibility of death,” Kientega said. “They refuse to remove their crosses, and they refuse to convert. They always find other ways to live their faith and pray.”

Fox News Digital reached out for comment to the Nigerian presidency, the Nigerian Foreign Ministry, the Nigerian U.S. Embassy and the Nigerian Police Force but did not receive a response.

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