Sub-Saharan Africa

The project studied the experience of Christians in sub-Saharan Africa by examining three countries: Nigeria, Kenya, and Sudan. Christians are persecuted by extremist Islamist militant groups in northern Nigeria, where Muslims are a strong majority and where sharia is the law in twelve of Nigeria’s thirty-six states, and in Kenya, which is 82 percent Christian and 11 percent Muslim. In Sudan, by contrast, it is primarily the government that persecutes Christians. Islamist groups Boko Haram in Nigeria and al-Shabaab in Kenya target Christians (as well as Muslims deemed heterodox) because of their religious beliefs. Boko Haram, it is estimated, has destroyed over 200 churches, internally displaced 1.5 million people, created 200,000 refugees, inflicted 13,000 deaths, and kidnapped and made sex slaves of Christian women. It is estimated that in 2013 more Christians were killed in Nigeria as a result of religious persecution than in the rest of the world combined. Al-Shabaab has committed crimes of the same sort, though on a lesser scale. 

In Sudan, particularly since the secession of South Sudan in 2011, the government has preached a religious nationalism, insisting that to be Sudanese is to be Muslim. In keeping with this ideology, the regime has persecuted Christians, at times through deadly violence, but mostly by making it difficult for Christians to worship openly, including by actually demolishing churches and by sanctioning discrimination and harassment. 

Christian responses in northern Nigeria (where the violence is concentrated in that country) have mostly followed a survival approach, with most Christians fleeing areas of violence and so becoming Internally Displaced People (IDP) or refugees. 

Associational responses from Christian leaders have also been common—and, in some cases, effective. 

Leaders in Nigeria and Kenya have strengthened ties among churches and have worked to build bridges with Muslim community leaders, even proclaiming forgiveness publicly in order to counter the jihadist discourse.

These efforts have produced some results. For example, in several cases in both Nigeria and Sudan, Muslims have hidden Christians from other Muslim attackers. 

In all three countries, Christian leaders have appealed to governments to respond to violence by militants or to allow greater freedom. Christians in Nigeria and Kenya debate the government’s use of military force against militants; Christian leaders in Nigeria are widely disappointed by the government’s lack of protection. In Sudan, Christian leaders have appealed to international actors and have achieved some success in securing the release of prisoners. Some activists, though, have appealed to the government of Sudan for greater religious freedom only to be punished for it. 

A small number of Christians in these countries have adopted openly confrontational approaches. A group of Christians in Nigeria has taken up arms in self-defense. Christian leaders have sought to shame the governments of both Nigeria and Kenya through international media and advocacy campaigns. Christian leaders in Sudan have openly criticized the government and have suffered imprisonment as a result.