In This Review

Salafism and Political Order in Africa
Salafism and Political Order in Africa
By Sebastian Elischer
Cambridge University Press, 2021, 306 pp

Based on extensive fieldwork in six countries where Salafi Islam has an organized presence (Chad, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Uganda), Elischer seeks to understand why Salafi organizations get involved in or stay removed from political violence. He argues compellingly that the key mechanism is the relationship between the state and the faithful. Chad, Niger, and Uganda created informal regulatory mechanisms in the immediate post-independence era, prior to the growth of extremist Salafism. As a result, they have largely managed to avoid the emergence of homegrown Salafi violence. Elischer’s impressive case studies show that governments in those places co-opted the Islamic establishment to regulate the building of mosques and the content of sermons at Friday prayers, for instance, and responded to early signs of emerging extremism with the support of local Islamic leaders. On the other hand, Kenya, Mali, and Mauritania complacently ignored the rise of this extremist threat or allowed Islamic groups to organize themselves without state supervision. In these states, Islamist extremism was more likely to emerge and grow in strength before the state could react. Too often, observers assume that the weakness of African states condemns them to impotence; this powerful book suggests otherwise.