Around 3 million Afar peoples live in the Horn of Africa – primarily Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti. Their region crosses the borders of these three countries and is sometimes referred to as the Afar Triangle. They are a proud ethnic group and highly individualistic, with a distinct Afar language.
The Afar are primarily Sunni Muslim. But most Afar people nominally practice Islam, especially in more rural areas. It’s believed that Islam was introduced to the Afar by Arab migrants as early as the ninth century.
The Afar are nomadic, moving from highlands to lowlands as the seasons change. They mostly raise livestock such as goats, camels, sheep, and occasionally, cattle. Some also work salt mines or fish in coastal regions. The Afar are divided into two classes: the Adoimara (the working class) and the Asaimara (the politically-dominant, noble class).
They are also fearsome warriors and known for their many battle songs. The Afar function in family groups, but will come together in tribes or subtribes when war breaks out among themselves or with outsiders. Most men carry a curved knife called a jile. Killing one’s enemies brings honor and prestige.
Inter-clan conflict has a long history among the Afar. This only got worse when Eritrea became an independent nation in 1993 and cut borders through Afar land to separate from Ethiopia.
The Eritrea-Ethiopia border continues to be a cause of conflict. Many Afar don’t want to see their people separated by state lines. But others are threatened by various rebel groups on both sides of the border. Although the Afar aren’t devout in their practice of Islam, the Afar Liberation Front (ALF) wants to declare an independent Islamic state for their people.
On a practical level, the Afar face many challenges as pastoralists in a parched desert. Whenever drought and famine strike the Horn of Africa, Afar lands and livestock suffer. And since they are a marginalized ethnic group, government aid is slow to respond. Security concerns also make it difficult for international relief to get in.
Protestant ministry among Algerian Arabs was begun in the 19th century by amazing pioneers like Lilias Trotter. By the 1980s, a number of Arab churches were established. Since then, God has moved in a powerful way among the Kabyle Berbers, such that there are now tens of thousands of Kabyle Christians.
We praise God that the Afar currently have a complete Bible translation and access to the Jesus Film in their heart language! Yet more Gospel resources are desperately needed. The Afar tragically remain an unreached people group with no active witness for the Gospel. This has to change.
Not many outsiders want to engage Afar peoples, and the Afar are suspicious of foreigners. But Ethiopia, the nation with the most Afar people, is a largely Christian nation surrounded by Islamic countries. This already established Ethiopian Church presents an open door for the Gospel in this region. What if Ethiopian believers were compelled and activated to reach their Afar neighbors with the hope of the Gospel?
Because the Afar reach across multiple borders, if family groups and even tribes started to turn to Jesus, it could impact the entire Horn of Africa!