Burkina Faso: A story of destabilization of jihadist insurgency

Attacks by jihadists linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group have killed thousands and an estimated 1.5 million people on the run in Burkina Faso since 2015. Members of the military, critical of the government’s strategy to combat Islamist terrorism, imprisoned the president and took power on January 23. Jowhartakes a look at how the security crisis developed.

Members of the armed forces ousted Burkina Faso’s government on Sunday, accusing it of failure in the fight against terrorism. For months, there had been an uprising in the army supported by many civilians, with protests against the government in several cities that were often banned and dispersed by the riot police.

Anger over the deteriorating security situation and the government’s inability to halt jihadist violence boiled over on Sunday, with several uprisings erupting over the West African country. Mutable soldiers demanded the resignation of army leaders and greater resources for the fight against jihadists while protesters set fire to the ruling party’s headquarters in the capital Ouagadougou.

The government announced a curfew on Sunday and uncertainty remained over the fate of President Roch Koboré, who is believed to have been detained by the military. In power since 2015, he was re-elected in 2020 with a promise to make the fight against jihadists a priority. Kaboré had promised to put an end to “dysfunction” in the army after a series of attacks on security forces and introduce anti-corruption measures.

But northern and eastern Burkina Faso, in the volatile region near Niger and Mali, are still under terrorist attack from Nusrat al-Islam (an offshoot of al-Qaeda) and the Islamic State group in Greater Sahara.

Between 2015 and 2018, terrorist attacks targeted the capital Ouagadougou and other centers of power. Since 2019, attacks from mobile combat units have mostly been aimed at rural areas in the northern and eastern part of the country, which has fueled mass displacements and violence between municipalities. About 2,000 people were killed, among them civilians and members of the Armed Forces or Volunteers for the Defense of the Homeland, a civilian aid group to the army created in 2020.

Islamist militants are now moving freely across parts of the country, forcing residents of certain regions to follow a strict version of Islamic law. At the same time, the army’s continued struggle against the Islamists has depleted the country’s already meager resources.

A timeline for jihadist violence in Burkina Faso On January 15, 2016, 30 people were killed in a double terrorist attack carried out by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb at the Splendid Hotel and the Cappuccino restaurant in Ouagadougou. Many of the victims were stationed abroad from the west. On March 2, 2018, eight deaths were reported among the security forces following attacks on the French Embassy and Burkina Faso forces. On January 1, 2019, the ethnic group Fulani, accused of collaborating with jihadist groups, was targeted by Mossi, another ethnic group, in an attack that killed 72 people, according to official estimates. Another 6,000 were forced to flee. On August 19, 2019, 24 soldiers were killed in an attack on an army base in Koutougouin in the north of the country. The army was targeted again in December in a new attack by heavily armed jihadists on and around Arabinda, a city near the border with Mali. On January 25, 2020, 39 civilians were massacred at the village market in Silgadjiin in the north of the country. About 40 civilians were killed the week before in villages near Nagraogo and Alamou. From March to June 2021, a series of mutinies shook Burkinabe’s capital: 566 troops were deposed and a new army chief was nominated by the president. On June 5, 2021, at least 160 people were killed in a new massacre. Many victims were members of the Volunteers for the Defense of Homeland Army relief group. On November 14, 2021, 57 people were killed in an attack on the police station in Inata, of which 54 were police officers. They had alerted the authorities about lack of resources two weeks before the attack. On December 10, 2021, Lassina Zerbo was nominated as Prime Minister after his predecessor resigned after criticism that he had not been able to stop terrorist violence. On January 11, 2022, eight soldiers were arrested who were accused of planning “a project to destabilize the institutions of the republic”. This article was translated from the original into French.

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