Nearly a million children have been unable to return to school in Burkina Faso this week due to insecurity caused by the ongoing jihadist insurgency in the country. The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) expressed concern and has strengthened its system of radios for distance courses.
Some 3.8 million primary and secondary children began the new school year on Monday, but Unicef says around one million are still unable to go to school due to violence and insecurity.
“Some 6,000 are still schools closed, which represents around 25 percent of the country’s schools,” Emilie Roye, Unicef head of education in Burkina Faso told RFI.
“Insecurity is preventing the opening of certain schools because civil servants such as teachers are unable to reach their posts. In other cases, insecurity has forced the displacement of large numbers of the population, with some villages completely emptied.”
Some parents, in rural areas in particular, will not allow their their children to walk to school amid fears of potential attacks.
Three regions are affected: Mouhoun, the Sahel and the East, where more than 1,000 schools have closed their doors.
Burkina Faso has been in the grips of a jihadist insurgency since 2015. More than 10,000 people have been killed – both civilians and military – according to NGOs, while some two million people have been displaced.
In October 2022, captain Ibrahim Traoré overthrew lieutenant-colonel Paul-Henri Damiba and took power in what was the second putsch in the space of only eight months.
The junta accused those in power of being unable to cope with the rise of jihadist groups in the country.
However, the situation has not improved with the new leadership, who have cut ties with former colonial ruler France and turned towards support from Russia.
To help the thousands of children not in school continue to learn, Unicef, in collaboration with Burkina Faso’s Ministry of Education, is trying to ramp up an existing distance education programme.
More than 2,600 solar radios were distributed for the start of the school year.
“Radio education allows children to continue their educational routine, to acquire the necessary foundations in reading, writing, arithmetic, with the hope that, as soon as possible, they will be able to reintegrate a form of education,” says Roye.
“The regime is unable to do what it criticised its predecessors for – failing to ensure security,” West Africa specialist at Sciences Po, Francis Kpatindé, told RFI.
“The situation is going from bad to worse, with almost half of Burkina Faso’s territory out of government control.”
The situation, Kpatindé adds, is also weakening Burkina Faso’s neighboring countries and opening corridors of access to the sea for jihadists.
There has been no political life in Burkina Faso since captain Traoré came to power and his junta suspended political activities and cracked down on freedom of expression.
Referring to a new coup attempt on 28 September, Kpatindé says Traoré has been further weakened.
“There is the malaise within the army. Obviously some senior officers do not agree with the line being followed today and are trying to make it heard,” he says. “It cannot be ruled out that there were putsch attempts.”