Today Burkina Faso, among the five poorest countries in the world, with almost eleven million of its twenty million inhabitants living below the poverty line, finds itself in the midst of a tide of popular demonstrations, given the failure of the security policies pursued by President Roch Kaboré, re-elected last year for another five-year term.
The erratic anti-terrorist policy of the government, was exposed by the hundreds of attacks, which the country has been suffering for five years, including the one that happened November 14, in a gendarmerie detachment in Inata, in the north of the country, where 53 gendarmes and four civilians were killed during an incursion of the rigorists.
Since 2016, the country has begun to suffer the constant actions of the different fundamentalist organizations that operated in the Sahel, such as the Jamā’at Nuṣrat al-Islām wa-l-Muslimīn (Support Group for Islam and Muslims (JNIM)) a conglomerate of armed groups that united in 2017 and answer to the command of global al-Qaeda, Daesh in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and the native group Ansarul Islam. In pursuit of leading the terrorist war, armed clashes between Daesh mujahideen and JNIM mujahideen have been frequent.
Until 2015, because of the iron repressive measures developed during the long dictatorship of Blaise Compoaré, overthrown in that year, the country was also able to stay out of the fundamentalist operations that since 2012, had been taking place in Mali and Niger. But everything changed on January 15, 2016, just days after Kaboré’s inauguration, when Ouagadougou, the country’s capital, suffered its baptism of fire, with a series of coordinated attacks against cafes, restaurants and hotels, which left some thirty dead and plunged the country into a scale of violence that has not stopped to this day. After hundreds of attacks, which have left thousands dead and forced more than a million people to flee their homes, particularly in the north of the country, where hundreds of schools have had to be closed after a wave of targeted attacks against teachers and professors. Today the terrorist escalation has spread across the country, from the porous borders with Mali in the north and Niger in the east, to the Ivory Coast border in the south of the country.
The security crisis has forced the government of Kaboré to pass a law of “voluntary” recruitment, to swell the ranks of both the Army and the Police, to which have been added self-defense groups known as Koglweogo, in Mossi language: “vigilantes of the forest”, with presence in rural areas.
The protests shaking the country today, beyond the ineffectiveness of the measures against terrorism, are also influenced by the constant abuses to which the civilian population is subjected, both by the security forces and by the self-defense groups, which at the same time are aggravating the always tense inter-community relations. At the center are the Fulani or Peul, an ethnic group of shepherds, originally nomadic, spread throughout almost all the countries of West Africa, who are accused of having links with terrorist groups, which has stimulated the increasingly frequent attacks against them, starting an endless cycle of revenge. This is also repeated in Mali, Niger and Nigeria, among other nations.
These episodes have made it possible that the different khatibas operating in the country have had a substantial increase in their ranks, since many young people find in these organizations, not only a “job outlet”, but also as a way to rebel against the abuses that their communities are being subjected to.
The actions between the communities and the security forces have left real massacres such as those that happened in January 2019, where a Koglweogos patrol killed more than fifty Fulani in Yirgou district in response to an earlier attack against the pro-government militia. At the same time, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has denounced the Burkinabe authorities for the execution of some thirty civilians after they were arrested by the army in an anti-terrorist operation in the northern district of Djibo in April 2020.
Marking the growing instability last November 19, several thousand protesters blocked a French military supply convoy, belonging to Operation Barkhane, which was heading to Mali, in the district of Kaya, about a hundred kilometers north of Ouagadougou. The French transports, coming from the Ivory Coast, were heading via Burkina Faso and Niger, with final destination of Mali.
After entering Burkina, the convoy was stopped in Bobo-Dioulasso, the country’s second largest city, and then in Ouagadougou where barricades were erected, tires were burned, government buildings were looted and computers and documents were thrown into the streets. The demonstrations ended in clashes with the police. In order to stop communication between the demonstrators, under the excuse of “national security”, the Government cut Internet services more than a week ago and banned any kind of demonstration.
After the French convoy was stopped in the town of Kaya, 350 kilometers east of Niamey, the Nigerian capital, where the convoy was held for almost a week, French and Burkinabe troops reportedly opened fire and fired tear gas on the crowd, resulting in four civilians being injured by firearms. Some local sources reported that the protesters had evidence that the convoy was carrying weapons for terrorists operating in Mali. Which would not be entirely unreasonable, considering the growing enmity between Paris and the nationalist junta of colonels that has installed itself in Bamako.
France sinks into the desert
After entering Niger, the French caravan spent the night in the town of Tera, in the region of Tillabéry, so that on Saturday morning, about a thousand demonstrators again prevented the transit, which continued towards Niamey. In an attempt to escape the new siege, the French troops again opened fire, resulting in the death of two civilians and the wounding of 18 others, eleven of them seriously. Other versions, denied by the local authorities, say that the French army in Tera, would have produced dozens of dead.
While it is still not clear the real number of victims caused on the route of the French caravan which left Ivory Coast more than ten days ago, the spokesman of the General Staff of the French Army, Colonel Pascal Ianni, accused the demonstrators of wanting to “seize the trucks”. This is why the Nigerian gendarmes and French soldiers were forced to fire warning shots. Nothing has been said from Paris, but it is known that “no French soldier was injured” and only two civilian drivers suffered some injuries.
The convoy episode makes clear the degradation that France is suffering as a result of its notorious failure in the fight against Wahhabi terrorism in the Sahel region, if it ever intended to fight it, and not only to monitor that the mujahideen did not get out of hand. Beyond any presumption the incontrovertible fact is that Paris with a very long Operation Barkhane, with which it put on the ground more than five thousand troops in 2013, has achieved nothing, or rather has managed to generate more instability in the region. Four coups d’état: two in Mali, one in Chad and one in Burkina Faso; the reactivation of intercommunity conflicts in several countries in the area and an exponential growth of terrorism, which since the north of Mali in 2012, has launched itself to conquer the continent, opening new fronts in Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Guinea, Benin, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and Mozambique… so far and deepening the long conflict in Nigeria.
Never before had a Barkhane mission been the target of the manifest rejection of the local population, who had considered them as true liberators of Wahhabi terrorism. After almost ten years of failure, France has succeeded in consolidating, for example, the Coalition of Burkina Faso Patriots (Copa-BF), part of a growing pan-African movement that rejects the presence of French soldiers.
In any case, Paris continues to deny the obvious and seeks, as always, culprits on whom to unload its responsibilities, and for that nothing better than Russia, of course, a nation which, according to the analysis of the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, has suggested that Russia, after having “taken over” the Central African Republic, has considerably weakened France in its former colony. What Moscow would be reproducing in Mali and Burkina Faso.
A source in the Elysée also consoles himself by shifting responsibilities and looking for ghosts: “Russia wants to weaken us and why not expel us from Africa. We have lost Bangui (capital of the Central African Republic) and Moscow continues to advance”.
Perhaps at the same pace at which France is sinking in the desert.