Burkina Faso Confronts a Humanitarian Catsatrophe as Jihadists Besiege Cities

The government of Burkina Faso calls for calm, restraint and not to risk plunging the country into the maelstrom of demonstrations.

A political struggle at the service of jihadists

On Saturday, the government of Burkina Faso called on residents to “remain calm and exercise restraint” following a demonstration against the French presence in the country against a background of rumors that Russia supports the recent coup led by the young captain Ibrahim Traore (34), turning the conflict into a hidden battle of influence between Paris and Moscow.

This hidden conflict comes at a time when residents of cities besieged by jihadists are suffering from hunger and a clear government deficit.

“The government calls on the population for calm and restraint, and not to risk plunging our country into an endless cycle of demonstrations that offend our goals of peace, stability and security sought by our people,” government spokesman Jean-Emmanuel Ouedraogo said in a statement.

He added that the government ” calls on young people in particular not to deviate and focus on defense goals in the comprehensive war we are waging against terrorism (…) instead of these demonstrations, the usefulness of which has not yet been proven on the cause of the struggle of our people.”

Jihadists consolidate their positions

رفض الوجود الفرنسي متواصل Burkina Faso security forces on Friday dispersed a demonstration in Ouagadougou in which hundreds of people protested against the presence of France, some waving Russian flags, saying they wanted their leaders to strengthen relations with Russia.

The demonstrators gathered at the United Nations roundabout in the heart of the capital and headed to the French embassy, some on motorcycles, to the campoinsin base on the outskirts of the capital, where France has a military presence within the sabre force.

The government of Burkina Faso stressed on Saturday that it “will not abandon the rules and principles of protection that it adheres to towards diplomats and diplomatic missions located on the territory of Burkina Faso”.

On October twenty-eighth, hundreds demonstrated to demand “France leave Burkina Faso within 72 hours”.

On the anniversary of the September thirtieth coup that brought Ibrahim Traore to power, who has since become interim president, demonstrators attacked French interests in Burkina Faso, including the embassy and two French institutes.

Moscow enjoys growing popular support in several French-speaking African countries, while the reputation of France, a former colonial power, is increasingly being tarnished, especially in Mali, a neighboring country of Burkina Faso, which has also been led by military coup since 2020.

In Burkina Faso, the ruling military council has not closed the door to rapprochement with Russia, but has not shown any hostility to France, which continues to support the Burkina Faso army in its fight against jihadists.

As Burkina Faso finds itself caught between France and Russia, residents of a large number of towns in the north of the country, NGOs and the authorities emphasize that the humanitarian situation is “catastrophic” and getting worse in this region besieged by jihadist groups.

Idrissa Badini, spokesman for a group of civil society organizations in the province of SOM and its capital, Jibo, said that “the situation is catastrophic” in this city, explaining that “hunger has reached a level that kills children and the elderly”.

He added that 15 people died of hunger in October in this city, which has been besieged by jihadists for months. ”There are probably more victims and not all of them have been reported”.

By blowing up bridges and launching deadly attacks against convoys supplying this large city in northern Burkina Faso, the jihadists have plunged Djibo and its region into destitution.

“All the shops are closed, ” said Slimane Diko, a resident of Djibo who moved to the capital Ouagadougou. There is nothing to eat and nothing to sell”. “Whether you are poor or rich, you cannot buy anything because the products are not available,”

“The worst thing is that in the dry season the leaves of trees or other herbs that we used to cut to boil are no longer available. People are starving. It is very difficult to supply the city by road, ” he explained in response to an AFP question. When we walk the wild road we realize that we are in the axis of death, the axis of Jibo – burzanga”.

Dozens of towns in Burkina Faso are facing the same conditions as in Djibo. About a million people are currently living in areas under siege.

Along this road, several convoys carrying supplies have been attacked recently. In September, 35 people, including children, were killed when a mine exploded while a truck carrying them was passing, while 11 soldiers were killed in another ambush targeting a convoy.

These supplies are essential. In many parts of the country, agricultural production has stopped and access to the fields is difficult due to insecurity.

Ibrahim Traore chose to go to Djibo on his first trip in the country at the beginning of November. He did not underestimate the seriousness of the situation.

“Go see the children whose skin has become glued to their bones, the elderly who are starving, and women who can no longer breastfeed because they have no milk left,” he said a few days ago in Ouagadougou to representatives of political parties and civil society organizations.

“Let’s not pretend” that everything is fine, he added, stressing that “this is happening, people are eating leaves of trees in order to survive. The situation is alarming ( … ) in a land that has almost been lost”.

For years, Jibo has become a gathering point for displaced residents of the northern regions who fled the jihadist violence of groups linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Its population has tripled and today it is estimated at about 300 thousand people. But at the moment, some are trying to flee south to the capital Ouagadougou.

“After being deprived of water, food, medicine and a telephone network, many are leaving Jibo on foot at night in the hope of reaching areas that are still accessible,” said one humanitarian worker, requesting anonymity.

The United Nations says dozens of towns in Burkina Faso are facing the same conditions as in Djibo. About one million people currently live in areas under siege in the north or east of the country.

Idrissa Badini cites the example of the town of arbinda, located east of Djibo, where tens of thousands of people from neighboring areas gathered to escape the attacks.

“The regular land convoys that used to provide the population with food and living materials have stopped and nothing is reaching Arbinda anymore,” he said. “The population, which has exhausted its reserves, is about to face a humanitarian catastrophe,” he added.

Despite the attacks, supplies have recently resumed. At the end of October, the army transported seventy tons of grain by air to the city of Jibo, which then provided it by land on the second and third of November with more than 300 tons of food, according to the General Staff. Seven mines were deactivated en route.

“We have managed to supply some villages, but the supply of other villages has not yet been completed,” said Captain Traore.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), some 3.5 million people will need emergency food assistance in the coming months in Burkina Faso.

Al Arab