Burkina Faso Caught Between Terror and Protests for Change

A map showing the location of Nadiagou, located in the southeast of Burkina Faso, not far from the border with Benin and Togo.
2 December 2021

President Roch Marc Christian Kabore has vowed to improve the fight against terrorism following protests in Burkina Faso. However, many people feel that these are empty words and have been calling for his resignation.

A surge of Islamic militant violence in Burkina Faso is taking on a new dimension.

The situation is particularly worrying in Nadiagou, located in the southeast, not far from the border with Benin and Togo.

DW reported that the al-Qaida-linked jihadist militia group JNIM which originated in Mali, brought a town under its control for the first time. The men fled, the churches closed.

Protesters are frustrated with the state's failure to stop the violence.

"The jihadists control the village," a resident who fled to the capital, Ouagadougou, but remained in contact with relatives told DW.

"Only women, children, and old people are left."

While there was no official confirmation, a reliable source in security circles corroborated the account.

The development shows how easily militias appear to spread their grip in the region. JNIM has carried out attacks in the north and northwest, while the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) is mainly active in the east and the border region of neighboring Niger.

"Our country is at war, and it is disappearing more and more. We have already lost a large part of the land," said Ibrahima Maiga, who now lives in the US and is a cofounder of the movement Sauvons le Burkina Faso (Save Burkina Faso).

Calls for President Kabore to quit

For weeks, the civil society group has been exerting massive pressure on the government of Kabore, who has been in power since 2015.

This weekend, Sauvons le Burkina Faso plans to organize new demonstrations.

"We have decided to keep protesting until there is real change. For us, this is only possible if President Kabore steps down. That is why we are maintaining this momentum," Maiga told DW.

More than 2,000 people have died as a result of terror since 2016. Some 285 people died between July and September alone, according to the children's agency UNICEF.

Nearly 1.5 million people are on the run, about 2,700 schools are closed, and over 300,000 children and young people no longer receive an education. The terror threat is the most significant security crisis since Burkina Faso gained independence from France in 1960.

The attack that changed everything

The trigger for the tremendous pressure on the government was the November 14 attack on security forces in Inata in the north near the Malian border.

The assault was the deadliest attack security forces in Burkina Faso have endured since the insurgency kicked off in 2015.

Jihadis killed at least 49 gendarmes and four civilians.

The attack has fueled anger against both the government in Ouagadougou and the French military forces that support it. Protests against Kabore's government have been sporadic since then.

For many Burkinabes, like Prosper Nikiema, the militants had finally crossed a line. He said the ambush on a military police post showed that something had been wrong for far too long.

"Of course, there have always been signs of danger. But these have not been taken seriously at all," Nikiema told DW.

For him, too, only one thing is logical: Kabore's resignation. He, however, thinks that Kabore lacks the courage.

Nikiema suggested that the need to find men who could fight terrorism efficiently. For example, with a transnational anti-terrorist operation.

On Tuesday, security minister Maxime Kone announced that Ghana, Togo, and Ivory Coast participated in such a mission with more than 5,700 soldiers. As a result, they arrested at least 300 suspects and confiscated illegal firearms. However, that operation was planned before the recent protests.

Fighting across borders

Amadou Diemdioda Dicko, a member of parliament for the opposition Union for Progress and Change (UPC) party, believes cross-border initiatives are crucial.

"The situation is also very similar in Mali and Niger," Dicko told DW. "People need to understand that we can only fight terrorism together."

In his opinion, it is not just the government's responsibility: "The population must be involved by, for example, reporting suspicious persons. Weapons alone will not bring a solution."

This is evident in neighboring Mali. Despite international military missions and training programs for the armed forces, the security situation has deteriorated in recent years.

To set an example quickly, Kabore appointed Lieutenant Colonel Wendwaoga Kere as inspector general to remedy the grievances within the armed forces. For parliamentarian Diemdioda Dicko, Kere's appointment is a step in the right direction.

"Action is demanded of the president, after all," he emphasized.

New faces instead of fundamental changes

But for Ibrahima Maiga of the movement Sauvons le Burkina Faso, that is not enough: "He has changed the chief of staff four times. He had four defense ministers. We have tried and replaced everything. Just not him yet."

Maiga, instead, called for a government of national unity. However, he noted that it is difficult to find someone to head it. "The opposition and the government are the same," he added.

Eric Ismael Kinda, the spokesman for the citizens' movement Balai Citoyen (Citizen's Broom), also agreed that replacing people is insufficient. Instead, he said, competence was needed.

Balai Citoyen led peaceful protests that forced former President Blaise Compaore to resign in 2014. However, Burkina Faso's best-known civil society organization has not yet joined the demonstrations.

"No organization has contacted us about this," Kinda told DW.

Balai Citoyen has always prided that their power lies in the massive civilian support. So it remains to be seen how many people Sauvons le Burkina Faso will mobilize for future protests.

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