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Burkina Faso Today: Internal Security Over Return To Civilian Rule

On September 30, 2022, a coup d’état took place in Burkina Faso, ousting the former leader of the country, Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba. Ironically, Damiba became the interim president of Burkina Faso just eight months before, again through a coup. The justification for the September coup was the inability of Damiba to deal with the rising internal conflicts in the country and the ineffective suppression of growing jihadist militias. 

Ibrahim Traore, a relatively unknown figure in African politics, became the interim leader of the country. Two years since the success of the coup, there are talks about potential elections being held in the country this summer. However, with the expansion of radical jihadists and the continuous attacks on civilians, elections should not be on the agenda. Security and stability in Burkina Faso must be guaranteed before any transition to democratic civilian rule.

Burkina Faso is a West African nation that conflict and political instability have swallowed for decades. Despite that, Ibrahim Traore, a former captain of the national army and Interim President of Burkina Faso, has set a top bar in stabilizing the country and achieving a more prosperous nation. But he has to deal with a plethora of issues that his predecessors have unsuccessfully tackled. The number one priority is the successful suppression of the growing jihadist groups. For almost ten years now, the West African nation has suffered from a series of barbarous attacks primarily in the North of the country.

Just recently, a terrorist attack on the Catholic Diocese of Dori left at least 15 people dead. The attacks then further spread to nearby villages where government officials estimated that at least 170 people were executed. The attacks are all linked to jihadist groups closely affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS). Although the primary target is the Christian minority residing in the country, there have been reports of various attacks also against Muslims who refuse to follow the extremist dogma imposed on them by the jihadists.

The jihadist problem in the area is a complex issue that also involves Mali and Niger. In Burkina Faso, the problem of terrorism rose substantially in 2015, when tensions in neighboring Mali and Niger spread to the north of the country. Traditionally, as is the case with many African nations, certain regions of a country tend to be more prosperous and stable than others. In the north of the country, in the province of Soum, locals for years have cultivated a sense of abandonment and indifference from the capital of Burkina Faso Ouagadougou. One preacher that resided at that area was Malam Ibrahim Dicko, founder of the Islamic militia group Ansarul Islam

At its beginning, Dicko was seen as the leading voice of the poor displaced people in the north, calling for an end to the societal segregation between the capital and the northern regions. However, Dicko soon found himself leading one of the most violent groups in the country’s history until he died in 2017. His death did not bring an end to the terror. On the contrary, terrorist attacks increased against the army and soon civilians. Christians, especially, were hunted and executed with no mercy. 

For almost ten years now, the Burkinabé army, with the guidance of the French, has been battling the Jihadi groups with relatively minor success. The predecessor of Ibrahim Traore, Paul Damiba, had tried to negotiate a peace treaty with the jihadi groups with no result. In reality, just the suggestion of peace talks encouraged the jihadi groups to intensify their attacks on civilians, taking advantage of the political instability that loomed over the capital. In addition, the expulsion of the French troops from the country after Traore came to power fueled the ongoing political instability that spread all over the country. 

The expulsion of the French army troops is an important point that I want to address because it will bring my argument to the second most important problem that needs to be tackled in the country. That is the close cooperation between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. All three countries have expelled the French from their lands, all of them face attacks from jihadist groups, and all of them are in such proximity to each other that it makes sense to me that one country’s problem directly affects its neighbors. 

In the case of Burkina Faso, we are witnessing a rising political figure receiving overwhelming support in the country for the first time since the death of Thomas Sankara, the charismatic revolutionary leader who was assassinated in 1987. Ibrahim Traore and his vision of a pan-African Union that is not directly controlled by former colonial powers sends echoes of hope across the nation. During his rise in 2022, many civilians and political figures put their faith in his vision for Burkina Faso. Monique Yeli Kam, president of the Movement for the Renaissance of Burkina Faso, sees Traore as the beacon of hope for the people of the country. In her own words:

“He embodies renewal, a generational renewal, a break with old practices, in order to support and defend the vision of national unity”. 

As expected, her words reflect the general voice of the country, a country that tries to find some sort of stability and a better quality of life. However, hopes and aspirations alone are not enough to deal with the reality of the situation. The immediate cooperation between Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso is a pivotal step towards stability in the region. Just last month, they took a controversial step. All three of the countries announced that they will withdraw from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Their decision comes with the justification that ECOWAS is heavily influenced by foreign powers and that instead of aid against their fight with the jihadists, the members of ECOWAS imposed sanctions on them. 

From one point of view, one can say that the isolation of all three nations from the ECOWAS will result in more problems and instability. At that point, I will have to agree that in the short term, I see more political stagnation and escalation of violence. On the other hand, one must view this decision as a historic one, where foreign powers and leaders that shared a common vision of pan-Africanism respected and heard the voice of the common people as they demanded more independence.

In the end, I can safely say that the whole situation in Burkina Faso was always inevitable. With the current changes in global hegemony and the rise of the Global South, a political figure like Ibrahim Traore was definitely on the rise. Two years since the coup, the country has not transitioned into a state of political and societal stability. In that case alone, I believe we must reject any talks of democratic elections and a return to civilian rule for now. It is impossible to have general elections in a country where at least 40% is unapproachable by the army and controlled on a large scale by extremist terrorist forces. What will be interesting are the next steps that Traore will take in terms of international cooperation. If the West and the members of ECOWAS cannot assist Burkina Faso, will Traore completely turn to the East for assistance? Will also the leaders of Mali and Niger follow his example, and will there be an actual end to the slaughter of civilians? It is crucial to observe the ongoing international steps that Burkina Faso will take, as it will inevitably change the geopolitical form of the Sahel region.

Image: AP/via The Guardian

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