Jihadist attacks in Burkina Faso are increasing despite the junta’s efforts

OUAGADOUGOU – The mutinous soldiers who toppled Burkina Faso’s democratically elected president earlier this year have vowed they will work better to stop the jihadi violence that is rocking the country. But five months later attacks increase and patience with the junta seems to be dwindling.

Many in Burkina Faso supported January’s military takeover out of frustration at the previous government’s inability to stem Islamist extremist violence that has killed thousands and displaced at least two million. Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who led the coup and was later installed as interim president, vowed to restore security.

According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, al-Qaeda and Islamic State-related violence increased by nearly 7% in the first three months of the junta’s rule compared to the previous three months.

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“Beyond the immeasurable suffering, the impact of the violence and conflict – which shows no signs of abating – is likely to lead to renewed community discontent,” said Heni Nsaibia, lead researcher at ACLED.

Nearly 5,000 people have died in Burkina Faso in the past two years, and conflict experts say there will be far-reaching consequences if the violence continues to worsen.

“The decline in Burkina Faso will absolutely fuel the spread of jihadist activity in the Gulf of Guinea states — Benin, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Togo — where jihadist recruitment and violence is already occurring,” said Michael Shurkin, director of global programs at 14 North Strategies, a consulting firm based in Dakar, Senegal.

Damiba has asked citizens to give him until September to see an improvement. He has promoted junior officers with field experience and created a central coordination unit for military operations. His government has also supported local dialogues with jihadists to try to persuade fighters to lay down their arms and return to their homes.

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But the violence is increasing. At least 30 security guards have been killed and two foreigners kidnapped since April: an American nun and a Polish citizen. Last week, 11 gendarmes were killed by jihadists in the Sahel province of Seno, the army said in a statement.

The government is losing control of swaths of land, particularly in the north-central and Sahel regions, as jihadists have increased their use of roadside bombs and more sophisticated weapons.

Government soldiers say they lack equipment and have resorted to stealing weapons and ammunition from jihadists who kill them. The fact that so many of their colleagues are dying has also taken its toll, the soldiers say.

“Our situation is very difficult. Sometimes the enemy kills us because we regularly get exhausted,” said one soldier, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to journalists.

The jihadists change their strategy. They are targeting water sources and destroying 32 facilities this year, limiting access for nearly 300,000 people, a group of aid organizations working in the country said.

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“The conflict now threatens the very thing nobody can live without: clean water,” said Rebecca Bouchet-Petersen, Solidarity International’s country director in Burkina Faso.

Most water sources have been destroyed near Djibo in the arid Sahel, where most of the country’s displaced people live and have been under siege for months. According to government officials, local leaders in Djibo last month tried to negotiate an end to the blockade with the country’s top jihadist, Jafar Dicko.

It was the first time that the government provided logistical support to the local dialogues that have been going on for years. While the talks helped in part to allow for freer movement in and out of Djibo, community leaders say it’s a small improvement.

“I think if the government negotiates, we will see more meaningful results,” said Boubacari Dicko, the Emir of Djibo, who chaired the talks.

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But it is unclear whether Damiba’s government is prepared to take this step. The previous government publicly opposed such negotiations, although they held some in secret around the November 2020 presidential election.

There is also growing dissatisfaction with Damiba’s crackdown on civil liberties. The junta has restricted political demonstrations that “could disrupt public order or mobilize security forces more useful to the fight.”

But locals in hard-hit parts of Burkina Faso see few alternatives to the junta and say they are willing to give it a little more time. In August last year, 45-year-old Awa Komi tried to return to her village to farm because her family had nothing to eat, but fled when the jihadists started killing people, she said.

At a makeshift refugee camp in the northern city of Ouahigouya, where she now lives, she hopes Damiba will restore security so she can go home.

“He said things would change in five months,” said the outspoken mother-of-11, pumping her fist for emphasis. “If it’s not better in five months, we women will throw him out.”

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https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/06/13/jihadi-attacks-mount-in-burkina-faso-despite-juntas-efforts/ Jihadist attacks in Burkina Faso are increasing despite the junta’s efforts

Sarah Y. Kim

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