Security in Burkina Faso has steadily deteriorated since 2015. Seeking to address the spiraling violence, the Burkinabé government enacted a state of emergency in nearly one third of all provinces in the country by the end of 2018.
Security in Burkina Faso has steadily deteriorated since 2015. Seeking to address the spiraling violence, the Burkinabé government enacted a state of emergency in nearly one third of all provinces in the country by the end of 2018. Yet, so far, 2019 in Burkina Faso is on track to be the most violent and deadliest year on record, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project . A set of maps produced by the Africa Center for Strategic Studiesdisplays the activities of different militant Islamist groups over time in the Sahel.
The maps underscore the increase and expansion of activity, and, also importantly, the diversity of actors engaged in destabilizing the region. ISGS has profited from long standing smuggling routes that connect the Sahel to North Africa and to Europe. Since the renewal of the state of emergency in the Burkinabé provinces bordering Niger in July, Operation Otapuanu led by Burkinabé forces appears to have diminished ISGS’s activities. However, the possibility that insecurity in eastern Burkina Faso may spread farther south, threatening coastal countries, continues to capture the attention of leaders in the region.
Initially, this violence centered around Djibo, the capital city of Soum province, and was claimed by the group Ansaroul Islam. The sustained presence of Burkinabé security forces through Operation Ndofou, and pressure from the French counterterrorism operation Barkhane, may have also contributed to Ansaroul Islam’s apparent decline in 2019. However, by mid-2019, attacks on security forces had seen a surge in the northern regions. For instance, on August 19, Burkinabé armed forces based in Soum province at Koutougou fell under attack by militant Islamists.
Many of the violent events in Burkina Faso that have captured international attention are attributed to JNIM or its affiliates. Operating as a loose network of militant Islamist groups, JNIM is officially led by Iyad Ag Ghali, the Tuareg leader of Ansar al Dine which is primarily active in northern Mali. With the apparent decline of Ansaroul Islam, JNIM may be seeking to expand its influence by incorporating combatants familiar with and already in northern Burkina Faso. This may pose an increased threat to Ouagadougou.
JNIM, or groups linked to the terrorist network, targeted the capital using attacks on soft targets in 2016 and 2017 as well as simultaneous attacks on the French Embassy and Burkinabé Military headquarters in 2018. In addition to the continued threat of violence in Ouagadougou, large-scale intercommunal violence in the outlying provinces of Burkina Faso poses perhaps the most serious threat to stability in the country. The stigmatization of the Fulani community, because of their perceived association with militant Islamist groups, has aggravated social tensions throughout the Liptako-Gourma region. ” This is a relatively new phenomenon in Burkina Faaso which, historically, has exhibited peaceful relations between its diverse communities.
Security forces must begin to reassert control over this situation and reign in the Koglweogo militias to prevent vigilante justice from further spiraling out of control. The risk of widespread and unprecedented ethnic clashes throughout the central plateau of Burkina Faso currently presents one of the most worrying threats to reestablishing peace in the region. Despite the increased violence and insecurity, it is important to recognize that the political situation in the country has remained remarkably stable. In 2014, a popular insurrection overthrew the former regime and ousted former president Blaise Compaoré after he had held onto power for 27 years.
That event could have completely destabilized the country, resulting in years of political instability in addition to the insecurity and violence observed over the last few years. Instead, political leaders, civil society and the military in Burkina Faso successfully established an inclusive transitional government. During 2015, transitional authorities navigated a series of challenges to successfully return the country to democratic civilian rule. The current government has struggled to address the security situation in the country, but political institutions have persisted despite these challenges.
Widespread insecurity in the northern and eastern regions of the country have not degenerated into a full-blown political crisis, as it may have. Empowering the Burkinabé government to further pursue the reestablishment of security will be crucial for the fulfilment of these hopes.