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Burkina Faso: coming undone

Burkina Faso
Newly displaced people waiting by the side of the road after fleeing attacks in Barsalogho, in northcentral Burkina Faso.

Once highly regarded for its religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence, Burkina Faso is being ravaged by attacks linked to Islamist militants, local defence militias and the army. Violence is rising – this year, almost 1,800 people had been killed as of August – prompting one million people to flee their homes and leaving 11,000 facing famine.

Instability began in 2014 after dictatorial President Blaise Compaoré was ousted after 27 years in power. When his special forces were disbanded, it left a power vacuum and an army that was ill-equipped to quell the spread of jihadist militant groups that spilled over from neighbouring Mali, exploiting existing grievances over land and resources in marginalized communities. 

The army – which gets military assistance from the US and the French – is struggling to stem attacks. Its own soldiers and allied local defence groups stand accused of exacerbating tensions by committing atrocities against civilians, specifically ethnic Fulanis, for their alleged affiliation with the jihadists.

‘The abuses by the army are war crimes, and they are also deeply counterproductive,’ says Corinne Dufka, West Africa director for Human Rights Watch. ‘They are pushing more and more men, full of vengeance for the unlawful killing of their loved ones, into the hands of the jihadists.’

Swaths of the country are inaccessible due to violence, specifically in the north, Sahel and east regions. Aid groups, already overstretched and underfunded, are struggling to cope with the unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

Legislative and presidential elections are due in November. But their legitimacy is already being called into question by civil society, since the main political parties voted to change the electoral code to allow votes to be considered valid even if people in violence-stricken areas will not be able to cast them.

Newly displaced people waiting by the side of the road after fleeing attacks in Barsalogho, in north-central Burkina Faso.


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