“Officially, there is no location that has fallen to the terrorists,” says Jacob Yarabatioula, a sociologist at the University of Ouagadougou researching the violence. “But in reality, there are places at the extreme borders with Mali where you have no signs of the administration. No police, no gendarmerie, no defence forces, no schools. Those places are in a sense controlled by the terrorists.”
In the past year, attacks on civilians have surged, triggering a tenfold increase in displaced people, whose numbers rival those of Syrians from Idlib and Myanmar’s Rohingya. According to official records, nearly 800,000 Burkinabè people had fled their homes as of 29 February. But not all are being registered, and aid groups say the real number is far greater.
“If you look at the speed of arrivals and the lack of access for aid agencies and authorities to vast areas, there is no way the official figures are consistent,” says Tom Peyre-Costa from the Norwegian Refugee Council. “It’s highly probable that the figures are much, much higher.” […]
What is playing out in Burkina Faso and other pockets of the Sahel is more complex than a jihadist insurgency, analysts in the capital say. “At first it looked like terrorism,” Yarabatioula says. “But when we scratched the surface we noticed there were criminals involved too.“
As the state presence has diminished, especially in remote areas, local militias, highway robbers and smuggling gangs have proliferated. Some work with the jihadis and others fight them. When attacks occur, it is not always clear if they are motivated by an extremist interpretation of Islam, a local dispute or to win turf.
“This is really a fight for a corridor,” says Yarabatioula. “These groups want to free a corridor to be able to smuggle drugs, cigarettes, and so on, going from Togo to Niger to Mali. And they are trying to create another corridor from western Burkina to the Ivory Coast.” […]
The success of the armed groups is not just down to an under-resourced Burkinabè army – now being supported by French troops. They are also expertly playing on discontent in rural areas, especially among the ethnic minority Fulani group, who often complain of discrimination and neglect by the central government.
Many remote communities seethe at their lack of access to state resources, or when mines are granted to multinational companies and traditional hunting ranges are sold off as private estates, says Sawadogo.
“The terrorist groups come and say, we will give you all that the state takes from you. They take control of the hunting ranges and tell people: take it, it’s for you. They take control of the local mines and tell them: use it, it’s yours. So why wouldn’t they succeed?”
In contrast, the army’s efforts to beat back the militants have been marred by accusations of widespread human right abuses. “We’ve documented that 60 people were executed without trial last year,” says Aly Sanou, the secretary general of the Burkinabè Movement for Human and People’s Rights, a watchdog group based in Ouagadougou.
Burkina Faso: „Masked men, murder and mass displacement“