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Burkina Faso: A history of destabilisation by jihadist insurgencies

Attacks by jihadists linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State group have killed thousands and displaced an estimated 1.5 million people in Burkina Faso since 2015. Members of the army, critical of the government’s strategy for battling Islamist terrorism, detained the president and seized power on January 23. FRANCE 24 takes a look at how the security crisis unfolded.

Members of the armed forces ousted the Burkinabe government on Sunday, accusing it of failure in the fight against terrorism. For months a rebellion had been brewing in the army that was supported by many civilians, with anti-government protests in several cities often banned and dispersed by anti-riot police.

Anger over the deteriorating security situation and the government’s inability to stem the jihadist violence boiled over on Sunday, with several rebellions erupting across the west African country. Mutinous soldiers demanded the resignation of army leaders and greater resources for the fight against jihadists while protesters set fire to the ruling party’s headquarters in the capital Ouagadougou.

The government announced a curfew on Sunday and uncertainty remained around the fate of President Roch Koboré, who is believed to have been detained by members of the military. In power since 2015, he was re-elected in 2020 on a pledge to make the fight against jihadists a priority. Kaboré had vowed to put an end to “dysfunction” in the army after a series of attacks on security forces and to introduce anti-corruption measures.

But the north and east of Burkina Faso, in the volatile region near Niger and Mali, remain prone to terrorist attacks by Nusrat al-Islam (an off-shoot of al Qaeda) and the Islamic State group in the Greater Sahara.

Between 2015 and 2018, terrorist attacks targeted the capital Ouagadougou and other centres of power. Since 2019, attacks by mobile combat units targeted mostly rural zones in the north and east of the country, fuelling displacements en masse and intercommunal violence. Some 2,000 people were killed, among them civilians and members of the armed forces or the Volunteers for the Defence of the Homeland, a civilian auxiliary group of the army created in 2020.

Islamist militants now move freely across entire swaths of the country and have forced inhabitants of some regions to conform to a strict version of Islamic law. Meanwhile, the army’s continuing fight against the Islamists has depleted the country’s already meagre resources.

A timeline of jihadist violence in Burkina Faso

On January 15, 2016, 30 people were killed in a double terrorist attack perpetrated by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb on the Splendid Hotel and the Cappuccino restaurant in Ouagadougou. Many of the victims were Western expatriates.
On March 2, 2018, eight deaths among the security forces were reported after attacks targeting the French embassy and the Burkinabe Armed Forces.  
On January 1, 2019, the Fulani ethnic group, accused of collaborating with jihadist groups, was targeted by the Mossi, another ethnic group, in an attack that left 72 people dead, according to official estimates. Another 6,000 were forced to flee.  
On August 19, 2019, 24 soldiers were killed in an attack on an army base in Koutougou in the north of the country. The army was targeted again in December in a new attack by heavily armed jihadists on and around Arabinda, a city near the border with Mali. 
On January 25, 2020, 39 civilians were massacred in the village market of Silgadji in the north of the country. Around 40 civilians were killed the week before in villages close to Nagraogo and Alamou. 
From March to June 2021, a series of mutinies shook the Burkinabe capital: 566 soldiers were decommissioned and a new army chief was nominated by the president.
On June 5, 2021, at least 160 people were killed in a new massacre. Many victims were members of the Volunteers for the Defence of the Homeland army auxiliary group.
On November 14, 2021, 57 people were killed in an attack on the police station in Inata, 54 of whom were police officers. They had alerted authorities about a lack of resources two weeks before the attack.
On December 10, 2021, Lassina Zerbo was nominated prime minister after the resignation of his predecessor following criticism that he had been incapable of stopping terrorist violence.
On January 11, 2022, eight soldiers accused of planning “a project to destabilise the institutions of the republic” were arrested.

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