Burkina Faso has become the epicentre of the devastating crisis that is oppressing the whole Sahel. A humanitarian, social, medical, and political emergency, mostly due to the combination of three factors: a recurrent famine, the escalating violence by Islamic terrorist groups, and the COVID-19 pandemic which aggravated the severe and acute malnutrition suffered especially by the most vulnerable parts of the population. According to the UN’s World Food Program (WFP), the estimate of people suffering malnutrition has tripled since 2019, counting 3.4 million in the first half of 2021.
Burkina Faso’s crisis is considered the worst humanitarian crisis in the world: it is sufficient to recall that the number of displaced people and refugees went from 200,000 to 1.5 millions in less than two years.
The famine is due to several environmental factors: the country is subject to recurrent crises due to droughts, and periods of water shortages and phenomena of sudden floods have become more and more frequent and extreme due to climate change. In the last two years, these phenomena were accompanied by the increasing violence, especially in the northern regions of the country, characterized by attacks perpetuated by insurgent groups, Islamic groups or, sometimes, by the so-called “self-defence” militias as well, resulting in 1600 victims in 2015 only. Especially targeted by the violence were schools, markets, and water spots. According to UNHCR, more than 2500 schools have been closed leaving more than 350,000 students at home.
It is important to consider that the emergency does not only involve Burkina Faso but also the whole central Sahel region. There are about 3.5 million refugees in the whole area, both domestic evacuees and refugees, and 6 million people are living in extreme poverty and constant insecurity conditions.
This is the context in which took place the election in November 2020. The current president, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, got confirmed to lead the country, re-elected with 57,87% of the total votes. According to the observers the vote was generally regular, even though it took place in extremely difficult conditions due to the local violence and terrorism. The low turnout is proof of it: about 50% (compared to the 60% of the 2015 election), meaning 2.9 million people voted, over 5.8 million estimated eligible voters. One-fifth of the territory was excluded from voting. More than 2,000 polling stations (over 21,154) were closed, in the north and the east of the country. Half a million eligible voters could not vote.
2022 began with several forms of prevention from the State to avoid challenges to the Kaboré government. In January, Ouagadougou banned an anti-government protest (organized for the 22nd) citing security reasons, for which the country’s authorities also blocked social media such as Facebook.
A military coup on 24 January 2022, promoted by the Patriotic Movement for Safeguard and Restoration (MPSR), saw President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré arrested and deposed, although the army pledged to restore “constitutional order” within a “reasonable timeframe”. In February, a delegation from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba, leader of the coup, who declared himself head of state but has not yet proposed a timetable for a return to constitutional order, although this is ECOWAS’ most pressing demand. Ecowas suspended Mali, Guinea, Sudan and Burkina Faso from the 15-nation bloc and imposed sanctions on Mali and Guinea.
What is being fought for
The first terroristic attack in Burkina Faso happened on January 15, 2016. At the time, the new president had just assumed office and it had been about a year since the popular uprising had forced Blaise Compaorè, in power for 27 years, to leave the country. Now, terroristic attacks and raids in the villages in the northern regions are registered as four or five a day.
Analysts explain that, on one side, the catastrophe was one of the consequences of the Libyan crisis, that brought weapons, means and militiamen first to Mali then to the north of Burkina Faso. The terror strategy was identified, in the first years, as a conflict among different Islamic extremist groups – six different groups are currently operating in the region, of which five are influenced by Al Qaeda and one by ISIS. Subsequently, over time, it became a way to control the territory through attacks to the “western power symbols” (churches, barracks) or to the vital places for the population such as markets, places where to access water, local artisanal production places). The north of the country is out of governmental control. The terrorist groups also worsen the tensions among the different ethnic groups.
The result is a real “cleanse” of the territory, in which the only recognizable “authority” is the dominant extremist group itself. In the near future, the objective could be to restore a new Islamic State core, after the destruction of the Caliphate.
Burkina Faso means “the land of upright people”. The name was created by Thomas Sankara, founder of the country and governor for four years only, from 1983 to 1987. It was him, just one year into his presidency, who changed the name of the country from Alto Volta to Burkina Faso.
These four years marked the national identity of the African country significantly, due to his anti-colonial positions, his idea of development (which should be endogen and not dependent on the external), the importance he gave to education and culture, the ante litteram environmental sensitivity, and his strong support to women’s emancipation.
Four years only, unfortunately. Then, a hit squad assassinated Sankara and a dozen of his closest collaborators. The power was taken by the man who Sankara considered a friend and a very close collaborator: Blaise Compaorè. He held the power for 27 years until October 30, 2014, when he had to flee the country because of the popular insurgence.
During all this time, the main suspect of the assassination was Compaorè himself, but an investigation could not be conducted as he himself was the Head of the regime – until 2014. In fact, in October 2021, a trial for the murder of Sankara is due to begin, and Compaorè obviously figures among the suspects.
His long presidency was characterized by the constant dismantlement of the pillars that were the foundation of the revolution of Sankara, and it quickly became a powerful oppressive regime, especially against the supporters of Sankara. In line with a long tradition of African democracies which are democracies only by appearance, he managed to keep the opposition fragmented by incarcerating or – if necessary – bribing the opponents with positions of power.
The economic policy as well went in the opposite direction than those put in place by Sankara: Compaorè reactivated and favoured private initiatives and encouraged foreign investments. On the international level, he strengthened the relationship with France and western countries, and complied with their requests: when in 1995 François Mitterand insisted on the democratization of Africa, for example, he was ready to call multiparty elections and start the renovation of the Constitution (which was launched on June 2, 1995). In 1991, he won the elections with 86.1% of favourable votes, and obtained a similar overwhelming majority in the following elections, while countless people were arrested, tortured, and political opponents considered “non-assimilable” were made disappear. The political murders attributed to the Compaorè regime are 110.
In the meantime, poverty kept growing; so did the backwardness of the rural areas and the disparity between cities and the rest of the country, so much that in 2010-2011 approximately half of the Burkina population had been living under the poverty line, with less than 2 dollars per day. For the first time, this resulted in a popular insurgence in the first half of 2011, with massive popular protests. It was the first time Compaorè feared to lose power. He managed to overcome the crisis but, shortly after, he had to face a new problem: according to the current Constitution, he could not run in the 2015 elections. His political entourage managed to hold a referendum that would allow the president to run again.
On October 21, 2014, the regime made its worst political error: it was announced that no referendum would have taken place but instead, the National Assembly would have voted the modification to the Constitution. It was the spark that started the mass protest: on October 28, one million people marched in the Ouagadougou capital. Two days after, on October 30, the morning when the constitutional vote was supposed to take place in the Parliament, the insurrection became violent. The crowd attacked the building and devastated it.
The following day Compaorè fled to the Ivory Coast. Governmental power was taken by the army, to run the transition towards new elections. However, on September 16, 2015, shortly before the vote scheduled for October 11, the RSP (the presidential Guard, a special body created by Compaorè) attempted a coup. The coup failed thanks to the mobilisation of the Republican army which forced the RSP to stand down.
The transitional government was restored, and new elections were held on November 29, 2015. Roch Marc Christian Kaboré won the elections, and he later was confirmed for a second mandate in the elections of 2020. He assumed office on January 16, 2016.
Three days later, in the capital, the first terrorist attack in the history of Burkina Faso was recorded. It was the beginning of the terrorist period which resulted in the current situation in only five years.
Key figure or organization
In May 2020, at last, the Thomas Sankara monument was revealed to the public, 33 years after his murder. The statue was placed in the exact spot where the murder took place. To be precise, however, it is necessary to say that this was the second version of the sculpture. The first version, inaugurated in October 2019, was not well received because of its poor resemblance to the charismatic leader of Burkina Faso.
According to the sculptor, Jean-Luc Bambara, to spoil the success of the first version were the short deadline and the technique that was used, the lost-wax casting bronze, which was not suitable to the high temperatures of Ouagadougou. The six ministers who attended the ceremony announced that the initiatives to honour the memory of Sankara will not end with the monument. A project to realize a memorial to celebrate the great African leader, dead when only 37 years old, is in the works.
FOCUS 1 – The trial, 34 years later.
It is not just about verifying that the traitorous friend committed murder to get the power. The trial for the assassination of Thomas Sankara will also reveal much more complex and wider details and implications. The elements in the hands of the judges indicate a disturbing and ramified international conspiracy.
There is, in fact, much anticipation for the trial starting in October 11, 2021, on the assassination of the President of the Republic of the time and of his 12 close collaborators, which happened on October 15, 1987. As expected, the main suspect is Blaise Compaoré, the successor of Sankara to the presidency.
In recent years, France submitted some files from its archives to the Burkina Faso magistrates. Those files were kept under State secret for a long time. The documentation was submitted to the judges, the last batch in March 2021. It could unveil a wide international conspiracy that involves not only Liberia and the Ivory Coast but also Gheddafi’s Libya and France itself, and possibly the American CIA. 11 suspects will be tried along with Blaise Compaorè.
FOCUS 2 – Child soldiers, here as well.
They are about 12 to 14 years old. According to the UN and the NGOs that operate in the country, they are exploited to massacre hundreds of civilians. A tragedy in the tragedy: the number of minors recruited by armed groups in Burkina Faso has seen a five-times increase in 2021 compared to the year before. With the growing violence in the African country, the recruitment of child soldiers by jihadist fighters grows with it.
Even during the most severe attack happened in the country in 2015, the massacre of Solhan, the majority of the attackers were children. This cost of this massacre was the life of 160 people. It happened between June 4th and 5th in the north of the country, not far from the border with Niger.