Burkina Faso: Amid growing instability, France signals that it will reduce its military presence | Africa | DW
Burkina Faso recently witnessed one of the bloodiest terrorist attacks in its history. On the first weekend of June, armed men attacked the village of Solhan in Yagha province in northern Sahel state, torched houses and killed at least 138 people. President Roch Marc Christian Kabore called the attack “barbaric”.
The violence and insecurity caused by terrorist attacks are not new to the region. Fear is a constant for many people who live along the border with Mali and Niger.
The government has attempted to strengthen security by strengthening the military presence in the border region. But attacks by local armed groups have nonetheless increased in recent months, according to Alex Vines of London think tank Chatham House. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has reported that more than a million people have fled the area, fearing terrorist attacks and militia groups, especially in the north and east. Some militias originate from Mali and are often close to terrorist groups such as the Islamic State (IS) or Al-Qaeda.
Gold mines are a lure for terrorists
Experts suspect that one of the reasons for the attacks in Burkina Faso is its gold reserves. In Solhan, people depend on gold mining for their livelihood. Gold is also mined in other villages in Yagha province, on the border with Niger.
The assault on Solhan was not the only one that night in early June: 14 other people died in an attack on Tadaryat. President Kaboré immediately suspended gold mining in the affected provinces to prevent further attacks.
France announces that it will reduce the size of its troops in Burkina Faso and end Operation Barkhane
“Terrorist attacks against artisanal gold mines in Burkina Faso are frequent because gold is very important for the survival of armed groups,” Burkinabe political scientist Lionel Bilgo told DW Africa. “Terrorism is a form of economy. To survive you need financial resources. Not just to buy weapons, but also to recruit people.”
A war economy developed around the gold rush, including the payment of protection to Islamists, explains Alex Vines: “This is an area that benefits armed groups, but also extortion. local population.
According to a study by the Economic and Social Observatory of Burkina Faso, terrorists have raised the equivalent of more than 100 million euros ($ 121 million) since 2016 through mine attacks and artisanal exploitation of gold.
Burkina Faso, a State without a vision?
Analyst Bilgo points out that terrorists are taking advantage of the widespread discontent in the region to recruit new fighters. According to Bilgo, people are aware that gold mining only benefits urban elites. “The state should take into consideration the specific locations that have been damaged during the redistribution of the country’s wealth,” Bilgo said.
The government is focusing first on other measures, such as banning motorcycles in parts of the country. Authorities say the attackers often use motorcycles as a means of transportation. The strategy is rejected by many people. Idrissa Birba, president of the human rights organization NDH-Burkina, qualifies it as counterproductive: “In my opinion, a ban on motorcycles, which the entire population uses every day, and even every night, will do its trade, will have no effect. People are having their income stolen. “
Sociologist Jacob Yarabatioula believes that there is a crisis of confidence between the population and the authorities: “If we do not take advantage of it to resolve the problems that exist within the government or the army, between the population and the State, it will become a vicious cycle. “Yarabatioula added that the authorities do not have a long-term vision. He gave an example:” The government has refrained from entering into dialogue with armed Islamists, although that part of the local population asked for it.
France plans to withdraw its troops
The problems in northern Burkina Faso are deeply linked to the tense security situation throughout the Sahel region. Some experts are worried about the end of the eight-year counterterrorism “Operation Barkhane” in France, announced by President Macron last Thursday. To date, the former colonial power has up to 5,100 troops deployed in the region. Macron said the French military presence would be realigned following the recent coup in Mali, a country neighboring Burkina Faso.
The withdrawal of French troops will be a difficult test for Sahel states, according to security expert Mahamadou Sawadogo. “The French army is leaving the Sahel at the precise moment when the armed groups are strengthening,” he told DW, adding that the regional armies depended on the logistics of Operation Barkhane and on French troops for their own effectiveness. .
“These armies must now adapt or join forces to develop further, in order to be able to counter terrorist groups, some of which are more powerful and much better organized,” said Sawadogo.
This article was translated from German by Abu-Bakarr Jalloh.