Amidst the number of challenges faced by the G5 Sahel countries, the growing threats of terrorism and organized crimes have long been rooted across the countries – Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, and Burkina Faso. Although known to be a stable country in terms of security, Burkina Faso is said to have changed when Islamist armed groups operating in the neighboring countries, Mali and Niger infiltrated the country, thus leading it to a severe security crisis. The landlocked Sahel country of over 20 million people has been under the siege of terrorist attacks since 2015. This has negatively affected the state of affairs of its 13 regions.

Figure 1: Map showing the rate of terrorist activities and actors involved in the Est region of Burkina Faso between 2018-2021

The Northern and Eastern regions have been the most affected by violence perpetrated by Non-State Armed Groups (NSAGs) which have left many dead and displaced.

The five provinces of the Eastern region – Gnagna, Gourma, Komondjari, Kompienga, and Tapoa, have witnessed repeated attacks by the NSAGs in the villages. Terrorism in this region has created so much insecurity, ranging from food, shelter and health. Many are made to flee their homes and farmlands due to violence. Several schools have been shut down due to terrorism. As of 14 May 2021, a total number of 2,235 schools were closed owing to the resurgence of terrorist attacks. The Eastern region was among the affected regions with a total number of 568 schools closed.  According to the findings of the country’s National Council for Emergency Relief and Rehabilitation (CONASUR) in August 2020 reports, more than a million people were internally displaced by the upsurge of violence in the country and this led to the increase of humanitarian needs.

 

According to the 2018 country’s report on terrorism by the U.S. Department of State actors involved are  “individuals affiliated with the Ansarul Islam, ISIS in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS), and Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) – the umbrella group that formed after the Sahara Branch of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al-Murabitoun, Ansar al-Dine, and the Macina Liberation Front.’’

“Since the end of 2018, an explosion of violence tied to the presence of jihadist groups has shaken Eastern Burkina Faso, an area of the country that had until then remained relatively spared of such violence.” (Quidelleur, 2020). The root of the increased and unprecedented security crisis has been linked to the absence of the government in some localities, a weak judicial system, as well as political and economic marginalization which exist in the country. This paved the way for free movement of the Non-State Armed Groups (NSAGs) in the different areas of the region like the Tanwalbougou, Matiacoali, Kodyel, Kompienga etc. thereby making the inhabitants, as well as security forces daily targets of terrorist activities.

The 2018 terrorist incidents according to the country report of terrorism by the US Department of State indicated an estimate of 150 terrorist attacks across the country, primarily in the northern and eastern regions, and the incidents included targeted assassinations, kidnapping, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devises (VBIEDs), and attacks on schools, security outposts, police stations, and barracks.

While the military struggles to stem the violence which has plagued parts of Burkina Faso, a law was adopted in early 2020, which allows the recruitment of civilian volunteers known as the ‘ Volunteer for the Defense of the Homeland’ (VDP) to act as auxiliaries in the fight against terrorist activities. Its (VDP) establishment followed the deadly ambush perpetrated by armed men against a convoy transporting workers in November 2019 in Boungou, a town in the Gnagna province of the eastern region. Characterized as one of the deadly attacks of the time, it left about 37 civilians dead and more than 60 wounded.

The East region of Burkina has long become a hotspot for terrorist attacks, although measures have been taken to curb the security threats which have affected the region and the country at large, violent extremism still maintains a high-risk rating in the region which has been under a state of emergency since 2019. Other less stable regions in the country are likely to become prey to a surge in terrorist assaults if heightened security measures are not put in place. Consequently, the reinforcement of the government security forces is highly necessary to guarantee intense and steady counter-terrorism operation and vigilance across all the villages where the absence of law enforcement officials have contributed immensely to the incursion of armed men. Also, the issue with the absence of the state in many localities should be addressed as the terrorist groups are likely to continue to exploit the tension between the government and the people.

Figure 2: Map illustrating terrorist attacks in the five provinces of the Est region in 2021