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Burkina Faso - Persistent State Failure

What is a failed state? The Fund for Peace considers a failed state to meet all of these qualifications: loss of control of its territory, or of the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force therein; erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions; an inability to provide public services; and an inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community. Burkina Faso ranked third out of the ten most neglected crises in the world according to Norwegian Refugee Council’s neglected crisis list released in June 2020.

Burkina Faso Map Burkina Faso Map
Burkina Faso is paying a high price for its role in the war on jihadism with at least 160 civilians killed on 05 June 2021 in the deadliest Islamist attack in the country since 2015. Twin attacks in the West African country’s volatile northern region, launched within the space of a few hours, killed at least 160 people, including some 120 children. The government has declared three days of national mourning following the deadliest Islamist attack since the insurgency began in 2015.

The largest massacre took place in Solhan, the capital of the region of the same name near the border with Mali and Niger in the so-called "three borders" zone. The town is known as a crossroads for thousands of prospective gold miners. Assailants entered the town on about 20 motorbike at around 2am. At first they targeted an outpost of the Volunteers for the Defence of the Fatherland (VDP), auxiliary forces of the Armed Forces in the fight against terrorism. Then the terrorists moved towards houses where they massacred civilians indiscriminately.

Two main groups operating in the area have been identified as possible instigators: a local al Qaeda affiliate and the Islamic State group in the Greater Sahara (EIGS). Local groups such as Ansarul Islam, a movement founded at the end of 2016 by the radical imam Ibrahim Malam Dicko, the bulk of whose troops have joined EIGS, also operate in the area. The armed forces reportedly arrived one to two hours after the jihadists left. "Military units are supposedly about 20 km away and yet the assailants were able to carry out their killing spree without being intercepted.

Burkina Faso was the world’s fastest growing displacement crisis in 2019, with a fivefold increase in internally displaced people to nearly 500,000. Burkina Faso, bordering Mali and Niger, has seen regular attacks - hundreds have been killed since the start of 2015 when violence began to spread across the Sahel region. Violence has spread across the Sahel, especially Burkina Faso and Niger, since 2012 when fighters revolted in northern Mali. The Sahel region lies to the south of the Sahara Desert and stretches across the breadth of the African continent. In the year 2019 religious violence has been exceptionally brutal, particularly in Burkina Faso, which experienced unprecedented anti-Christian attacks.

Violence in northern Mali spilled into Burkina Faso in 2018, igniting insecurity that engulfed large swathes of the country. The government stepped down in January 2019 after months of attacks by armed groups. Fighting continued unabated despite a new government forming. Civilians were caught in the crossfire between armed group violence and government-led military operations. The violence also created ethnic divisions that led to intercommunal and terrorist attacks not witnessed previously in Burkina Faso. These attacks and crossfire with government forces led to a fivefold increase in the number of people forced to flee. Some 2,200 people lost their lives.

Hunger levels also rose sharply, with over 1.2 million people needing food assistance by the end of 2019. Many displaced people fled from farmland their families had owned for generations, unable to harvest their crops – in a country where four out of five people rely on farming for their livelihoods. A lack of property documents made it uncertain whether they would be able to continue using the same farmland if and when they returned home in the future. Despite spiralling humanitarian needs, only half of the money required by the United Nations and aid groups to help those in need was raised.

These factors saw Burkina Faso enter 2020 in a precarious position. Food insecurity forecasts deteriorated even further, with a tripling of the population in severe food insecurity. By August 2020 armed violence had displaced one million people in Burkina Faso since the crisis began, resulting in some of the worst crimes including murders, kidnappings and bombings perpetrated against civilians, many of whom are children. The unprecedented levels of displacement occurred as the coronavirus pandemic worsens an already critical humanitarian crisis in the violence-stricken country.

“Burkina Faso is on fire and the deadliest epidemic right now is the widespread violence perpetrated against civilians. Families are on the run from attacks, executions and kidnappings, children are killed and maimed by roadside bombs. These shocking figures prove how catastrophic the situation is and should provoke the international community to do more to help those in desperate need,” said Manenji Mangundu, Country Director for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Burkina Faso. on 17 August 2020.

Over 450,000 people were newly displaced in 2020, with 184 attacks against civilians recorded according to new figures by the Burkinabe Council for Emergency Relief and Rehabilitation (CONASUR). Alarmingly, the number of internally displaced people soared from 87,000 in January 2019 to over one million in August 2020 - an increase of more than 1,000 percent. Hunger levels are dangerously on the rise because of violence, low rainfall and Covid-19 restrictions. Over one in ten people are now food insecure - a dramatic increase of 213 percent compared to the same period last year.

Deadly attacks, such as the one on Arbinda, are a near daily occurrence in the north and east of Burkina Faso. The violence is causing people to flee their homes in numbers never seen before in a country which until a few years ago was considered relatively stable. In 2018 more than 50 terrorist attacks throughout the country resulted in dozens of deaths, particularly of security personnel and local government officials, kidnappings, and the displacement of civilians, especially in the Sahel Region, located in the northernmost part of the country. Nearly 2000 people were killed in Burkina Faso in 2019. The number is more than six times larger than that of 2018 and now exceeds the number killed in neighbouring Mali, which had previously been the country worst-hit by violence in the Sahel region.

For many years, Burkina Faso's dozens of ethnic groups have been well-integrated but more recently armed groups have been trying to force division between them in an attempt to stoke violence, analysts say. Tensions have been particularly high between the majority and politically dominant Mossi group and the six percent-minority Fulani group. Private feuds between individuals can also play a role in the worsening security situation. The regions to the north and east of the capital, Ouagadougou, are mostly arid and inhospitable. The Sahel region, in the far north, where much of the fighting is taking place, is characterised by savanna and home to a majority of the Fulani ethnic group. Most people in this region are farmers, so the lack of security makes it extremely difficult to tend crops causing a nascent food crisis.

Unknown assailants, but assumed to belong in some capacity to violent extremist organizations such as Ansaroul Islam, JNIM and Islamic State Greater Sahara (ISGS) , waged attacks on security forces throughout the year. These included attacks on law enforcement, military, customs, and park ranger outposts, patrols, and the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) detonated under security vehicles. Besides the armed groups that have been active in Burkina Faso others also contribute to the instability in the country's rural areas, including traffickers and criminal gangs. Ansarul Islam is the only group acting in Burkina Faso with a relatively clear ideological motivation, but they rarely claim attacks. The tangled mess of motivations behind the rest of the violence has created an atmosphere of confusion.

In areas under their control, extremists provide safety, protection and social services, further exploiting State weaknesses. In some cases, there aren’t enough security personnel to provide adequate geographical coverage, leading to local defense forces who are “subcontracted” to do the job, or vigilantes – its own double-edged sword.

Some of the most violent local conflicts in the region concern the seasonal movement of livestock by pastoralists, or transhumance, where extremist groups have managed to establish footholds. While the situation differs greatly from one country – or region – to the next, man-made factors, such as flooding an area with weapons, combined with a harsh natural environment, expanding deserts and climate change, magnify the tensions related to transhumance.

Burkina Faso is a parliamentary republic with a population of approximately 15.7 million. Burkina Faso is a land-locked country in the center of West Africa with one of the highest poverty rates in the world.

Burkina Faso, formerly known as Upper Volta, achieved self-government in 1958, and full independence from France in 1960. Burkina Faso's high population density and limited natural resources haved resulted in poor economic prospects for the majority of its citizens. Repeated military coups during the 1970s and 1980s were followed by multiparty elections in the early 1990s. Recent unrest in Cote d'Ivoire and northern Ghana hindered the ability of several hundred thousand seasonal Burkinabe farm workers to find employment in neighboring countries.

Anti-government demonstrations are not uncommon and can turn violent. Spontaneous, unannounced demonstrations tend to be the most likely to result in violence and/or looting. Demonstrations by university students and merchants have included rock throwing, burning tires and cars, blocking roads, and looting. These incidents have, on occasion, spilled outside of the university campus and downtown areas into residential neighborhoods where expatriates reside. Normally, local police respond aggressively to unauthorized demonstrations, using night sticks and riot control agents.

Burkina Faso has had an extremely unstable history since its independence and multiple coups have been staged. The first military coup occurred in 1966, but then succumbed to another coup in 1978, which deposed the then President Yaméogo, suspended the constitution, dissolved the National Assembly, and placed Lt. Col. Sangoulé Lamizana at the head of a government, which was composed of senior army officers.

Lamizana's government faced problems with the country's traditionally powerful trade unions, and on November 25, 1980, Col. Saye Zerbo overthrew President Lamizana in a bloodless coup. Colonel Zerbo established the Military Committee of Recovery for National Progress as the supreme governmental authority, which invalidated the 1977 constitution.

Another coup, led by Saye Zerbo, occurred in 1980, but encountered resistance from the trade unions as well and was overthrown on November 7, 1982, by Maj. Dr. Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo and the Council of Popular Salvation (CSP). The CSP continued to ban political parties and organizations, yet promised a transition to civilian rule and a new constitution. Factional infighting developed between moderates in the CSP and the radicals, led by Capt. Thomas Sankara, who was appointed prime minister in January 1983 in a counter-coup.

The internal political struggle and Sankara's leftist rhetoric led to his arrest and subsequent efforts to bring about his release, directed by Capt. Blaise Compaoré. This release effort resulted in yet another military coup d'etat on August 4, 1983.

Under Thomas Sankara, a populist president who had risen to power through a coup in 1983, a longstanding dispute with bordering Mali over the mineral-rich Agacher Strip culminated in an inter-state conflict in December 1985. Sankara renewed the claim that the Agacher Strip belonged to his country and sent troops into the area. The Burkinabe claim relied on the frontiers drawn in the colonial era, while the Malian claim rested on ethnic grounds. After a few days of fighting in December 1985, the two sides agreed on a truce and brought the dispute before the International Court of Justice. To the satisfaction of both Mali and Burkina Faso, the court ruled that the strip would be split equally between the two states.

In 1984, Upper Volta changed its name to Burkina Faso, meaning "the country of honorable people." But many of the strict security and austerity measures taken by Sankara provoked resistance. Despite his initial popularity and personal charisma, In 1987 Sankara was ousted by army captain Blaise Compaore; Sankara and several of his supporters were killed. Sankara, the pan-African visionary nicknamed "Africa’s Ché Guevara," was shot and killed in Burkina Faso’s presidential palace. Many suspect Compaoré’s overthrow of Sankara was influenced by Muammar al-Qaddafi, Compaoré’s mentor.

In spring 2011, Burkina Faso faced a combination of fast-breaking and largely unexpected civilian protests and rank-and-file military looting--some linked and some not--reflecting a long-simmering malaise and a deep-seated resentment of what many Burkinabe perceived as an entrenched and increasingly sclerotic “old guard.” In the aftermath, the government re-opened all educational institutions (which remained overcrowded, underfunded, and strike-prone), dormitories, and support services and met with representatives of student and military groups to hear their grievances and find solutions. President Compaore also replaced the Prime Minister, Chief of Defense, and security service chiefs and appointed new governors (mostly career civil servants) in all 13 states. On July 12, the government detained 217 ringleaders of several March-May mutinies and dismissed 566 participating soldiers, to public acclaim.

On 31 October 2014, President Compaore, who had been in power since 1987, resigned and fled the country with members of his family, the National Assembly president, and others. Lieutenant Colonel Yacouba Isaac Zida, deputy commander of the Presidential Security Regiment (Regiment Securite Presidentielle - RSP), declared himself head of state on November 2, suspended the constitution, and dissolved the National Assembly. On November 17, members representing different sectors of society signed a charter to guide the transitional government through preparations for elections.

Michel Kafando was chosen as interim president in accordance with the charter. A 90-member National Transitional Council, holding legislative powers and including 25 members of the armed forces, was selected in accordance with the charter. A 26-member transitional government was appointed, including Zida as prime minister and minister of defense. Other armed forces officers were appointed to serve as minister of mines and minister of territorial administration, decentralization, and security administration. The transitional government dissolved municipal and regional councils, and special delegations were responsible for managing local governments until the next legislative and municipal elections.

The charter adopted to guide the transitional government required the organization of presidential and legislative elections within one year of adoption. Under the charter the interim president, interim prime minister, and members of the interim government were not allowed to run in the presidential and legislative elections.

Before the coup, Burkina Faso was planning to hold elections on 11 October 2015, marking a return to democracy a year after Compaore's ouster. Transitional authorities in the CAR had warned of an election delay even before a new wave of violence began. ECOWAS leaders suggested a November 22 election date and recommended that Compaore's allies be allowed to field candidates.

Transitional authorities together with 12,000 UN peacekeepers and 1,000 French troops struggled to calm tensions over 2015.

Voters in Burkina Faso voted 29 November 2015 for a new president and parliament in what was called the country's most open election in its history. Five million registered voters were eligible to select from among a slate of 14 presidential candidates, including two women. The two frontrunners are the longtime opposition leader Zephirin Diabre and former prime minister Roch Marc Christian Kabore. If no single presidential candidate garnered more than 50 percent of the vote, a second round of voting would be held.

On November 30, 2015 election officials said former prime minister Roch Marc Christian Kabore won the country's presidential election, becoming the West African nation's first new president in decades. Authorities said Kabore, prime minister under former strongman Blaise Compaore before splitting with that regime, won the presidency in the first round with more than 53 percent of the vote. Provisional results showed his closest rival, Zephirin Diabre, with just under 30 percent.

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Page last modified: 29-01-2022 12:11:16 ZULU