Massacred by Their Own Army

February 25, 2024: The opening of the new year brought nothing but pain, suffering, and heartache for villagers in northwest Burkina Faso. On that fateful day, the soldiers of the Burkinabé Regime, led by Captain Ibrahim Traoré, descended upon two villages and perpetrated one of the worst massacres in recent history.

According to Aradi (2024), between the villages of Soro and Nondin, approximately 220 civilians (including 56 children) were mercilessly killed. Soldiers ordered the village residents to exit their homes and line up. Then, the soldiers proceeded to kill them where they stood. Those who tried to escape, hide, or were witnesses were hunted down and shot. “A survivor was quoted as saying that before the shootings, the soldiers accused the residents of failing to cooperate with them by not informing them of the movements of the Islamist fighters” (Aradi, 2024).

The New Regime

Captain Traoré led the coup in 2022 to destroy the Islamist terrorist activity that has plagued Burkina Faso since 2015, something that his predecessor had failed to do. According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, 20,000 people have been killed due to Islamic terrorist activity between 2015 and 2024 (Deutsche Welle, 2024).

Why, then, would soldiers of a regime whose primary and stated purposes are first to protect its citizens from Islamist terrorists and second to uproot and destroy said groups perpetrate such a heinous crime against those whom they seek to protect? The answer lies in the facts on the ground.

Lack of Force, Lack of Presence

The Burkinabé land forces are woefully undermanned; The army has a meager 6,400 soldiers, and the combined strength of the gendarmerie and paramilitary forces stands at 4,450 (The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2023). Similarly, their ability to deploy and adequately patrol the porous borders with Mali and Niger is greatly limited because they have only 138 wheeled/armored vehicles of varying types (The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2023). The combined Mali-Niger border is approximately 1,209 miles long (751 km), far too much space to be effectively policed by such a scant force.

The Open Door for Radicalism and Militancy

Since the border regions of Mali and Niger are both porous and lack effective, official government presence, the communities in these areas are susceptible to influence by radical Islamic organizations operating therein. The communities at risk of radicalization include ethnic minorities with resentments and grievances that seemingly cannot be met by an under-resourced government. Specifically, the “Arab tribes, Tuareg, Moors, Peul, Fulani and the Songhai communities in Burkina Faso [sic] Niger and Mali, have increased their vulnerability to join some of the armed groups in the region” (Nyadera & Massaoud, 2019, p. 273).

This highly unstable situation, fueled by public resentment, is the precise environment where radical organizations tend to flourish. They gain entry with easy answers, present themselves as the champion of the oppressed, gain trust, and draw the disenfranchised into their ranks, both as soldiers and those who provide material support for their cause.