The violence between Islamic jihadists and the government in Burkina Faso, especially in the area around the border with Mali, is reaching critical levels.

Since April at least 275,000 people have been displaced due to the violence. Several humanitarian organizations estimate that about 13,000 people a week are displaced. Overall, an estimated 1.4 million people are internally displaced in Burkina Faso. 

Worse still, critical food shortages are plaguing an already susceptible population. According to a report by the Norwegian Refugee Council, an estimated 4.8 million people are food insecure and 2.9 million people live in acute food insecurity.

According to the national news agency Agence d’Information du Burkina (AIB), on Sunday five police officers were killed during an early morning attack by unidentified armed men on a police station in Sourou province in northwestern Burkina Faso’s Boucle du Mouhoun region.

The attackers hit the police station between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. local time. A vehicle and eight motorcycles were taken away by the attackers, said the AIB. The Burkinabe security ministry claimed that 15 terrorists were neutralized.

Ansarul Islam, the group behind much of the violence is often portrayed as tied to jihadists elsewhere in the Sahel. It is based in Burkina Faso’s Sahel region and has played on social injustice in its message. 

Founded by Malam Ibrahim Dicko, Ansarul Islam, preached equality among the classes. Dicko called out many of the religious leaders who made themselves rich and fat at the people’s expense. This drew him a huge audience of the region’s young people. 

Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that the Burkinabe government has little infrastructure and influence far from the capital. This led to a feeling of abandonment, especially by the young who see the government as outsiders trying to get rich while providing little to the people who require the most help. 

Burkina Faso troops lead the way for Barkhane forces during Operation Bourgou IV, November 2019. Image: État-major des armées

In 2017, Burkina Faso’s military forces partnered with the French and Malian troops in Operation Barkhane and were able to push the jihadists back and give some semblance of governance to the region. 

Ansarul Islam was rumored to be getting close to the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and carried out a joint attack with them. However, this may have been more out of necessity rather than a true alliance since Ansarul Islam is basing its forces in central Mali. Ansarul Islam also diverges from both ISGS and the local al-Qaeda affiliate as it disapproves of the killing of any fellow Muslims, as it has also announced.

Until recently, Burkina Faso was immune to the interfaith fighting that has crippled many of its neighbors. Muslims, Christians, and even animists lived together in relative harmony. There were even marriages between the faiths. That is changing. 


The Violence Spread Across Mali

Elsewhere, across the border in Mali, seven Malian soldiers were killed on Saturday in two separate attacks while on patrols in the central-western area of the country, the army said. This is the latest bloodshed to indicate that violence is shifting southward into previously peaceful areas.

Malian troops protect their military vehicles including two new Humvees. (Reuters)

In one incident an army patrol was ambushed near the town of Mourdiah, around 120 miles north of the capital Bamako. Two Malian soldiers died and three were injured, the army said in a statement published on Facebook.

Two hours later an army truck hit a roadside bomb near Segou, around 120 miles northeast of Bamako, killing all five passengers, the army added.

“A sweep of the area where the incident took place led to the arrest of two suspects who were immediately handed over to the gendarmerie,” the Malian army said. It did not accuse a group for either attack.