Unconfirmed reporting indicates that protests erupted between miners and gold mine workers at Canadian group Endeavor Mining’s Houndé Gold Operation. Tensions have been on the rise in the area since the morning of Tuesday 17 May. Local reports claim that artisanal gold miners are apparently blaming mine officials for having monopolized their sites. According to local reporting, which remains unverified, on 16 May officials moved in to clear artisanal gold miners from the site around the mine, a move that resulted in them storming the mine and setting fire to its facilities. While these reports remain unverified, compelling video is now circulating suggesting that some sort of a breach of the mine may have occurred. The tensions have impacted a number of services in the city of Houndé, including the mayor’s office, schools and places of commerce which as of 17 May are closed. Smoke has also been seen rising from the mine, with reports indicating that several staff vehicles were set on fire by artisanal gold miners in the area. Security officials at the mine were apparently unable to stop the large crowd from entering the mining site.
The Houndé Gold Mine is located in southwestern Burkina Faso, in Houndé, in the province of Tuy in the Hauts-Bassins region. It is situated about 100 km east-northeast of Bobo-Dioulasso along the Route Nationale N1 to Ouagadougou.
This situation in Houndé is developing and MS Risk is closely monitoring the situation on the ground and we will confirm or deny the situation once the information is clarified. Companies with convoy moves on main routes west of Ouagadougou are advised to verify the status of their drivers and should assess routes to ensure that they remain accessible for the rest of the day. Likewise companies should be aware of the possibility of similar tensions rising at other industrial mining sites around the country.
ECOWAS met virtually on Friday 28 January to discuss the crisis in Burkina Faso in the wake of the 24 January coup. Meanwhile on Thursday evening, Burkina Faso’s new military leader addressed the country for the first time on since overthrowing democratically elected President Roch Kaboré, stating that the nation will return to constitutional order when conditions are right. Concerning reports have also emerged that a group of Russian military contractors has written to the coup leaders in Burkina Faso, offering their services in the country’s ongoing fight against jihadists.
On Friday morning, the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc held an extraordinary meeting to discuss its response to the coup in Burkina Faso. According to two diplomatic sources, West Africa’s main regional bloc on Friday suspended Burkina Faso from its governing bodies in response to this week’s military coup and decided to send a delegation to the Burkinabé capital Ouagadougou. The sources indicate that for the moment, no further sanctions have been imposed, adding that ECOWAS will hold another summit on 3 February in Accra.
ECOWAS had previously suspended and imposed sanctions on Burkina Faso’s neighbours Mali and Guinea following coups in August 2020 and September 2021, respectively, including asset freezes against junta leaders and their families, border closures and suspensions of financial transactions. Following the coup on Monday in Burkina Faso, ECOWAS issued a statement on 25 January to say that the bloc “firmly condemns” the coup, accusing the military of forcing Kaboré to resign “under threat, intimidation and pressure.” Kaboré, 64, remains in detention, with the United Nations leading calls for his release.
ECOWAS could impose similar measures to those implemented in Mali and Guinea on Burkina Faso as it faces growing pressure to adequately deal with the string of coups that have been impacted the region in recent years. The coup makers in Mali and Guinea, as well as in Chad where the military took power in April 2021, have all set up transitional governments composed of a mixture of military officers and civilians. The leaders in Mali and Chad agreed to 18-month transitions to democratic elections, with Guinea having yet to provide a timeline. Authorities in Mali however have gone back on their original commitment, and have since proposed delaying elections, which were originally due to take place next month.
Damiba Addresses Nation
Friday’s extraordinary virtual meeting of ECOWAS members came just hours after Burkina Faso’s new military rule called for international support during his first address to the nation since he led the overthrow of President Roch Kaboré on 24 January. During televised comments late on Thursday, Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba disclosed that “Burkina Faso more than ever needs its international partners,” adding, “I call on the international community to support our country so it can exit this crisis as soon as possible.” In his speech from the capital, Ouagadougou, Damiba said that he would convene various sections of Burkina Faso’s society to agree on a roadmap to plan and carry out needed reforms. He added, “when the conditions are right, according to the deadline that our people will define in all sovereignty, I commit to a return to a normal constitutional order.” Damiba further noted that security would be the “main priority” and put the country on war footing, noting, “we must significantly reduce the areas under terrorist influence and the impact of violent extremism by giving security forces the will to fight, and we must go on the offensive.”
Damiba’s address to the nation came after earlier in the day, around twenty trade union leaders met for about half an hour with the junta in power at the presidency in the capital Ouagadougou. According to Marcel Zante, who heads a federation of 130 unions, Burkina Faso’s new military leader Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba “assured us that we will be consulted and included in what will be put in place,” adding, “now we are waiting to see what happens on the ground.”
Meanwhile on Wednesday 26 January, the junta warned ex-ministers not to leave the capital or obstruct its military officers during talks over how to return to democratic elections, according to one of the politicians present. The officers, who call themselves the Patriotic Movement for Safeguard and Restoration (MPSR), ousted President Kaboré on Monday, blaming him for failing to contain worsening violence by Islamist militants. The MPSR has said that it would propose a calendar for a return to constitutional order “within a reasonable time frame” but has not elaborated on its plans for a transition. The MPSR’s leader, Damiba, met with Kaboré’s government on Wednesday, according to one of the ex-ministers present. The former minister reported that Damiba warned them not to do anything to obstruct the junta or to travel outside the capital, but added that he welcomed any contribution they could offer to the transition.
Russia Looking at Possibly Expanding Influence in Region
A group of Russian military contractors has written to the coup leaders in Burkina Faso, offering to train the country’s army in their fight against jihadists. The group, calling itself “Community of Officers for International Security,” which is based in the Central African republic (CAR), published its offer in a letter that has been seen and verified by the BBC. However it currently remains unclear whether or not the offer will be accepted by the military junta currently in power in Burkina Faso. The offer in the letter is explicit, stating, “if Russian instructors are invited to train the army in Burkina Faso, they can do it effectively.” The letter, which has been verified by a Russian security adviser to the CAR, also critiques the French-led offensive against extremists in the Sahel. The letter says that despite leading the operation for a decade, it alleges they have had “no success,” and adds that the Russian group can help the Burkinabé soldiers to “master the security situation in very little time.”
An increased security presence is likely in the coming hours and days across the country, notably in the capital Ouagadougou. Associated localized transport, commercial and telecommunications disruptions are also likely to persist. Further flight disruptions are likely and officials may suspend international travel and or close borders in response to the latest developments. Checkpoints across Ouagadougou may also be set up. Protests either in support or in opposition to the recent developments could also occur in major cities nationwide. Anyone planning to travel to Burkina Faso is advised to avoid all non-essential travel until the situation stabilizes. In the event that travel is necessary, reconfirm transport services, including flights, before departure. Persons currently in the country are advised to shelter in place and to maintain close contact with their diplomatic representation. Individuals should ensure that they have enough supplies for the next several days and should limit travel both within Ouagadougou and outside of the capital. Avoid government buildings, security installations, large concentrations of police and soldiers, or any protests that may materialize. Heed all instructions by the local authorities – remain courteous and cooperative if approached and questioned by security personnel.
With much of the focus now concentrating on the political situation in Burkina Faso, jihadists groups operating in the country may use this period to launch attacks both in major cities across the country and rural areas as a mechanism to instil further fear amongst the local populations. Attacks could be indiscriminate and could affect Burkinabé security forces, religious sites, restaurants, schools, markets and places frequented by foreigners. Anyone currently in Burkina Faso is advised to maintain heightened vigilance at all times.
On 7 February, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issued an update on Burkina Faso, for the first time advising against all travel throughout the nation, with the exception of Ouagadougou. In the capital city, the FCO advises against all but essential travel, up to the toll booths on all roads out of the city.
Since 2013, Burkina Faso has seen a significant rise in criminality, ethnic violence and terrorism. The violence initially emanated from Mali, and made its way into northern Burkina Faso. Over the past several years, the violence has continued to push south, and Burkina Faso is replacing Mali as epicentre of Sahel security crisis.
In 2019 alone, the country experienced 200 terror-related attacks, 30 kidnappings, and 32 incidents of violent crime. These numbers could be higher due to unreported incidents. On 27 December, the Burkinabé government extended the state of emergency in fourteen provinces for an additional year. These measures, which give security forces extra powers to search homes and restrict freedom of movement. will remain in place until 12 Jan 2021.
If current trends persist, Burkina Faso risks becoming a launchpad for Islamic extremists to expand towards coastal West Africa, and the epicentre of conflict will likely shift from northern region to the southern Burkinabé border. Outside of Ouagadougou, there have been regular attacks on police, military personnel and civilians, particularly along the borders with Mali, Niger and Cote d’Ivoire and in the Eastern Region.
Terror attacks are very likely in Burkina Faso, including Ouagadougou. These attacks can be indiscriminate, and targets include security forces, religious sites, restaurants and places visited by foreigners. Travellers are advised to be vigilant at all times, and particularly around religious holidays.
Overnight on Wednesday 3 October to Thursday 4 October unidentified gunmen launched an attack on the security post of Inata gold mine, located about 60 km (35 miles) from Djibo, the provincial capital of Soum province. Significant material damage has been reported, including five burned mine vehicles. The attack is believed to have been carried out by an insurgent cell composed of several armed men, transported by at least two vehicles and motorcycles. The gendarmes fought back for several hours. Calm has since returned to the region after the intervention air support provided by Operation Barkhane.
Initially, a number of international security companies had mis-reported this incident as an attack at the Essakane gold mine – which has now been confirmed as a false reporting and was confused with an unrelated robbery incident in the Essakane hamlet and not at the mine. Given the fluid security situation in Burkina Faso, particularly in the northern region, and across the wider Sahel, it is necessary to ensure the validity of all incidents being reported. Failure to do so will only promote fear and distrust, which may lead to further chaos. The escalations in attacks and the increasing use of kidnapping and IEDs has elevated concerns to those watching the region closely.
Further incidents are likely to occur as the area has seen a number of attacks in recent weeks, including the 23 September incident involving the kidnapping of three mine workers – a Burkinabe national, a South African, and an Indian who is reportedly a member of the family who earlier in the year purchased the Inata mine out of financial distress – who were taken by armed men between Djibo and the mine. Three police officers were later killed during the search for the kidnapped mineworkers, whose current whereabouts remain unknown. Days later, on 26 September, eight members of the Burkina Faso security forces were killed when a roadside bomb hit their patrol vehicle on the road between Djibo and Baraboule.
MS Risk currently advises against all travel to the following parts of the Burkina Faso:
- All areas of the country north of the town of Boulsa
- Areas within 40 kilometres (24 miles) of the western border with Mali
- The W National Park in the southeast of the country, bordering Benin and Niger
MS Risk currently advises against all but essential travel to the rest of Burkina Faso, including the provinces of Tapoa, Kompienga, Gourma, and Komondjari, and the capital Ouagadougou. All travellers to Burkina Faso should remain vigilant at all times as militants may be planning further attacks that could target areas that are popular with foreigners, including hotels, cafes and restaurants, and resorts. Western interests across the region, including in Burkina Faso, may also be targeted.
- On 22 May, a shootout occurred between security forces and suspected terrorists in the Rayongo neighbourhood on the outskirts of Ouagadougou.
- Military uniforms were found among items confiscated by security forces.
- Security presence is heightened in and around Ouagadougou.
- Visitors are urged to remain vigilant and follow guidance issues by security forces.
On 22 May, a shootout occurred between security forces and suspected terrorists on the outskirts of Ouagadougou. At approximately 3 am, police responded to a report of suspicious activities in the Rayongo district (Arrondissement 11, south-east Ouagadougou). A seven-hour stand-off near the Karpala and Balkuy neighbourhoods left three assailants dead, and five gendarmes and one civilian wounded. One assailant was taken alive and held for questioning.
Weapons and other material were found at the scene, including Kalashnikov rifles, grenades, truck-mounted machine guns, bomb-making materials, and several rounds of ammunition. Ominously, among the seized items were military uniforms.
On 2 March, armed assailants conducted a coordinated assault against multiple targets in Ouagadougou, including Burkinabe military headquarters and the French embassy. Multiple verified reports indicated that attackers dressed in national military uniforms were seen getting out of cars and firing. A day after the attack, extremist group Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), affiliates of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, claimed responsibility for the attack. A statement released by the group claimed the attack, citing retaliation for a previous raid during Operation Barkhane by the French army in northern Mali. Security Minister Clement Sawadogo says the extremists involved in the 22 May shootout are linked to the 2 March attacks.
On 8 May, a communique attributed to al Qaeda in the Sahel region warned that the group would attack Western companies established in the Sahel region. The translated missive states, “This statement calls to boycott all Western companies and foundations … that operate in the Islamic Maghreb … and the countries of the Sahel, and gives a warning to them that they are legitimate target for the mujahideen.” The statement singled out France and its regional allies: “We have decided to strike that which prolongs the continuity of these agent governments and enables the French occupier to provide a lavish life and prosperity to its people.”
Currently, there is heightened police presence in Ouagadougou, where three major attacks have occurred in less than two years. The nation also remains on high alert as Burkinabe soldiers and police have also come under repeated attack near the borders with Mali and Niger.
Although the attackers pre-emptively thwarted in yesterday’s stand-off, it remains likely that the AQ affiliates will continue attempts to target western companies, as well as French, Burkinabe, or regional military forces in and around the capital.
In a separate event, it was reported that armed individuals visited the village of Boula, (Gnanga province) and announced to the local population that there is now a ban on celebrating baptisms and weddings. According to witnesses, the ban spans from the Christine Drilling (a major hydraulic infrastructure near Boula) to Mali. The armed men threatened any who would reveal them to defence or security forces, adding they would eliminate authorities that oppose their application of sharia law. According to the witnesses, the fighters left, heading toward the border with Mali.
Members of the Peul community near the Béli river have formed a self-defence group to protect their communities from the increased attacks. The members are composed of composed of Malian and Burkinabe civilians who refer to themselves as the Alliance for Sahel Salut.
MS Risk currently advises against travel to all areas of the country north of the town of Boulsa, as well as areas within 40 kilometres (24 miles) of the western border with Mali, and the W National Park in the southeast of the country, bordering Benin and Niger. MS Risk also advises against all but essential travel to the rest of Burkina Faso, including Ouagadougou. Visitors to Burkina Faso are urged to remain vigilant at all times, and follow guidance issues by security forces.. Militants are likely to be planning further attacks, including areas that are popular with foreigners (particularly westerners). This includes hotels, cafes and restaurants, and resorts. Western interests across the region, including in Burkina Faso, may also be targeted.