MS Risk Blog

Demonstrators Respond to Opposition’s Calls to March for Better Security in Burkina Faso

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With growing insecurity in Burkina Faso, on 3 July 2021 thousands across the country protested, demanding a stronger response from the central government to the growing jihadist threat. The demonstrations come nearly a month after a massacre in the town of Solhan that shocked the nation. Since then, pressure has been mounting on the government of President Roch Kaboré to implement a response to the threat emanating from terrorist organizations, which have been expanding their operations in the West African country since 2015.

On Saturday 3 July, thousands of people took to the streets, calling for a stronger response to the rising bloodshed. Some travelled hundreds of kilometres to attend the demonstration in the capital, Ouagadougou, with protests also being held in Bobo-Dioulasso and Ouahigouya, the capital of Yatenga province. The march, organized by the opposition and civil society groups, is the first to take place since President Kaboré was re-elected last year. While in late June 2021, the Burkinabé leader had called on organizers to postpone the march, the opposition has since welcomed the “huge mobilisation across the country despite government calls for a boycott.”

The large numbers on the streets across the country on Saturday highlight the growing frustrations amongst Burkinabé’s and the sense that the central government has failed in their promises to stabilize and secure the country. Since 2015, armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) group, originally based in neighbouring Mali, have embedded themselves across the northern and eastern regions of Burkina Faso, where they regularly launch attacks on civilians. Anger has been rising in the wake of the 4 June attack on the village of Solhan, which was one of the worst incidents to take place in recent history in Burkina Faso. While the government has reported that the attack killed at least 132 people, with armed men, including “young people aged 12 to 14,” being responsible, local sources report that the toll was around 160, and included many children. In response to the rising frustrations over a lack of response to the growing insecurity, and in a bid to appease opposition leaders, President Kaboré on 30 June carried out a cabinet reshuffle. After dismissing his defence and security ministers, President Kaboré has since taken over as defence minister, though it remains to be seen if the latest reshuffle will push back the growing calls for the resignation of the government.

For years now, Burkina Faso has borne the brunt of the jihadist insurgency in neighbouring Mali, increasingly seeing terrorist activity rise within its own borders and transforming into an epicentre of violence. In many ways, the scenes witnessed across Burkina Faso over this past weekend are reminiscent of those seen in Mali a year ago – a population increasingly becoming frustrated with the central government and its failure to push back the rapidly evolving terrorist threat. While the Burkinabé government had called for the protests to be postponed, the fact that many travelled hundreds of kilometres to reach the capital in a desperate bid to have their voices heard shows the discontent amongst the local populations, who are reaching their limit when it comes to the instability in the West African country. After years of promises to secure the country and numerous government reshuffles to shake things up, it is evident that like the Malian population throughout 2020, Burkinabé’s have lost confidence in their government. In response to this growing pressure, President Kaboré on 30 June dismissed his ministers of defence and security and took over the role of defence minister in what is the latest cabinet reshuffle that aims to stop the wave of terrorist attacks in the country. However it remains to be seen what impact these protests and government reshuffle will have on Burkina Faso’s strategy, though the government appears to be paying close attention. While it is unlikely that the weekend’s demonstrations will destabilize government, it may lead to further changes within it in a bid to appease the opposition and protesters. This time around, however the government will need to carry out concrete steps to show the local populations that it is listening. The protests that occurred throughout last year in Mali led to the eventual downfall of the Keïta government after the Malian army launched a coup d’état in August 2020. A second coup d’état just nine months later in May 2021 further plunged the country into uncertainty, with ongoing concerns as to how this latest political crisis will impact the jihadist threat not only within the country, but in the wider West African region. Burkina Faso experienced its own coup d’état in 2015, though since then, it has experienced relative political stability. Today however, it is increasingly becoming apparent that the ingredients for a new coup d’état are becoming more present, and as the frustrations of the local populations bubbles over, Burkina Faso may be headed down a similar path to that seen in Mali nearly a year ago if radical changes are not implemented. In the long-term, however, Burkina Faso will need to implement a permanent solution to the jihadist threat, including securing the country’s porous borders to stem the flow of terrorists and weapons, and working closely with regional countries.