50 women and girls were kidnapped between the 12th and 13th of January in Burkina Faso in the country’s Sahel region. The BBC reports that the girls had been foraging for wild fruit when armed men attacked and subsequently abducted them. Although a first in terms of the nature of the violence, the incident comes as no surprise to a country struggling to defend itself against violent insurgences that started in neighbouring Mali in 2012.
The Sahel region’s governor has announced his commitment “to doing everything possible to bring the situation to a successful conclusion,” however, efforts up until now – which are limited to searches conducted by police and civilians – remain unsuccessful. Given that the West African country is one of the poorest in the world, one may question the extent to which efforts to retrieve the victims can go beyond such searches. International assistance – as was the case in the 2014 kidnapping of female students by Boko Haram in Nigeria – may be required as a catalyst to finding the women and children.
France – to whom Burkina Faso was a former colony – has condemned the kidnappings and called for the “immediate release of the women,” yet the question of whether and how France and the international community as a whole will act in the following weeks in response to the situation remains to be seen. Assistance in the form of advanced search equipment such as drone technology, assistance with hostage negotiation and non-confrontational military support from the international community is encouraged in the short term.
Burkina Faso has fallen victim to a surge of violence with potential connections to terrorist groups al Qaeda and ISIS occurring over the past few years. According to the United Nations, Jihadist attacks on civilians in the country are increasing, leaving 40% of the territory out of state control. Neither group has, however, claimed this attack.
Unfortunately, the search for the victims has not been successful yet. The international community is encouraged not only to provide assistance to the country in the search for the victims but to continue supporting and encouraging long-term non-violent counter-terrorism efforts to stem the surge of violence in the vulnerable country.
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