Burkina Faso Counter-Insurgent Effort ‘Operation Doofu’ Fails Fulani Citizens

As a spate of violent attacks occur across Burkina Faso, the tactics used within counter-insurgency effort, ‘Operation Doofu’, are under fire. Mid-way through May, Operation Doofu was launched to ‘uproot terrorism’ and protect citizens. However, there are grave concerns about the tactics being utilized by security forces. In particular, there have been reports of suspects being summarily executed by government led militia. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), over 150 suspects have been executed without fair trial since late 2017. The ‘suspects’ are often ethnically Fulani, and subject to extreme prejudice by both government and terrorist forces.

Corinne Dafka, West Africa Director for HRW, has condemned the approach taken by the government. “The government has adopted a hard-line approach in which scores of suspects have been unlawfully executed.” Dafka also claims that the tactics will severely hamper the government’s aims, because “killing suspects in the name of security is only fuelling its terrorism problem”. Since the inception of Operation Doofu, HRW has been advocating for human rights to be embedded in counter-insurgency efforts. This includes the application of human rights in operational planning, and relevant measures to ensure the accountability of security forces.

The insurgent forces in Burkina Faso are attempting to exploit dissatisfaction with the government, whilst utilizing terror against would-be government supporters. Good counter-insurgency weakens insurgents by utilizing operations that promote the legitimacy of the government, and garner trust from citizens. However, the tactics being used in Burkina Faso mirror those of insurgent forces – namely, the execution of suspects without regard for the victims’ innocence. By disregarding human rights in this manner, security forces are alienating citizens, particularly those who are frequently targeted, such as the Fulani. Insurgents can utilize the attacks against the Fulani, as the prejudice demonstrated by the government sows the dissent and fear necessary for future radicalization. However, by implementing human rights in the operation, ensuring accountability of security forces and protecting all ethnic groups, the government sends a clear message that the security and safety of the public is the priority. This will not prevent future attacks, but it will mitigate radicalization attempts.

A number of counter-insurgency operations have been conducted in recent years, in response to the growing insecurity in the region. In recent months, a number of attacks have been perpetrated by armed Islamists, predominantly targeting Christian places of worship. However, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), the state-led counter-insurgency operations are at least partly responsible for these attacks. The Fulani are often targeted by security forces, presumably due to their Islamic faith. Héni Nsaibia of ACLED suggests that the increased attacks against churches are a direct result of the violence perpetrated by government security forces against ethnic Fulani. A majority of the 150 suspects that have been summarily executed since 2017 were ethnically Fulani. In March, the Burkinabe Movement for Human and Peoples’ Rights reported that an additional 60 individuals were summarily executed by security forces in a major operation in Kain and Bahn in the country’s north. Reports are vague but it seems a majority of the victims were also Fulani. It is possible that attacks against churches are an attempt by armed Islamist groups to demonstrate opposition to the tactics used against the Fulani. The aim is to garner support and to recruit from Fulani communities.

The counter-insurgency efforts of security forces in Burkina Faso are objectionable. Not only have these efforts consistently failed to protect Fulani ethnic groups from the insurgents, they have also failed to implement effective measures to ensure the accountability of security forces. The targeting and summary execution of suspects, many of whom were Fulani, completely disregards the human rights of the victims, whilst also increasing the potential for future radicalization. If it is to have any hope of tackling insurgency, Operation Doofu must aim to fully protect all communities, particularly those which are Fulani, implement effective accountability measures, and cease all unlawful execution of suspects.