Ethnic Violence Is Rising In Burkina Faso Along With Violent Extremism

Inter-communal and ethnic violence in Burkina Faso continues to escalate, with over 100,000 having been displaced and lacking sufficient humanitarian aid funds.

The wave of ethnic violence began in January 2019, with a Mossi-led attack on Fulani neighbourhoods in the village of Yirgou, leaving least 13 dead. The attack had been prompted by a preceding jihad-perpetuated attack that killed at least six Mossi civilians along with the village chief. The Fulani had been accused of having housed and hidden the jihadists responsible for the attack, and an order had then been given out to retaliate by “exterminating” the Fulani. This wave of inter-communal conflict has been extremely violent, causing a mass displacement of over 100,000 people, and the closure of schools and hospitals. Burkina Faso has already been inundated with 25,000 Malian refugees, and the displacement of its own people due to ethnic violence has further increased the country’s dire need for humanitarian aid.

While the Mossi make up one of the majorities in Burkina Faso, there are over 60 ethnic groups in the region, whom — until recently — have been living together without any major conflict. Burkina Faso is now struggling with poverty as a result of the violence, as 40% of its population of 20 million find themselves below the poverty line. Adding to this struggle, the UN reports that more than 70,000 have fled their homes in the last two months due to the terrorist attacks which have taken over 270 lives in Burkina Faso since 2015, ethnic violence, floods, and epidemics — some of the many disasters to plague to country as of late according to Le Monde. These internal displacements and disasters on top of the influx of refugees from Mali have resulted in the closure of over 1,100 schools, and leaving 120,000 without medical care, as reported by the UN.

These burdens have greatly increased the country’s need for humanitarian aid — a need which has largely gone unmet. The UN report claims that at least 100 million USD is necessary for the 1.2 million in need in Burkina Faso. The UN has sent $4 million from its Central Emergency Response Fund, but this is not nearly enough to respond to the mass displacement and lack of basic services for the population. Moreover, just last year, the UN’s Humanitarian Response Plan only succeeded in meeting 55.2% of the funding required.

The President, however, has tried to placate his people, stating to Le Monde, “Burkina Faso is a single people, we are united and our worst enemy, is terrorism.” There is hope that his optimism can be used to unite rather than divide a country that needs to work together to the combat terrorism pulling it into a string of other problems.

There are numerous factors that have played into the rise of inter-communal violence, but food insecurity and terrorism have played the biggest part. While the Mossi majority are mostly agricultural farmers, the Fulani are mostly herders. The two groups thus struggle for access to land, resources, and water, and their difficulties are exacerbated by the arid Sahel climate that has made agriculture and herding difficult, which, in turn, causes food insecurity, giving rise to tensions that — when coupled with violent extremism — have resulted in the emergence of inter-communal violence.

As violent extremists — most of whom are jihadists — have set up in Burkina Faso, they have often been in Fulani-inhabited regions, giving other ethnic groups a reason to blame them for the acts of violence. The retaliating violence needs to be considered carefully by the international community, because of its unique characteristic of being a new emergence of a formerly peaceful relationship. Clarifying who is actually responsible and preventing these acts of violence would be helpful in combatting extremists terrorizing the country. In addition to enough humanitarian aid for those displaced and refugees, strengthening of infrastructure and agricultural programs should also be considered to remedy Burkina Faso’s rising food insecurity.