On January 4th a bus filled with passengers drove over a roadside explosive in Northern Burkina Faso, resulting in the death of 14 people. A statement from the government reported seven students among the dead. In addition, 19 people have been reported as injured with three of them in critical condition. The incident was a result of a homemade bomb (IED) which was placed on Toeni-Tougan road in the Sourou province on the border of Mali. The IED was detonated when a convoy of three buses carrying 160 passengers drove over the device. The border of Mali and Burkina Faso has been plagued by high levels of violence with many attacks perpetrated by groups with links to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS). The bus explosion is a reflection of a larger issue which has been looming over Burkina Faso, and ultimately the Sahel region, in which violence and insecurity has become the norm. The five states directly affected by the insurgency include: Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger, Mali, and Chad.
The violence scourging the Sahel over the past four years has taken the lives of hundreds, including both civilians and soldiers. Most of this violence has been concentrated in the Northern Region of Burkina Faso. In addition, the violence has created a humanitarian catastrophe in which the number of internally displaced people has increased exponentially. The United Nations has estimated more than half a million people have become displaced as a result of the ongoing conflict in Burkina Faso since 2015.
Just last year on December 24th, 2019, an attack took the lives of 35 civilians, most of whom were women, when an armed group raided the northern city of Arbinda. The raid occurred after a separate attack on a nearby army outpost in the Soum province, in which prolonged exchanges of gunfire took the lives of 87 people.
On December 31st, 2019, Burkina Faso’s incumbent president, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, expressed conviction regarding the imminent defeat of terrorist insurgencies in the Sahel. In the address, Kaboré stated, “the victory of Burkina Faso people over terrorism is assured because we remain confident in our unity against adversity.” Those whom Kaboré is vowing to defeat involves a complex chain of militias tied to foreign-based terrorist organizations, most notably Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The group has received significant international attention, especially following their recurring attacks on the capital of Ouagadougou over the past three years.
The Sahel countries, as well as the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, have made significant efforts to mitigate the insurgency, yet have fallen short. The ineffectiveness of domestic, regional, and international efforts have been linked to the weakened legitimacy of security forces in the region and subsequent human rights violations. Such legitimacy crises contributed to the resignation of former Prime Minister Paul Thieba in January 2019.
The government of Burkina Faso declared a state of emergency in 2018, which shows minimal signs of resolution in the near future. Greater efforts from the international community must be made to help build the capacity and legitimacy of security forces in the Sahel, as well as providing the existing organizations responding to the events with the appropriate resources to effectively manage the humanitarian crisis.