Burkina Faso is the country that used to be the French colony of Upper Volta. It is a landlocked country about the size of Colorado. It is in west Africa, where it sits on top of Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo and Benin. To its north and west is Mali; to its east is Niger. It is a tropical country with a rainy season and a dry season. Nearly all of the rain falls in the south. The middle of the country is savannah, and the northern part is Sahara Desert.
Yes, this is another post about Islamicist terrorism in Africa. I am writing to relay some information about recent violence. Muslim jihadi raiders have been on a killing spree for the past few years. In particular, jihadi attacks started ramping up five years ago and have grown dramatically in the past three years. This has gone largely unnoticed by American media.
One of our Ratburghers has a relative who was serving as a Christian missionary in Burkina Faso. He was pulled out last year, on account of increasing violence.
Militants have killed at least 71 soldiers in an attack on a military base in western Niger – the deadliest in several years. Twelve soldiers were also injured in the attack in Inates, the army says. … Defence Minister Issoufou Katambe told the BBC “a large number of terrorists” had been “neutralised” during the attack, which happened on Tuesday afternoon [Dec. 10, 2019]. Mr Katambe said there had been “a fierce battle” with “several hundred” militants in Inates, not far from the border with Mali. …
A peace deal was signed in 2015, but was not completely implemented, and new groups have since emerged and expanded to central Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. In particular, the Liptako-Gourma region, which is a stretch of land across all three nations, is now at the centre of the insurgency and counter-terrorism operations. This is where Tuesday’s attack happened. It’s also where nearly 100 Malian soldiers have been killed by suspected militants since September, forcing them to retreat from their side of the border.
So Islamic jihadi thugs have formed an army. That is what “several hundred militants” means, right? And they are attacking military and police in both Mali and Niger, in the border areas near Burkina Faso. My guess is that they are clearing out working space for cross-border raids into Burkina Faso.
When Nigeria sent the army into northern Nigeria (in August and September of this year) to shut down some sketchy madrassas that were harboring kidnapped children, I was surprised that they did not run into a large clash with Boko Haram. Now I think I know why. Evidently a few hundred Boko Haram fighters have shifted west to join the jihad in Burkina Faso. (Others went east to fight in Cameroon.)
Burkina Faso has had a bad history of coups d’etat, attempted coups, strongmen, and rigged elections. The current president was actually elected in 2015 after a military junta stepped down. Like almost all of Africa, corruption in business and government is a huge problem that keeps most people in poverty. Well, that and they are plagued by constant government turmoil and frequent terrorist attacks.
The terrorist attacks started about fifteen years ago. A significant increase in violence is happening in Burkina Faso that started ramping up just four or five years ago.
Jihadiis are stealing gold. There are several low-volume gold mines in Burkina Faso. Gold is their primary source of income, along with cotton. Burkina Faso is the fourth largest producer of gold in Africa, though their gold-containing ores are of much lower quality than the gold ore of South Africa.
The map shows areas of gold mining, former (played out) gold mines, illicit gold mining, gold prospecting and potential gold fields identified from satellite imaging. They are shown as yellow areas.
The little pink dots are terrorist attacks in 2018. These range from church vandalism or arson, armed robberies by heavily-armed thugs (the level of their firepower is how jihadiis can be discerned from ordinary robbers), kidnappings for ransom, assassinations of Christian pastors, church massacres, and major assaults on police stations.
I got the map from a long and fascinating report at Reuters, attributed to reporters David Lewis and Ryan McNeill. Here is the opening:
People around Pama, a West African town on the edge of vast forested conservation areas, had long been forbidden by their government to dig for gold in the reserves, to protect antelope, buffalo and elephants.
In mid-2018, men wearing turbans changed the rules.
Riding in with assault rifles on motorbikes and in 4X4 trucks, they sent government troops and rangers fleeing from the area in eastern Burkina Faso bordering the Sahel, a belt of scrubland south of the Sahara Desert.
The armed men said residents could mine in the protected areas, but there would be conditions. Sometimes they demanded a cut of the gold. At other times they bought and traded it.
The men “told us not to worry. They told us to pray,” said one man who gave his name as Trahore and said he had worked for several months at a mine called Kabonga, a short drive northwest of Pama. Like other miners who spoke to Reuters, he asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. It was not safe for reporters to visit the region, but five other miners who had been to Kabonga corroborated his account.
“We called them ‘our masters,’” Trahore said.
The Reuters report goes on to describe how terrorist activity has ramped up significantly each year for the past five years. Also, terrorist activity in Mali and in Niger has become increasingly concentrated in the areas near the border with Burkina Faso.
Gold buys powerful weapons on the African black market. These jihadiis are now armed as well as the national armies they are fighting.
Herders v. Farmers land dispute
I have written before about how the herders have been overgrazing for millennia, leading to an expansion of the Sahara Desert, which pushes the herders into conflict with farmers in the marginal lands around the desert. Beginning about 30 years ago, and significantly ramping up after 9/11/2001, Wahhabi imams sent money, preachers, scholarships, and weapons to the herders, who were Muslims. They turned an age-old land dispute into religious war.
The nations of Africa are so corrupt, and the West is so disinterested, that this has gone on largely without notice by western media.
Congratulations to Reuters for this timely report.