What is Happening in Burkina Faso?

Contextualizing Recent Security Dynamics in Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso: Closer Look

Situation Summary

Burkina Faso's political turmoil continues, spotlighted by a recent foiled coup disclosed by the military government, a year after interim President Captain Ibrahim Traoré's ascension amidst a rising Islamist insurgency. Historical ideological divides between Thomas Sankara and Blaise Compaoré factions persist, potentially fueling recent political instabilities. The Sahel region faces escalating violent extremism from al-Qaeda and ISIS affiliates, with insecurity cited as a coup motive in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. Burkina Faso's security is further strained by the withdrawal of French forces, increasing jihadist attacks, and ethnic-based vigilante groups. The September coup, aligned with pro-Sankara factions, symbolically linked to Russia, illustrates enduring ideological rivalry and international influences. A recent defense pact among Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali aims to collectively tackle armed insurgencies, emphasizing the Sahel's interlinked security dynamics. Burkina Faso's political stability trajectory remains uncertain, with complex domestic and external challenges.

Advisory Notice:

Individuals and organizations with a presence and/or operations in Burkina Faso should closely monitor ongoing events and take prudent steps to prepare in the event the security situation degrades. It's advisable to stay informed through reliable sources, review and update emergency response and communication plans, and ensure adequate resources are on hand to maintain operations and personal safety.

Contemporary Context: Burkina Faso

The political landscape in Burkina Faso remains tumultuous, as revealed by a recent thwarted coup attempt disclosed by the country's military government on a Tuesday. According to the authorities, certain officers and individuals had orchestrated a plan to destabilize the nation and thrust it into chaos. This revelation comes nearly a year after interim President Captain Ibrahim Traoré seized power in what was the second coup of 2022, amid a burgeoning Islamist insurgency.

The unfolding scenario was publicly addressed in a televised statement on the subsequent Wednesday evening, where it was declared that some arrests had been made while the hunt for other suspects continued. Though specifics were withheld, the military prosecutor later confirmed the detention of four officers, accusing them of harboring malevolent intentions to assault the republic's institutions and propel the country into chaos.

Earlier on, Captain Traoré had issued a statement expressing his steadfast commitment to steer the transitional phase towards democracy, despite the adversities and orchestrated schemes aimed at thwarting the nation's stride towards self-sovereignty. He extended his gratitude towards the pro-junta supporters for their vigilance.

The junta has projected that elections will be held by July of the coming year. Nonetheless, rumors of an imminent mutiny on that Tuesday spurred hundreds to rally on the streets of Ouagadougou, the capital, in a show of solidarity with the junta. On this day too, the government suspended the French-language news outlet, Jeune Afrique, alleging the dissemination of content that discredits the armed forces.

The regional jihadist insurgency, originating from neighboring Mali since 2015, has further muddled the envisioned transition to civilian rule by next year. Current year data from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) reports approximately 6,000 fatalities due to jihadist assaults.

Since ascending to power, Captain Traoré has sought to sever ties with Burkina Faso's former colonial overseer, France, by expelling French forces deployed to counter the Islamist insurgency and initiating mass recruitment to bolster the nation's security apparatus.

Furthermore, a regional defense pact has been forged earlier this month between Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali – all neighboring states grappling with jihadist threats and military takeovers within the last year – as a collective measure against armed insurgencies or external hostilities. This collaborative endeavor underscores the interlinked security dynamics in the Sahel, and the collective bid to restore stability amidst ongoing threats of political and violent extremism.

Contributing Risk Drivers

The recent wave of coups across the Sahel region is closely intertwined with the escalating violent extremism that has plagued the area, particularly over the last decade. The ferocity and territorial gains of al-Qaeda and ISIS affiliates have exacerbated this situation. Coup orchestrators in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger have all cited rampant insecurity as a principal motive behind their actions to seize power. Although this rationale has become somewhat commonplace in the region, the underlying threat it represents is palpable.

The coup in Burkina Faso in September, which led to the ouster of Col. Damida, saw its leaders castigating senior officers for their perceived lackluster effort in combating extremists. Consequently, this coup can be characterized as an insurrection led by junior officers, who are at the vanguard of the conflict against extremist factions.

In a similar vein, recent reports concerning attempts to overthrow the existing junta have unveiled a pattern of dissatisfaction among junior officers regarding the strategy and effectiveness of the ongoing counter-extremism operations. Particularly in the northern and south-eastern regions of Burkina Faso, extremists have managed to establish effective control over territories.

The withdrawal of French forces from the nation has engendered a security vacuum, affording extremists more latitude for operations. The frequency of attacks within the country has seen a notable uptick in recent times.

Militant Islamic Threat Incident Reporting

Africa Center for Strategic Studies: Post JAN 2022 Coup

Africa Center for Strategic Studies: Pre JAN 2022 Coup

Incident Reporting Source here

Additional Contributing Factors

The deployment of ethnic-based vigilante groups has further aggravated the precarious security situation. While the initiation of these groups predates the first coup in early 2022 under the civilian government, the subsequent junta led by Traore has extended more influence and legal endorsement to these entities. Over the years, vigilante factions have singled out certain ethnic groups, notably the Fulbe, for attacks, culminating in numerous fatalities. This hostile environment has driven many Fulbe individuals towards extremist groups in a quest for protection against vigilante onslaughts, thereby exacerbating the prevailing insecurity.

The deteriorating security conditions have been a sore point for junior officers who risk their lives on the frontlines battling jihadists. They perceive the operational and tactical challenges as indicative of ineffective leadership at the helm, leading to a milieu ripe for recent coup attempts. The confluence of these factors underscores the complex, multifaceted risk drivers contributing to the unstable geopolitical and security landscape in Burkina Faso and the broader Sahel region.

Ideological and Political Divide

The political division in Burkina Faso extends beyond contemporary security challenges, tracing back to historical schisms that have shaped the nation's political trajectory, particularly since the 1980s. This division originated from the dynamics between Thomas Sankara and his successor, Blaise Compaoré. Although allies in a successful coup during the 1980s, Compaoré was later implicated in the alleged removal and subsequent assassination of Sankara.

The political divergence between these two leaders was further accentuated by ideological contrasts. Thomas Sankara, often dubbed the Che Guevara of Africa, espoused a form of national socialism that resonated with many Burkinabes. His proactive governance style yielded notable socio-economic advancements that garnered admiration beyond Burkina Faso's borders. Sankara's overt resistance to French influence, albeit less radical compared to the approach of current juntas, was a source of tension with France, which allegedly endorsed a coup against him, with Compaoré tasked to execute it.

Following Sankara's ouster, Compaoré's nearly three-decade rule as a strongman came to an abrupt end in 2014 due to mass public mobilization against his regime. In the ensuing years, political actors, both military and civilian, have surfaced embodying either pro-Sankara or pro-Compaoré sentiments. The civilian government overthrown in early 2022 was perceived as pro-Sankara, notably prosecuting Compaoré in absentia for Sankara's murder. Conversely, the junta that deposed this government harbored pro-Compaoré elements, signified by Compaoré's unprecedented visit to Burkina Faso after years of exile.

The subsequent coup in September, perceived as being aligned with pro-Sankara factions, elicited elation among those seeking justice for Sankara's demise. This junta's ascendancy was symbolically linked to Russia by those who associated Sankara's leftist ideology with the former Soviet Union, encapsulated in the phrase "Moscow was back to Ouagadougou."

This ideological rivalry, entrenched in Burkina Faso's political fabric post-Compaoré, continues to influence the nation's political dynamics. Despite the security-oriented narrative surrounding attempts to overthrow the Traoré-led junta, underlying ideological and political motives could be driving factions within the military to align with either historical faction.

As Traoré and his cohort endeavor to retain power and delineate their path, the intricate domestic political dynamics, exacerbated by the escalating terror threats, render long-term governance a daunting task. The confluence of historical political rifts, ideological dichotomies, and present-day security challenges encapsulates the multifaceted political quandary Burkina Faso grapples with, underscoring the complex interplay of past legacies and contemporary adversities in shaping the nation's geopolitical outlook.

Safety & Security Considerations

Stay Informed

  • Regularly monitor news and advisories from reputable authorities to remain updated on the current situation.

  • Be cautious of potential misinformation from non-verified sources.

Preparedness Measures

  • Stock up on non-perishable food items and potable water.

  • Ensure an adequate amount of cash is available in both foreign and local currency.

  • Review and update communication and emergency response plans, including safe locations, evacuation routes, and options.

Reporting Notable Incidents

  • Promptly report any unusual, notable or suspicious activities to local authorities (if appropiate) and to your respective security management stakeholders.

  • Document incidents and share ground-truth information promptly with organizational security stakeholders to enhance overall situational awareness.

Status and Location Awareness

  • Always keep your immediate team and organizational security updated on your location, especially when transitioning to new or higher-risk areas.

  • Utilize location-sharing technology in alignment with organizational guidelines.

Organizational Security Management Communications

  • Maintain regular check-ins to provide status updates.

  • Consult with security management teams routinely for risk assessments and advice before engaging in potenetially higher-risk activities.

Emergency Response Resources

  • Familiarize yourself with the organization’s emergency response plan and resources.

  • Ensure all communication devices are fully charged and operational to effectively utilize emergency response services.

Maintain Situational Awareness

  • Stay vigilant of your surroundings, identifying any unusual or potentially hazardous situations.

  • Report this information to both local authorities and organizational security teams.

Secure Personal and Company Assets

  • Securely store personal belongings and company equipment.

  • Employ available security infrastructure, such as lockboxes or secure rooms, following organizational guidelines.

Compliance with Local Laws and Regulations

  • Stay informed and comply with all local laws regarding personal and organizational security.

  • Coordinate with legal and compliance teams to ensure all activities adhere to local and international laws.

Adherence to Safety Protocols

  • Abide by established safety protocols, both organizational and local, during all activities or movements.

  • Encourage team members to also adhere to these guidelines to promote collective safety.

By incorporating the above considerations into an emergency response plan, organizations and individuals will be able to develop a response protocol that fosters situational awareness, effective communication, and the judicious use of resources.


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