After taking power on September 30, 2022, Captain Ibrahim Traoré gave himself “two to three months” to improve the security situation in Burkina Faso, but a year later the country is still the target of deadly jihadist attacks.
At the time of the putsch, the country’s second in eight months, Captain Traoré had promised that resolving “a few minor logistical problems” and “considerations” within the army would enable him to regain control.
In the space of a year, the new regime focused its efforts on a strong security response to these attacks by groups linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State: massive recruitment of Volunteers for the Defense of the Homeland (VDP, civilian auxiliaries to the army), purchase of drones and helicopters, neutralization of jihadists and trips by President Traoré to the field to motivate troops.
Twelve months later, “we have to admit that the problem that justified Captain Traoré’s irruption onto the national political scene is far from being resolved”, writes an editorial in the private Burkina Faso newspaper L’Observateur Paalga.
“Ibrahim Traoré’s arrival had raised great hopes among the population in view of the security situation. A great deal of effort has been made on the ground to reconquer localities, but the situation has deteriorated considerably”, agrees Lassina Diarra, a Sahel security specialist, for AFP.
The statistics bear this out: according to the NGO Acled, which lists the victims of conflicts around the world, attacks have killed more than 17,000 people since 2015, and more than 6,000 since the beginning of 2023 alone.
While the army and the VDP are the main targets of this violence, civilians are also paying a heavy price, and more than 6,000 schools are closed in the country, nearly one in four, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).
Two million people have been displaced by the violence since 2015, but by the end of August the government had claimed the return of more than 190,000 of them to their respective localities, touting a reconquest of territories once occupied by jihadist groups.
And supporters of the regime are hailing the “strong decisions” taken by 35-year-old Captain Traoré.
“There has been no failure. Our soldiers were under-equipped for the fight against terrorism, but with the arrival of Captain Traoré, we have acquired enormous resources”, stresses Lassané Sawadogo, coordinator of the Front pour la défense de la patrie, a pro-regime movement.
But jihadist attacks aside, other voices are being raised to denounce abuses committed by the VDP or the armed forces.
In April, the Collective against Impunity and Stigmatization of Communities (CISC) claimed that 136 people, including women and children, had been killed in the northern village of Karma by men wearing army uniforms.
An investigation was launched, and the government strongly condemned the “despicable and barbaric acts”, but Captain Traoré called for “hasty conclusions” to be avoided, accusing the army of being responsible for the Karma massacre.
The decline in certain individual freedoms is also a cause for concern: the Unité d’action syndicale, which brings together the country’s main trade unions, deplores “cases of forced recruitment, kidnappings and media suspensions”, while in its editorial, L’Observateur Paalga asserts that “everyone must march in step, and watch out for anyone who doesn’t go straight”.
Over the past 12 months, several French media have been suspended, including RFI, France 24 and Jeune Afrique, and correspondents from Libération and Le Monde have been expelled. Burkina Faso’s Radio Oméga was suspended for a month for interviewing an opponent of the military regime in neighboring Niger.
On the diplomatic front, Burkina has chosen to diversify its international partners since Captain Traoré came to power.
Firstly, by asking the French soldiers present on their territory to pack up in February, then by multiplying contacts with countries such as Iran, Russia and Venezuela.
In West Africa, he signed a charter establishing the Alliance des Etats du Sahel (AES), a “collective defense and mutual assistance” alliance, with neighboring Mali and Niger, also led by soldiers who came to power through putsches.
“Captain Traoré has freed us from the yoke of imperialism. Whether we like it or not, he’s done a lot of work over the past 12 months, and we’re hoping for even more in the months to come”, assures Lassané Sawadogo.
For the time being, the regime can count on the support of part of the population, particularly young people: on Tuesday evening, thousands of people took to the streets to “defend” Captain Traoré, following rumours of a coup d’état.
The following day, the government announced that it had foiled an attempted putsch, and four officers were arrested.
In theory, the transition should last until July 2024, with a return to civilian power via a presidential election. In May, Prime Minister Apollinaire Joachimson Kyélem de Tambèla had stated that there could be no elections without the return of security.
Africanews with AFP