In West Africa, the nation of Burkina Faso is a weak link in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel region. In the north of the country, which is under constant terrorist attack, entire provinces are threatened. And an unprecedented humanitarian crisis is underway, Covid-19 just beginning to spread. Our journalists Jonathan Walsh and Kalidou Sy went to find out more.
Nothing seems to stop the rampant expansion of jihadist groups in northern Burkina Faso. Government defense and security forces regularly suffer heavy casualties in attacks by the Islamic State Group and the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), which has pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda. With the Burkinabé army, French soldiers of the Barkhane force recently carried out several major operations in this area, on the border of Mali and Niger – but did not obtain a decisive victory.
Caught between two fires, the population is fleeing en masse and the flow of displaced persons is increasing exponentially. According to the United Nations, there are nearly 850,000 today, ten times more than a year ago. We were able to go to the town of Dori, in the northeast, near the border with Niger. On the ground, we have heard the stories of displaced people arriving daily who have often lost loved ones in the violence.
First cases of coronavirus
Schools in the Sahel region are also targeted by jihadists. French-language schools, accused of propagating Western culture, are a particular target and many teachers have been murdered.
About 160 kilometers further south, we also visited a camp for internally displaced people in Pissila, where thousands of people live. It is located in the north-central region, which hosts the largest number of displaced people in Burkina Faso. The first cases of coronavirus have been reported in this part of the country. And even if their number is currently limited, the gap is ongoing. The risk is that Covid-19 will spread among an already very vulnerable population.