On March 10, more than 1,000 teachers and students held a silent protest in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. They marched from the city center to the Ministry of National Education to stage a sit-in and demand state protection of their schools. Just a week before, a radical Islamist had shot dead a teacher in the village of Koursayel in the northern province of Soum, one of many such killings since terrorists found their way to Burkina Faso a year ago.
In January 2016, the sleepy capital of Ouagadougou was hit by a deadly terrorist attack. Armed fighters carried out a 15-hour siege on hotels and cafés in the city center, leaving 28 dead and 56 injured. In March 2017, terrorists expanded operations to the northern countryside, targeting police posts and military installments as well as educational facilities. At least two people were kidnapped and a school was burned down. Although one key jihadist was killed and others arrested, the psychological damage was done.
Over the last year, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansarul Islam (Defenders of Islam) have sought to turn the northern part of Burkina Faso into a stronghold through which they could potentially build a new alliance with the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) and turn parts of Burkina Faso into a sanctuary for jihadist recruitment and training following ISIS’ losses in Iraq and Syria.
The area is attractive. The tiny landlocked nation is close to the autonomous ports of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast and Lomé in Togo, which would offer indirect and discreet access to global shipping routes through which terrorist groups could traffic arms and equipment. Meanwhile, the country’s weak security forces are barely trained for counterterrorism. They are also concentrated in urban centers and are widely absent in the countryside, where the terrorists tend to operate.
Underdevelopment is another factor. The country’s north is suffering from high levels of underemployment, low productivity, and poor health care. Jihadists hope to fill that gap by