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Burkina Faso: these northern cities under jihadist embargo

Burkina Faso is facing an unprecedented health crisis that tends to overlook terrorist attacks in the Sahel, the north and the east of the country. Before the appearance of the pandemic, the city of Djibo had already been cut off from the capital since January 2020.

Armed groups have imposed a blockade “nothing comes in, nothing goes out”, according to Sidiki Tamboura, a native of Djibo and coordinator of the network of associations of Soum. The humanitarian situation in Burkina Faso has immensely deteriorated following the various terrorist attacks in this part of the country. Over 150 000 internally displaced people in Djibo, 60 000 in Arbinda, 90 km from Djibo, according to the National Council for Emergency Relief and Rehabilitation (CONASUR). Seven communes out of the nine (09) in the Soum province are almost nonexistent.

Burkina Faso: Atlas of regions (as of April 30, 2018) _OCHA

On the ground, the populations are “caught in a pincer” between the terrorists and the defense and security forces (DSF). “If you collaborate with the army, the terrorists kill you, if you do not collaborate, you are accomplices, that’s how we live here”, says a resident who prefers to remain anonymous. After the assassination of the member of parliament and mayor, Oumarou Dicko by unidentified armed men in November 2019, the city sank further into silence. “We prefer work to words, and young people are working in this direction”, says the substitute to the late mayor.

Why does nobody want to speak about the situation? “We are afraid of the army and also of terrorists”, says a resident of the city. “The armed men come and kill us and if they leave, the army comes, and it does not ask questions. If the soldiers find you in a place once occupied by the armed men, they consider you as accomplices and it is over for you” he adds.

According to the NGO Human Rights Watch, 31 people were executed in Firguindi, sector 7 of Djibo by the defense and security forces last April. The defense ministry has promised to open an investigation into these events following the report by the human rights organization.

Namssiguiya – Djibo, a hellish stretch

On this 25-kilometer road located on the national 22, the armed groups are present, they stop and search transport vehicles in search of possible state officials. They return the trucks which supply Djibo with food. Since about two months, all those who arrive, get off and walk on foot to Djibo. Sometimes, it is under high military escort that the trucks manage to supply the city with consumer products.

The local economy based mainly on livestock is severely affected by insecurity. All the other activities that are linked to the Djibo livestock market, one of the largest in the West African sub-region, are paralyzed. Spontaneous markets are created besides the livestock market. Owners often sell their animals at half price to meet the needs of their family.

“Local grain and livestock markets are not functioning or are operating at a slower pace because they are not attended by suppliers, collectors and also little attended by households who lack income”, highlights a report from the Network for early Alert Systems against famine.

Still according to the document, “the deterioration of livelihoods due to insecurity, the deterioration of food consumption and the nutritional situation with prevalence beyond the alert threshold, expose internally displaced persons and poor host households in the Soum, Loroum, Oudalan, Sanmatenga and Bam provinces to acute food insecurity, with risks of extension to the Séno, Yagha, Gnagna and Komondjari provinces between April and May 2020 “.

The refugee camp in sight

On May 2, according to a government statement, a gendarme was killed and another missing in the attack on their post in Djibo. The search led the DSF to the Mentao camp of Malian refugees, leaving 32 injured among the refugees. Authorities deplored “the ensuing search operation, met with resistance from some refugees, causing incidents”, the note said.

Located about 16 kilometers from Djibo, the Mentao refugee camp, which houses 6 500 residents, has been indexed for some time by populations following attacks by unidentified armed men not far from the camp. As a reminder, all the police stations built in this camp have been attacked and, to date, no security station is there.

After the attack on the Splendid Hotel in January 2016, distrust arose between the people of Soum and the occupants from the camp of Malian refugees. During a press briefing, in March 2017, the deputy general chief of staff of the gendarmerie, Colonel Serge Alain Ouédraogo declared that “Mimi Ould Baba Ould Cheikh and Ibrahim Ould Mohamed, former residents of the refugee site of Mentao, in Djibo, interrogated by Burkinabe investigators, revealed their implication in the attacks of January 15, 2016 in Ouagadougou”.

Since then, after each attack around Mentao, suspicions increase. “Mentao is a sparsely wooded area. It is easy to sneak in the trees to disappear. Perhaps this is why armed groups have chosen this locality to ambush and prepare attacks against the DSF. These people know something but, they do not collaborate, ” says an indignant villager before adding that “if they leave here, you will see the end of the attacks”. However, the camp is emptying of its occupants who are coming in large numbers to Djibo.

Supporting populations experiencing insecurity

The residents of Soum are mobilizing to come to the aid of the populations who are living under a blockade imposed by the armed groups. One of the latest initiatives is the creation of the Soum Action Group (GAS). The objective is “to carry out humanitarian and social actions for the benefit of the affected populations, to propose solutions for the return of security and to contribute to better collaboration between DSF and the local populations”, explains the coordinator of GAS. On May 14, a delegation from this Group association was under high escort in Djibo for food donations.

In Burkina Faso, “as of March 25, 2020, 838 548 people had been forced to flee their homes, an increase of 7.54% compared to the situation of February 29, 2020. (…) Before the schools were closed to contain Coronavirus (COVID-19), 339 909 students were already deprived of access to education, due to the closure of 2 512 schools because of insecurity”, says a report by the UN Office for the coordination of humanitarian aid.

At the end of May, around 50 people were killed in various attacks in the east and north of the country.

*Produced with the support of the Sahel Program of IMS, funded by DANIDA.

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