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Security and reconciliation: Roch Kaboré’s second term challenges for Burkina Faso

By Alpha Diallo

After five years of near constant terrorist attacks, the President of Faso, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, was re-elected for a second five-year term on November 22, 2020. Faced with myriad challenges, his two most urgent ones are security and national reconciliation.

Barely two weeks into Kaboré’s first term, Burkina Faso recorded its first large-scale terrorist attack on the night of January 15, 2016. In the proceeding years, terrorist attacks have multiplied in the Sahelian country, and the attackers’ methods have diversified. “Initially, the attacks were largely targeted at the FDS (Defense and Security Forces) using several tactics: surprise attacks, improvised explosive devices, the disruption of communication routes by dynamiting bridges, the use of corpses as human bombs, and more,” explained Laurent Kibora, an expert in security and development.

Between 2016 and 2020, militias and fighters linked to terrorist groups killed more than 1,200 people, according to the Groupe de recherche et d’information sur la paix et la sécurité (GRIP).

More than one million internally displaced persons

Fear reigns in the north of the country, said Ibrahim Seydou (name changed for security reasons), a community leader in Markoye, a commune in the Sahel region of Oudalan province. The population lives with fear in their stomachs in this border area with Mali and Niger, and not three weeks go by without a terrorist attack. The consequences are felt on a daily basis. “It prevents people from moving around, from carrying out their daily activities, and it only makes us poorer and hungrier every day,” Seydou lamented.

Many people decided to flee their villages, as was the case in Salmossi, one of the 27 villages in the Markoye department which has emptied of its population. “There are no inhabitants, everyone has left. No one lives in this village,” Seydou said. In other villages, it community leaders are targeted by terrorist groups and are the first to flee.

The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has increased as insecurity rises. According to data from the Permanent Secretariat of the National Council for Emergency Relief and Rehabilitation (SP/CONASUR), as of November 10, 2020, the number of IDPs was 1,049,767, an increase of approximately 1.47% over the figures as of September 8 of the same year.

Safety is the priority

The alarming figures for IDPs in Burkina Faso do not surprise informed observers. Luc Damiba is the president of the Semfilms association, one of the first structures to launch the solidarity operation: “Let’s make a gesture” for internally displaced persons in August 2019. “When we launched the campaign, it was to draw people’s attention to the risk of reaching large numbers. The fact that it is increasing does not surprise us because we were seeing things getting worse as we went along,” recalls Luc Damida.

It is in this context that the presidential election was held on November 22, 2020. Incumbent President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré was re-elected in the first round with 57.74% of the votes, according to the final results proclaimed on Friday, December 18, by the Constitutional Council.

For Ibrahim Seydou, the priority of President Kaboré’s second term must be security. “The first of his activities is to tackle the security issue so that peace, tranquility and stability return to Burkina Faso,” he said, currently living in Dori, the capital of the Sahel region, a town about 95 kilometers from his home, Markoye.

In Luc Damiba’s opinion, the authorities must take more drastic measures. “We have the impression that in the area of insecurity, we are still exposed. The government is not taking care of the people, there has to be more social assistance,” he said.

Securing areas where the population fled

Politicians must rise to the deep challenges confronting the country. Serge Bambara aka Smockey, artist, musician, and spokesman of the Balai Citoyen movement, said a priority must be stamping out corruption in naming government positions. “We must put people in charge who are experts in their field, who can really contribute to ending this crisis once and for all,” he argued.

For Laurent Kibora, inter-community attacks “have greatly weakened social cohesion,” which is why he said it’s necessary to strengthen inter-communal ties. “Burkinabe society has been divided because of stigmatization. This has led to identity closure, which has exacerbated the situation and pushed people into violent extremism and radicalization.” As a solution, Mr. Kibora proposes to secure areas that have been emptied of their populations, strengthen social cohesion, and eradicate violent extremism by finding jobs for young people.

During the campaign, Roch Kaboré promised to ensure the security and integrity of Burkina Faso. In Fada N’Gourma, the capital of the eastern region, an area that has been badly affected by insecurity after the Sahel, he kept a firm tone. “We will not give in to terrorism, we will stand up and fight it until peace is restored in Burkina Faso,” he said to a population living its third year of curfew.

National reconciliation

The issue of national reconciliation dominated the electoral discourse and became a central issue for all candidates. According to Smockey, one of the spokesmen of the Balai Citoyen movement that contributed significantly to the popular uprising of October 2014, the concept of reconciliation is misunderstood. “We want to make security conditional on national reconciliation. They are two completely different things. If there is one thing that can contribute to the stability of the country and especially to security, it is justice,” he said.

“Reconciliation cannot be achieved without justice,” Smockey said, warning that political actors believe that the situation in Burkina Faso is comparable to that of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in that it’s difficult to know exactly what could spark more large scale violence. “If the triptych of truth, justice and reconciliation has existed for a long time, it is not for nothing” he stated.

From one civil society organization to another, opinions on the best path of national reconciliation differ. According to Marcel Tankoano, president of the Mouvement du 21 avril 2013 (M21), conventional justice is not appropriate for Burkina Faso’s current situation. “In justice, one never wins! According to the judgment rendered, there is always a loser,” he said. Tankoano also argued that the justice system is too slow, citing the cases of the assassinations of President Thomas Sankara (1987) and the investigative journalist Norbert Zongo (1998), both of which are still pending. “The Burkinabe must live, we must accept each other. We do not deny justice, but as it is slow in coming, we will have to forgive ourselves, we will have to be reconciled with ourselves, and then justice will lead us to our model of reconciliation,” Tankoano said.

President Kaboré has always expressed his support for national reconciliation, but with an emphasis on justice. “National reconciliation is not just about bringing back 20 people who themselves have decided to leave Burkina Faso. National reconciliation is more than 5,000 cases of Burkinabe who have been frustrated, traumatized, are victims of violent crimes. These are the files that interest us in reconciliation. I say and I repeat, everyone can return to Burkina Faso. We are a land of democracy. But, there is a ‘but’. If you have problems with the justice system, you will have to answer them first,” he said during his final campaign rally in Ouagadougou.

Even if the proposals differ, the issues of security and national reconciliation remain a priority for many Burkinabe. The President of Faso’s overtures on these two projects are eagerly awaited. As promised in his social program, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré will have to “win the security and stability of the country” and “reconcile the Burkinabe.”