Burkinabe fleeing jihadist attacks seek refuge in Ghana

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A flag map of Burkina Faso (image: courtesy of Pixabay)

The Al Qaeda/IS-linked conflict with Burkina Faso is one of the most violent chapters in the history of the West African country. What started in 2015 as minor skirmishes seems to be gaining strength as the number of victims keeps escalating, and the cruelty of the attacks becoming more and more unbearable. No one is spared, no locality can boast of being safe, both civilians and armed forces are regularly killed.

Much has been said about the roots of that conflict which has ramifications in Mali where violence led to material damage and the loss of many lives. These two countries belong to an area called ‘Central Sahel’ and many analysts contend that the crisis in the Central Sahel has its origins in Mali, where Tuareg separatists and armed Islamist groups seized territory in the north a decade ago, following a military coup. For clarification, it might help to add that the Tuareg are a traditionally nomadic pastoralist group that inhabit the Sahara in Africa, they are found in Libya, southern Algeria, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Nigeria. Despite numerous security initiatives, the conflict shifted into inter-communal violence and attacks by armed Islamist groups. That military coup overthrew the government of Amadou Toumani Touré in Mali in 2012. Three million of them live in Mali and, in 2012, they initiated a war for the creation of their separatist state (Azawad). Since then, all areas close to Mali in West Africa have, in one way or another, had their own share of insecurity and gun violence. The Tuareg factor plays a role in the subregional insecurity because they are linked to the Al Qaeda /IS movement. Most of them are part of an influx of battle-hardened, well-armed fighters returning from the Libyan Civil War, to which they had traveled to fight for Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader who was deposed and killed.

What emanates from all research and discussions around the roots of the insecurity in Burkina is that it all started in northern Mali, and we are currently at a stage where more than a million Burkinabè had to flee their homes, leaving behind all their belongings. As a result, the situation of the displaced people is currently at the centre of Burkinabè national politics. This Jihadist-related insecurity caused two coups d’état in Burkina Faso, one in January 2022 and another in September of the same year, each of them occurred because one leader thought that his predecessor was incapable, or not doing enough to counteract the violence. The current regime in power in Burkina came through that second coup and from all appearances seems to be making serious headway in the battle against insecurity.

The transitional government acquired sophisticated weapons purchased from Russia, hired the services of the Wagner group and grants incentives to anti-Jihadist combatants called Defense and Security Forces (FDS). The victories of the terrorist groups over Burkina are, therefore, gradually reducing. Sources from the Burkinabè Army state that between 1 and 10 December 2022, 39 “terrorists” were killed in an anti-Jihadist operation conducted in the northwestern part of the country; special operations made it possible to liberate a dozen localities under siege by armed groups.

But the movement of populations towards Ghana that started in 2019 continues. Today, Ghanaian authorities have to manage the presence of Burkinabè refugees in their country. The little solace in this tragedy is that the number of Burkinabè refugees is not that high, unlike the Ivorian refugees of 2011 and the Liberians of May 1990 who came to Ghana. That might account for the little coverage by the international media. In July 2022, the Ghana Refugee Board confirmed that over 700 Burkinabè nationals who fled terrorist attacks had arrived in Ghana. Most of them were women and children, seeking refuge in areas that are at the border between the two countries. So far, the movement of the population is from the south west part of Burkina to the extreme north of Ghana. Most of the Burkinabe are said to come from areas like Buro and other localities that are very close to Ghanaian northern towns like Fielmuo and Nemoro. Most of these people who live on both sides of the Ghana-Burkina border are related, so they speak the same language and share the same or similar cultural practices. The dominant homogeneity in the moving groups is perceived when we are told that the groups that seek refuge in Ghana are made of Burkinabè and also Ghanaians. Those Ghanaians were certainly going about their activities, among their Burkina relatives.

The Sissala and Dagaaba are among the largest ethnic groups that straddle the border between the two countries.  Few men are part of the migrant group and the Ghanaian National Disaster Management Organization (NADMO) are doing their best to reduce the trauma, pain, and discomfort. The plight of the fleeing Burkinabè is not negligible, from the accounts given by some of them. The seriousness of the situation transpires through statements like the following: “the suspected Jihadists burned down our District Assembly, a police post and a telephone pole in Burkina and that made us start running towards Ghana”. Ghanaians on their side provide details like “the movement of the people normally occurs during the night and one of the fleeing women gave birth this morning”. Such information is relayed through the Ghana News Agency (GNA). The same medium is used to appeal for assistance from NGOs and philanthropists. The Burkinabè are encouraged to apply some basic security practices like ‘reporting to the local Ghanaian authorities any unknown person who joins them or settles among them’. The caution in the analysis and coverage of the turmoil is noticed through expressions that are frequently used by the Ghanaian press. The Burkinabè who arrive on Ghanaian territory are referred to as “suspected refugees” and the perpetrators are “suspected Jihadists”.  Other interpretations could certainly be read in the use of these expressions.

Moussa Traoré is Associate Professor at the Department of English of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.

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  1. “The transitional government acquired sophisticated weapons purchased from Russia, hired the services of the Wagner group and grants incentives to anti-Jihadist combatants called Defense and Security Forces (FDS).”

    This is actually the gist of the issues fomenting more conflicts in Africa.

    Why would a government hire mercenaries and arm civilians to combat a group already causing havoc. This creates more unrest as guns and arms overflow. Africans don’t ever never get it.

    The root cause of rebellion everywhere and certainly that of Africa and specifically the Sahel region wasn’t started but the conflict to remove Gadarfi. Never at all.

    Conflicts all over the world and the Sahelean has always been the outcome of unmet expectation. Simply put when people feel cheated they rebel to take back their rights.

    See. Across Africa how the youth and the masses have been left hopeless as few enjoy.

    A continent or subregion that is so endowed to make life better for all. But captured by few as the masses cry and no advice for those enjoying to cut back the excesses would be taken serious.

    In situations like this taking to arms to remove their oppressors is the only way out.

    Countries like Burkina, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Cote D’Ivoire etc having the conflicts are having it because it came soonest.

    As for countries like Ghana, Benin and the rest who seem not to have had theirs will sooner get theirs too. It’s not a rocket science to see the over flow in the extreme north of Ghana could be the flicker getting closer.

    People should get ready.

    The only way to reverse the conflicts or rebellion is for leaders to govern for the general not for some few.

    Europe will never ever have such avoidable conflicts for they cater for all. And none feels being cheated and left out over there.

    As Africans we should cut our morsels of banku and take it through our mouths not our anuses.

    We have been doing the wrong thing always in the hope of getting positive results.

  2. This is a piece rich of information.
    The text reveals how complex are geopolitical wars in Africa. This is illustrated by the fact that the roots of this so long social war is linked to the Lybia war and is continuing silently to harm populations that would be in peace.
    Another aspect that the piece showcases in the vulnerability of women and children in these social wars. They are mostly the first group suffering from these wars and the social consequences of their related sorrows last too long with uncountable consequences that impact the entire Africa.
    What else catches my attention in this piece is the former unity of Africa. Since the independence of African countries, the borders’ populations appears to be same ethnic groups which have been separated by colonisation.
    Let’s hope Africa leaders get more and more insights on how to better and beneficially lead African for the well being and peace of African populations.
    Thanks, Prof. for this informative piece!

  3. We have received a lot of them in our district, Bawku West district. The people in the municipality of Zouga, Yuiga, Bugre and Bieung in Burkina Faso are all Kusasi. So when the Jihadist appeared at Bugre market three weeks ago, they told the people they have been informed that the Burkina Faso government has armed some civilians to fight them, so they are looking for such people. They gave them a week to either produce the people the government has armed or they will come back and attack the communities. Since they are Kusasis and have a lot relatives in Ghanaian towns like Sapelliga, Tilli, Widnaba, Kansoogo, Zebilla and several others , they trouped there, mostly women and children. The King of the Kusaas even donated food items and clothes to them last week.
    The Jihadist are really making Burkina Faso a hell on earth. Why ECOWAS is quite, I don’t know.

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