Below is a roundup of three reports on Burkina Faso and Mali that have come out this year. See a previous roundup on Mali here.
1. International Crisis Group, “Burkina Faso: Stopping the Spiral of Violence” (February 2020). From the executive summary:
In Burkina Faso, violence is escalating amid a governance crisis across rural areas. Jihadists returning from neighbouring Mali, most of whom are Burkinabè, gained a foothold in 2016 by exploiting the frustration and anger of rural communities. Self-defence groups that villagers began forming in 2014 have fuelled local community-based violence, especially since 2019 in the Centre-Nord and Soum regions. The state’s recent call for volunteers to fight militants could amplify this phenomenon. The government’s largely military response, including the use of self-defence groups over which it exercises limited control, has often led to abuses that pushes those targeted into jihadists’ arms. To stop the downward spiral, the authorities should limit the role of vigilantes in counter-insurgency efforts, introduce better checks to guard against abuses and develop an integrated approach to security. In the longer term, resolving land disputes that often underpin rural conflicts is a priority.
My comment: ICG’s reports on Burkina Faso, particularly this one from 2017, have been fundamental to helping me understanding the conflict there. But the recommendations in this February 2020 report quoted above read as almost tautological to me – “Burkina Faso should solve its problems by solving its problems.” The authors do offer more detailed recommendations later, but it feels like there could be a deeper level of analysis as to why these core drivers of violence are so hard to reverse; it’s not just a lack of political will. On the other hand, it is important to keep amplifying these recommendations (all of which are accurate, just not new) that have been circulating for some time now.
Yet looking upon Burkina Faso only from the angle of counterterrorism would be insufficient to address the country’s difficulties. Although insecurity remains a hard nut to crack for central government, democratic governance in Burkina Faso also faces a number of structural hurdles. With an increase in civil unrest and the erosion of social cohesion, the stakes of the November 2020 general elections are high. A few months ahead of the joint elections, this policy brief aims to highlight some of the key challenges that will affect the electoral process, as well as the (in)ability of the current ruling administration to address civil unrest and key governance issues. The window of opportunity for the consolidation of democratic governance is slowly closing. This policy brief offers some recommendations on how the international community could support Burkina Faso to address these challenges.
This report’s focus on not letting the counterterrorism agenda drown out other concerns is crucial.
3. Modibo Ghaly Cissé for the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, “Understanding Fulani Perspectives on the Sahel Crisis” (April 2020). One key passage:
Despite these threats [from jihadists against local leaders and others], the jihadist discourse, which hinges on a characterization of the Malian state as the embodiment of injustice, has not been able to mobilize large numbers of Fulani. To the extent that they do cooperate with the extremist groups, it is often out of fear of reprisal rather than conviction. By and large, however, most traditional chiefs and ordinary Fulani have not been convinced by militant Islamists groups’ goals. Rather, Fulani leaders have for the most part distanced themselves from the ideology of militant Islamists who call for a return to Islamic theocracy.
The diversity of the Fulani community, comprised of numerous subgroups found throughout the Sahel, presents additional challenges for largescale recruitment. The extensive livestock-rearing and herding that long typified the Fulani community no longer characterize the entire Pulaaku, as fewer and fewer practice this livelihood. Tellingly, those who continue to rely on this vulnerable way of life have tended to be those most susceptible to extremist discourse, whereas other members of the Fulani population in the region have largely rejected violent extremism.
Cissé is one of the leading researchers on this topic. The whole piece is a must-read.