On Easter Sunday, Burkina Faso’s military ruler, President Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, visited troops in Barsalogho (Center-North Region; map) and Djibo (Sahel Region; map). Both sites are deep in the country’s conflict zone – Barsalogho is the site of intermittent clashes with jihadists (recent example), and Djibo has been in and out of a jihadist-imposed blockade. Damiba’s visit appears intended to boost morale and make a show of authority.
Damiba, for context, took power in a coup d’état on January 23-24 of this year, overthrowing civilian President Roch Kaboré (elected 2015, re-elected 2020). He was declared president on February 16. The coup responded, in large part, to the severe insecurity and attendant displacement crisis that have bedeviled the country since 2016. One likely proximate trigger for the coup was the November 2021 attack on a gendarmerie outpost at Inata (map), a mine northeast of Djibo. If insecurity has been a justification cited by Sahelian coup-makers, however, current juntas’ records in dealing with insecurity are poor so far.
I have not found the text of Damiba’s remarks on these visits to Barsalogho and Djibo. According to the official readout from the presidency, at both stops he discussed the “two complementary pillars” of his administration’s strategy for combating insecurity. These pillars are “the military offensive against radical groups and the creation of a mechanism for dialogue with those who are in the frame of mind to reestablish dialogue with the Nation.” Coverage in the press adds little detail; most reports that I’ve seen are essentially rewrites of the presidency’s readout.
Dialogue with jihadists is a huge topic for Burkina Faso and for the Sahel as a whole. The best reporting I’ve seen on that topic has come from The New Humanitarian – see one of their pieces from late 2021 here. In general I think dialogue is a good idea. In this case I find Damiba’s remarks (or at least as paraphrased by the presidency) still quite vague. His inaugural address was similarly vague, including on the security brief. A strategy of applying pressure while presenting an off-ramp makes sense in the abstract, but much depends on who is viewed as suitable for dialogue – in one sense, Damiba’s strategy could be read as an analogue of Nigeria’s strategy of attempting to crush Boko Haram/Islamic State West Africa Province while holding out the military-run de-radicalization and surrender program “Operation Safe Corridor” as the offramp. That strategy has absorbed a good number of surrendering individuals, but has not transformed the conflict itself.
Meanwhile, the Burkinabè armed forces have conducted a recruitment drive to increase their ranks, currently estimated at 15,000-20,000 personnel, and have called up reservists. The immediate future, I think, still looks grim though.