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IRIN - Burkina Faso


How weavers in Burkina Faso are now on Europe’s migration front line

Tue, 06 Feb 2018 14:19:05 +0000

Speed, endurance, dexterity and an eye for colour: just some of the skills needed when weaving on a loom. Eveline Ouédraogo masters them all. Without visible effort, this Burkinabé woman rapidly moves her feet over the pedals, her hands manoeuvring 40 brightly coloured coils of thread.   With each thread going back and forth, Ouédraogo, 37, earns a little bit more. Every fling on the loom brings her children a step closer to a better future: one the EU hopes – as the funder of the micro-enterprise where she works – will keep them at home rather than migrating north.   Ouédraogo is employed by the Association Zoodo pour la Promotion de la Femme, and the fabric they produce has featured in international fashion magazines. “Did you know there’s even a picture of Beyoncé wearing our fabrics?” said Ouédraogo, well within her rights to boast.   The association’s small workshop on the outskirts of the capital, Ouagadougou, is supported by the Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI), a programme run by the International Trade Centre, a joint agency of the UN and the World Trade Organisation.   Major fashion brands such as Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney are linked by EFI with artisans in poor countries, supporting the idea of “fashion as a vehicle for development”.   Ouédraogo earns two to five euros per metre depending on the complexity of the fabric. On a good day, she can weave up to one and a half metres – making just a little over the average wage in Burkina Faso.   Investing in people   Last year, the EFI received €5 million from the multi-billion-dollar EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) to expand its programmes in Burkina Faso.   The fund, launched in 2015, aims to tackle the root causes of outward migration through development aid, security and peacebuilding support, as well as financing for migration management.   But in a country like Burkina Faso where remittances from migration represent real financial benefits for families, are projects like EFI – or more traditional EU rural development assistance – enough to dissuade young people from taking the risk of travelling to Europe?   Some €3.3 billion has been pledged to the EUTF, according to the European Commission. Burkina Faso is one of 21 sub-Saharan African countries contributing to migration flows to Europe that is benefitting from the fund, to the tune of €84 million.   Simone Cipriani, founder and head of EFI, believes the EUTF’s job creation strategy makes sense. “With this project, I think we will stabilise some jobs here, and tens, if not some hundreds, of people will decide to stay,” he told IRIN.   By investing in new technology and expanding the customer order book, he believes the “hundreds of jobs” EFI supports could be transformed into “almost 2,800 jobs”.   However, the evidence suggests that while increasing prosperity at home may encourage some people to stay, it also enables many more to leave. Cipriani acknowledged this. “People in Europe sometimes forget that people here in Africa have the freedom to go and migrate,” he added. Saskia Houttuin/Sarah Haaij/IRIN Workshop at Association Zoodo pour la Promotion de la Femme   Take Christiane Zoungrana. Five days a week the 42-year-old wheelchair-bound weaver pushes herself to work to help provide for her family. She has no plans to migrate, but her eldest son has recently been talking a lot about leaving.   Zoungrana would prefer to keep him as far away as possible from the dangers of the desert and Mediterranean, but he can’t seem to find a job. “If he really wants to go, I’ll help him,” she said, seeing the potential positive of having the means to employ someone to take care of her in the future if he made a success of himself elsewhere.   Migration hotspot   Burkina Faso is a poor, agriculture-based country. It historically provided workers to neighbouring economic powerhouse Cote d’Ivoire, until the country’s civil war in the early 20[...]

A dozen shades of khaki: counter-insurgency operations in the Sahel

Thu, 11 Jan 2018 14:19:36 +0000

In 2011, several African states warned about the likely consequences of an international military intervention in Libya aimed at toppling Muammar Gaddafi. Now, six years after his death, security in the Sahel region has never been worse. In a domino effect, from 2012, the spillover from the Libyan crisis bolstered the Tuareg rebellion in Mali, which in turn facilitated a jihadist incursion, which, after briefly being halted by France’s Operation Serval, arose from the ashes stronger than ever and spread across neighbouring states. “Mali’s roots were rotten, it just needed a breeze to make it collapse,” summarised a former Malian minister recently. In Mali, the state is now hardly present across much of the country. In mid-December, barely a quarter of state agents were in their posts in the six northern and central regions. According to an opposition party tally, 2017 was Mali’s most deadly year since President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita came to power in 2013. Yet the Sahel region has never been so militarised; it is rife with insurgencies and counter-insurgency forces of various stripes. Relative veterans from France and the United States have recently been joined by troops from Italy and Germany, and by a new regional coalition, as well as by forms of warfare new to the region. Presented as solutions by their political masters, the military missions detailed below are seen by others as pouring fuel on the fire, and as simplistic responses to complex problems. United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) Created in April 2013, this UN mission, now consisting of 13,000 troops, was supposed to stabilise northern regions of Mali after the lightning assault launched against jihadist groups there three months earlier by France’s Operation Serval (see below). Instead, MINUSMA faced a resurgence of these groups outside major urban centres and found itself exposed to mobile and seasoned guerrillas. They proved to be beyond the mission’s capabilities to control, and, arguably, peripheral to its mandate. “The UN deployed [here] without a peace accord, which is normally a precursor for a peacekeeping mission,” MINUSMA chief Mahamat Saleh Annadif told IRIN. “On the other hand, the idea that MINUSMA came here to fight terrorists has always been a major misunderstanding between Malians and MINUSMA, and unfortunately one that still exists.” Annual revisions of the mission’s mandate aimed at making the force more reactive have failed to silence critics. Both within and outside Mali, questions have been raised about the utility of spending more than a billion dollars in a single year when the mission has proved unable to fulfil its core tasks of protecting civilians and defending human rights. The killing of civilians during demonstrations by peacekeepers and accusations of rape have helped to sour pubic opinion of MINUMSA. The mission’s relations with the Malian government have frequently been strained, not least over the neutrality MINUSMA has shown towards certain rebel groups, a stance Bamako viewed as impeding the state’s recovery of its sovereignty over the entire country. The force’s limitations have frequently been highlighted. The latest report on Mali by the UN secretary-general, for example, noted that, “the lack of armoured troop carriers, especially of vehicles protected against landmines, remains a major obstacle to the mission's operations”. The previous report, issued in September, said MINUSMA’s civilian protection mandate had been compromised by the “absence of adequate air assets”. Both publically and in private, MINUSMA officials have made no secret of their frustration at being used as a punching ball and cash cow by Malian politicians. Harandane Dicko/MINUSMA Another prominent component of the force’s mandate is to oversee the implementation of the 2015 Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali. MINUSMA itself is paying the price for the breakdown of that accord: 133 [...]

New Sahel anti-terror force: risks and opportunities

Mon, 30 Oct 2017 17:14:24 +0000

Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger are teaming up to take on Islamist militants with the launch of a the 5,000-strong "FC-G5S" force in the restive Sahel. But are more boots on the ground the answer? UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently told the Security Council, which votes today on whether to fund the nascent multinational military force, that supporting it was “an opportunity that cannot be missed” and that failing to back it would carry serious risks for a region where insecurity has become “extremely worrying”. The Security Council “welcomed the deployment” of the force in a resolution adopted in June, but put off a decision about financing. The resolution's wording was the subject of a prolonged tussle between France – the G5 force’s main proponent – and the United States, which didn’t believe a resolution was necessary, sees the force’s mandate as too broad, and, as the world body’s biggest contributor, isn’t convinced the UN should bankroll it. On Friday, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said Washington wants to know “what the strategy would be, how they see this playing out, what’s involved in it, before we ever commit to UN-assessed funding”.  France has been working hard to win over the United States. On a visit to Washington last week, French Defence Minister Florence Parly said the former colonial power had no desire to become the “Praetorian Guard of sovereign African countries”. Existing forces In 2013 and 2014, France’s Operation Serval drove back militants in Mali’s northern desert from some of the towns and other sanctuaries they had taken. With attacks nevertheless continuing and having spread beyond Mali’s borders, 4,000 French troops are currently deployed under the banner of Operation Barkhane across all the G5 states. Mali is also home to the 14,000-strong MINUSMA force, one of the UN’s most expensive peacekeeping missions. It has come under frequent attack by militant groups such as the Jama'a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM), an al-Qaeda-linked coalition forged last March. Some 86 blue helmets have been killed in militant attacks since MINUSMA was established in July 2013.   Meanwhile, efforts by civil society groups to negotiate with some jihadist groups have come to nought, while parties to a 2015 peace agreement between Mali’s government and two coalitions of domestic armed groups – a deal that excluded the jihadists – are embroiled in violent divisions among themselves. Some of these domestic groups are also responsible for attacks against the state.  These divisions have dimmed hopes of forging any kind of common front against the jihadists, and even of properly implementing the 2015 accord. The government’s failure to address widespread political and economic grievance further undermines its position. Sylvain Liechti/UN Photo The MINUSMA Camp in Kidal was targeted by intensive rocket and mortar fire Humanitarian fallout All this insecurity comes at a high price for Mali’s civilians. At the end of the 2016-17 academic year, 500 schools were closed, up from 296 the previous year, while the numbers of refugees and internally displaced reached a record 140,000 and 55,000 respectively. Acute malnutrition among children under five has reached “critical levels” in conflict-affected areas around Timbuktu and Gao, according to UNICEF. The agency predicts that 165,000 children across the country will be acutely malnourished next year. “Repeated criminal acts” prompted the International Committee of the Red Cross to suspend its operations in the northern Kidal region in mid-October. Funding concerns The primary mandate of the G5 force will be to secure the bloc’s common borders and fight “terrorist” and criminal groups. The force’s headquarters were established in September in the central Malian town of Sévaré, but its financing has yet to be secured. “Estimates [...]

The Grinch’s not-so-festive guide to food ration cuts

Tue, 27 Dec 2016 15:17:50 +0000

Across much of the world, the festive season is a time of indulgence. But what if you’re too busy fleeing violence and upheaval, or stuck in a refugee camp on reduced rations? It’s been a hard year for the most vulnerable among us. This is partly due to tightening aid budgets, but it’s also the result of there simply being so many more people in crisis who need help. “It's not just a question of falling donor funding; most donors have continued to be generous, providing funds at relatively consistent levels for years,” World Food Programme spokeswoman Challiss McDonough told IRIN.  “But the number of [those in need] is much larger.” A prime example is Uganda, where 602,000 South Sudanese refugees are sheltering. As a result of the conflict in neighbouring South Sudan, “we are now supporting nearly twice as many refugees as we were just six months ago”, explained McDonough. WFP, as the global emergency food responder, is feeling the strain. “I'd say there are probably very few countries where we have not had to make some kind of adjustment to our assistance plans because of a lack of funding,” said McDonough. The following is a not-so-festive guide to where WFP has been forced to make cuts to already minimal food rations in Africa. It includes some non-refugee national programmes, which have also been impacted by funding shortfalls. allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="400" id="datawrapper-chart-eFGRg" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" src="//" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="100%"> Burkina Faso Rations have been reduced and cash assistance suspended for the 31,000 Malian refugees in Burkina Faso. As a result, about a quarter of refugees do not have enough food to meet their basic nutritional needs. “Most refugees in the camps depend solely on humanitarian assistance to survive,” said WFP country director Jean-Charles Dei. “When assistance is interrupted or insufficient, the food security and nutrition situation dramatically deteriorate, especially for women, children, and elderly people.” Burundi Lack of funding has impacted a range of activities targeting vulnerable communities. Food-for-training for Congolese refugees and Burundian migrants expelled from Tanzania and Rwanda has been suspended. The number of children reached through an anti-stunting campaign has been reduced by 70 percent, with the programme halted entirely in Ruramvya and Rutana provinces. Cameroon Monthly food rations for Central African Republic refugees in Cameroon was cut by 50 percent in November and December. The 150,000 refugees are entirely dependent on international aid. In May, WFP also halted its meals programme to 16 primary schools in northern Cameroon due to a lack of funding. Central African Republic WFP has been unable to assist more than 500,000 people in urgent need of aid and has been forced to halve the amount of food it has provided to those it can reach. Emergency school meals have been suspended in the capital, Bangui, and rations to displaced people in the violence-hit central town of Kaga Bandoro have been slashed by 75 percent. “WFP needs to urgently mobilise flexible contributions to cover for distributions from January onwards,” the agency has warned. Chad For the past two years, refugees in Chad have survived on monthly rations well below the minimum requirement. For some, the cuts have been by as much as 60 percent. A joint assessment released in November by WFP and the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, found more than 40 percent of the 400,000 refugees in Chad are malnourished and the majority of children are anaemic. Ethiopia Since November 2015, ration cuts have affected more than 760,000 refugees, the bulk of them from South Sudan and Somalia. Although there was an improvement in general food rations from June this year, UNHCR ha[...]

Is Ivory Coast attack the new normal?

Mon, 14 Mar 2016 14:59:00 +0000

The attacks that killed 16 people yesterday at a beach resort in Cote d’Ivoire were shocking and brutal, but not entirely unexpected. Security experts had been warning that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) was a growing threat outside its traditional stronghold in northern Mali. The group, and its affiliate al-Mourabitoun, claimed responsibility for attacks that killed 30 people in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, in January, and 21 people in the Malian capital, Bamako, in November. In a comprehensive briefing last month, IRIN found the two attacks likely to be the beginning of a trend that would continue in 2016. See: Briefing: The new jihadist strategy in the Sahel   Authorities in Cote d’Ivoire were well aware of the threat and had prevented several attacks recently, said William Assanvo of the Institute for Security Studies, a South African think tank. But there’s only so much they can do to prevent attacks that do not require sophisticated planning and are relatively easy to carry out. “You can’t have security personnel everywhere at every time,” he said on the phone from the Senegalese capital, Dakar. In a statement posted to social media in Arabic, Spanish, French and English, AQIM said three of its members “were able to storm the tourist resort” in Grand Bassam in south-eastern Cote d’Ivoire, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist groups. The Ivorian government said six gunmen killed 14 civilians and two soldiers at the popular resort area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site about 40 km east of Abidjan, the country’s largest city and commercial capital. The United States and France have offered to help with the investigation. The best bet to prevent future attacks is better intelligence gathering, Assanvo said. But he warned that such attacks are likely to reoccur in the region as AQIM aims to expand its influence outside of northern Mali. “Now the threat is permanent,” he said. Here are some key take-aways from IRIN’s in-depth look at the recent spread of AQIM and its affiliates in West Africa: Militant groups are working together. The Burkina Faso attack was carried out by a group called al-Mourabitoun, which had pledged allegiance to AQIM.   AQIM has changed tactics from attempting to hold territory in Mali to flexing its muscles regionally and attacking countries collaborating with the West, particularly the US and France, which have military operations in West Africa. Ivory Coast is a strong ally of France and home to a logistical base for French forces.   AQIM has its roots in an insurrection against the French-backed military of Algeria, which annulled the election victory of the Islamic Salvation Front in 1992. Militants later took shelter in northern Mali, where the government had little control.   In addition to using an extreme interpretation of Islam to motivate its recruits, AQIM taps into discontent amongst poor, local communities resentful of rich and corrupt political leaders, and distrustful of Western countries.   Leaders of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso have formed the G5, a regional organisation to strengthen cooperation on development and security in the Sahel. But they have been criticized for prioritizing border security over the provision of social services, the lack of which is thought to fuel militancy. jf/ha Maradi, Niger.A formation of Nigerien soldiers from the 322nd Parachute Regiment march to a training site where they will learn combat skills from U.S. Army soldiers from 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) home-based in Stuttgart, Germany News Conflict Is Ivory Coast attack the new normal? IRIN West Africa Burkina Faso Côte d’Ivoire Mali Français [...]

Briefing: The new Jihadist strategy in the Sahel

Thu, 04 Feb 2016 00:00:00 +0000

Security has been intense over the last few weeks in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, with police and soldiers on the streets, vehicle searches, and round-ups of alleged Islamist militants. It’s the response to the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) attack in Burkina Faso on 15 January that left 30 people dead. Until the assault on the Cappuccino restaurant and the Splendid Hotel, next door on Ouagadougou’s trendy Kwame Nkrumah Avenue, Burkina Faso, like Senegal, felt safe from the jihadist violence that has destabilised other countries in the region. “We thought we were not really concerned by terrorism, that we were shielded by our armed forces and our diplomacy,” Ousmane Ouedraogo told IRIN outside his cellphone shop on Kwame Nkrumah Avenue. “But now we know we are vulnerable.” That vulnerability stems from the political instability in Burkina Faso following the youth-led toppling of Blaise Campaore after nearly three decades in power.  But there is a more fundamental fragility that has its roots in the legitimacy and authority of governments across the Sahel region, which AQIM, AQIM-linked groups, and, more recently, the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) are seeking to exploit. The Burkina Faso attack was carried out by the militant group al-Mourabitoun, which had recently pledged allegiance to AQIM. The targets were popular with Western aid workers, businessmen, and soldiers serving with Operation Barkhane, France’s regional counter-insurgency mission. The raid put together a team of young men based in Mali (AQIM named three but there are suggestions three escaped); at least one of the identified men seems to have been Fulani – a pastoralist ethnic group that spans West Africa; and their cars had Niger license plates. It was, then, a fine example of regional militant integration.  It followed an earlier al-Mourabitoun attack in November that killed 21 people at the Radisson Blu Hotel in the Malian capital, Bamako. It’s a fairly safe prediction that these two events are the beginning of a trend that will continue in 2016. “Three years ago, AQIM’s plan was to hold territory in northern Mali. That has changed,” Jean-Hervé Jezequel, the senior Sahel analyst at the International Crisis Group, told IRIN. “The new strategy is that instead of managing territory, they want to show they can impact a much larger area by attacking the capitals of countries collaborating with Western forces.” Why should Senegal worry? The heightened security in Dakar is a recognition of how tempting a target it is. It’s the regional base of scores of international organisations. Senegal is a pro-Western partner, especially of France and the United States, and Dakar has provided troops to the French-backed African Union military intervention in Mali. More than 500 people have been picked up in the current crackdown.   Photo: Edgar Mwakaba/IRIN The spread of militancy There is ample evidence of Senegalese recruitment to various jihadist causes. Senegalese are among IS forces in Libya; a small group of Wolof speakers (an almost exclusively Senegalese language) were believed to have fought alongside Islamist militants in northern Mali; men speaking Wolof were among the kidnappers of Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler in Niger in 2008; young militants from the large Senegalese diaspora are believed to be with IS in Syria; and there have been periodic arrests of individuals, most recently four activists detained for alleged ties to Nigeria’s IS-linked Boko Haram.  But Senegal is also a traditionally tolerant and democratic society. Although 90-percent Muslim, for the first 20 years of independence it was ruled by a still well-regarded Catholic president, Léopold Senghor. Four popular and powerful Sufi brotherhoods dominate religious practice. The brotherhoods have been described as the gatekeepers between the people and the state, conferring legitimacy on the lat[...]

AQIM incident map

Fri, 15 Jan 2016 00:00:00 +0000

This is a quick map of conflict events attributed to AQIM from 2007-2015, compiled from the ACLED dataset. Search by location, click a dot for event details.

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(image) Millet preparation in Bandiagara, Mopti Region of Mali. The crop has been hit by a succession of poor harvests. Ben Parker Maps and Graphics Conflict Human Rights LONDON IRIN Africa West Africa Burkina Faso Chad Mali Mauritania Niger Senegal Libya Algeria

Africa’s meningitis A vaccine: how partnership replaced ‘Big Pharma’

Tue, 17 Nov 2015 00:00:00 +0000

Four years after it was first used in a mass vaccination campaign, the MenAfriVac vaccine has achieved an extraordinary outcome; cases of meningitis A have dropped to almost zero in the epidemic belt across Africa. But if it hadn’t been for an experimental partnership between the World Health Organization and the not-for-profit health organisation, PATH – working without the involvement of multinational pharmaceutical companies – the vaccine might never even have been developed. Outbreak season in the so-called meningitis belt across the Sahel starts annually in late December. Every 10 or 15 years, conditions come together to set off a major epidemic. In 1996-7, there were more than 250,000 reported cases; more than 25,000 people died, and many more were left with permanent disabilities. After that epidemic, African governments came together and demanded that something be done. More specifically they wanted an effective, affordable vaccine that could be rolled out across the region. The problem: there wasn’t one. The only vaccines available were tailored to the strains common in Europe and North America, not to Meningitis A, which caused the epidemics in West Africa. They were also far too expensive for a mass campaign in the region. As ever, the problem was money. Meningitis A affected poor people in the poorest regions of some of the poorest countries in the world. For global health specialists, this is a sadly familiar problem. Mogha Kamal-Yanni, senior health advisor at Oxfam, says the situation is typical. “Clearly the current model of research and development is not working,” she told IRIN. “It's a broken model, failing public health. It's not producing what we need, or else it's unaffordable.” The unwillingness of pharmaceutical companies to invest in a disease that affects the poor has been widely blamed for the lack of a vaccine against Ebola, which seriously hampered the response to the recent outbreak in West Africa. But this time, in response to the appeal from African governments, the WHO and PATH set up the Meningitis Vaccine Project with the objective of getting a vaccine approved and into production. With $70 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to oil the wheels, they began by approaching the big pharmaceutical companies. “That was the accepted approach at that time,” says the project manager, Kathleen Tiffay. “And that was what people expected.” Negotiations, however, soon stalled. Two big companies were interested, but finally, after 18 months of negotiations, they said they couldn't bring the price down below $2 a dose; the project's target was 'under 50 cents'. Discussions with another company, which owned technology needed to produce the vaccine, also collapsed, again over pricing. “There was just too big a gap,” says Tiffay. That – she told IRIN – was the low point. “We had hoped we could have it set up and ready to go in a year or a year and half. Everything was taking much longer than our estimates.” Finally, those behind the Meningitis Vaccine Project decided to go ahead and do it themselves. “And to be realistic,” says Tiffay, “we weren't any slower than Big Pharma; in fact we were probably faster.” They describe what they did as setting up a kind of virtual pharmaceutical company. While the big established companies could have done everything in-house, they had to put together a series of partnerships – to supply the ingredients, license the technology, do the clinical trials and get all necessary approvals, and to manufacture the vaccine. Some partners, like the manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India Ltd (SIIL), were commercial companies. Others were public bodies. The US Food and Drug Administration licensed a conjugation method at negligible cost and supported transfer of the technology to the Indian company. Britain's National Inst[...]

Burkina Faso: ‘There must be justice’

Thu, 15 Oct 2015 23:00:00 +0000

There can be no amnesty for any members of Burkina Faso’s elite presidential guard found to be responsible for the deaths of 14 unarmed civilians and the wounding of hundreds more in the days following the 16 September coup. This is the message human rights groups and the Burkinabe people want heard loud and clear now that the country is back on the path of democratic transition. For ordinary civilians, the presidential guard, known as the RSP, has long been seen as its own private army, the enemy of the people, stalling progress, committing abuses and protecting the elite. Roger Kabore, a mason in Ouagadougou, told IRIN he was so angry he was ready to go into the barracks and “flush the guards out with his own hands.” “We’ve had enough with these guys,” he said. “They have harmed this country too many times and now we must try them for all that they did.” Kabore also called for former president Blaise Compaore – who set up the RSP but was overthrown in a popular uprising last October after seeking to extend his 27-year term – to face trial as well, so the country could move forward peacefully. Shot in the back According to recent investigations by Amnesty International, at least six of the 14 latest victims were shot in the back while trying to flee after members of the RSP opened fire on peaceful demonstrations in the capital. Among the dead were two children.  Many of those wounded, including a pregnant woman who gave birth to a baby boy with a bullet wound on his buttocks, were hit by stray bullets while hiding out in their homes.  “What we saw time and time again was that demonstrators would protest with their arms in the air to show their lack of intent,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for West and Central Africa, explaining that the RSP is then alleged to have chased them down and fired into crowds, pursuing people into populated areas, where bystanders were injured and killed. Other victims were simply beaten or whipped.  “The patterns of abuse that we saw this time around show clearly they were not doing a legitimate policing function,” Cockburn told IRIN. “They were not trying to use non-lethal means to control the crowd.” A history of violence and impunity Earlier this year, an Amnesty report detailed how the RSP committed similar atrocities during the demonstrations that led to the ousting of Compaore in 2014. “So this is a clear pattern of violation that is extremely important but also not new, and shows us that to prevent abuse to the people themselves, we need to get to the bottom of what happened and hold those responsible accountable,” Cockburn said. The transitional government announced in early September that it planned to investigate the alleged shootings of civilians by the RSP last October and November, as well as the 1987 assassination of revolutionary icon and former president Thomas Sankara, whose murder, along with 12 other officials, was part of a coup organised by Compaore. But two weeks after the announcement that the RSP would be investigated, the latest coup attempt happened. On 28 September, the transitional authorities created another Commission of Inquiry to bring the leaders of the coup to justice, but they made no mention of the earlier investigations into the RSP members. In an initial effort to restore peace and order, and dissolve the RSP once and for all, many of its 1,300 members have since been reintegrated into the national army. A necessary compromise? Perhaps. However, if the RSP guards who committed crimes are not held accountable, they could continue to pose a threat to civilians. “Burkina Faso has a very significant history for many years of brushing over security forces and allowing impunity to continue to fester,” Cockburn said. “And it’s that lack of impunity and accountability[...]

Is Burkina Faso’s elite guard still a threat?

Wed, 30 Sep 2015 23:00:00 +0000

Burkina Faso’s interim government adopted a decree last week dissolving the Presidential Security Regiment, which mounted a short-lived coup two weeks ago. But despite promises to disarm and subsequent interventions by the army, some RSP members still refuse to give up their weapons, leaving many to wonder if the elite force will continue to pose a threat to the transition to democracy. Ever since long-term president Blaise Compaoré was ousted after the popular uprising on 30 and 31 October 2014, democracy advocates have wrestled with the troublesome issue of demilitarising politics. The armed forces have maintained almost exclusive control over the political scene since 1966, which is to say 49 of the 55 years since Burkina Faso gained independence in 1960. The RSP, which was created in 1995, officially became “a large unit attached to the national army and at the disposition of the president” in July 2000, but is still thought of by most as an “army within the army,” or a body of troops loyal to and recruited by Compaoré.  It is therefore unsurprising that the RSP remains a major concern for the stakeholders of transition. Following repeated calls from the general public, the National Reconciliation and Reform Commission (CRNR) submitted its general report to the prime minister on 15 September, officially recommending the RSP’s dissolution.  Unfortunately, the actions of members of the RSP – two disruptions of the transition, the constant noise of intervention threats and finally the 16 September coup – have not helped calm people’s fears about the regiment. Following the intervention of the regular army to enforce the 25 September dissolution decree, however, one can confidently say that the RSP no longer constitutes a threat to the transition of Burkina Faso.  Indeed, absent a dramatic turnaround, the same forces that foiled the coup – the general population, the national army and pressure from the regional and international community – will always be there.  The RSP is regarded as a professional and well-trained outfit, but, once disarmament is complete, its members will no longer have the equipment necessary to threaten actions that could sabotage the transitional process once again underway in Burkina Faso. Moving forward Nonetheless, it remains important to pay attention to a number of factors if the transition and post-transition phases are to proceed without further disruption.  Firstly, we must ensure that members of the RSP, except those who need to be held to account for past actions, are reintegrated as quickly as possible into the national army. This will ensure that rather than finding themselves with no prospects, former RSP soldiers will still have a purpose. This will also enable the army to take advantage of the capabilities and competence of this elite corps, which most agree contains some of the highest quality personnel within the security forces.  Secondly, after helping to ensure that the RSP has been totally dismantled, we must ensure that the army returns to barracks so the transition to control by civilian government can be completed. This must be done while ensuring that the army has the necessary means to ensure safety throughout the country. It must then help promote the integration of former members of the RSP into the regular army without finger-pointing or score-settling. Finally, the people of Burkina Faso need to be listened to. They have already shown their strength and their ability to resist all attempts to challenge the transition, so they will remain a key driver of future events.  While this power has proved beneficial, it comes with great responsibility. Both the authorities, and those who wish to help them, must work together in search of solutions to future challenges while respecting the rules. This [...]