Dabire’s Heat Level: Frozen in Conflict

  • + The latest terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso killed at least 50 people.
  • + The terrorist threat has worsened during Dabire’s rule.
  • + The PM faces a lot of pressure due to past governments’ mistakes.
Source: Burkina Online

Why is Dabire’s heat level Freezing?

Answer: His inability to tackle the threat of terrorism is harming the country more than ever.

Since Prime Minister Christophe Dabire set foot in power, the threat of terrorism in Burkina Faso has severely escalated. His appointment arrived through a presidential decree in late January of 2019, as the previous Prime Minister, Paul Kaba Thieba, resigned days earlier. Prime Minister Dabire had been a commissioner at the West Africa Economic and Monetary Union, had served as a member of the national assembly and had been in charge of the Department of Health between 1992-1997 and the Department of Secondary Higher Education and Scientific Research between 1997-2000.

Burkina Faso’s terrorist conflict has been particularly latent since 2016, after the Islamist attacks that killed 29 people in an Ouagadougou hotel and café frequented by the French military. As attacks persisted around the country as well as the Sahel region, Mali, Chad, Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso united in 2017 to create the G5 Sahel, a counter-terrorism force meant to undertake the transnational terrorist menace. This organization was also joined by international forces, including almost 5,000 French troops, but has not been very successful at preventing the deadly attacks. 

As the conflict worsened, Burkina Faso declared the state of emergency on December 31st 2018 due to a brutal strike that killed 10 gendarmes. By the time Dabire became Prime Minister –and after another deadly terrorist attack- the state of emergency was extended by 6 months. Throughout his first year in power, and despite the government’s substantial expenditure on defence and security (more than a fifth of the state budget), it is estimated that 2,000 people lost their lives in Burkina Faso due to the conflict. This signifies an approximate 650% increase in civilian deaths during the first year of Dabire’s rule. 

There are two sources of difficulty for the PM when facing this issue. On the one hand, this is a diffuse, cross border threat” that affects several countries in the region. Consequently, it must be confronted with an organized and united effort, which can become problematic due to the diverse national interests. On the other hand, the threat of terrorism itself comes from three different fronts: Ansarul Islam, the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS).

Ansarul Islam is a home-grown terrorist group that originated in 2016; it preaches radical Islam and vows to resurrect an ancient Fulani military kingdom. The GSIM is the official branch of al-Qaeda in the Sahel region but has also merged with smaller jihadist groups. Finally, ISGS is a branch of ISIS formed by the Islamic militant Abu Walid al-Saharawi.

Although the G5 Sahel was created to address this transnational issue, Burkina Faso relies on its own Prime Minister to succeed against terrorism, but the variety of objectives and the confrontation between these terrorist groups makes it extremely difficult for PM Dabire to properly direct the counter-terrorism efforts; only 10% of the terrorist attacks in 2019 were claimed by one of these groups. 

What is changing Dabire’s temperature?

Answer: The latest set of attacks.

On the 29th of May 2020, an unclaimed terrorist attack in Loroum province killed 15 people after a humanitarian aid convoy, which was returning from delivering food in another region, came under fire.

A day later, a livestock market in the eastern part of the country was attacked by a terrorist group and it resulted in the death of at least 25 people. 

Less than 24 hours after the attack, 10 people were killed as another aid convoy was ambushed in the northern town of Barsalogho.

It is believed that this string of unclaimed attacks came as a response to the government’s destruction of a rebel camp. This aggressive decision by Burkina Faso’s government was part of the recent and heightened counter-terrorism efforts undertaken by the G5 Sahel and France after the January Pau Summit, in which they discussed new tactics to tackle the conflict. But Dabire’s government does not seem to be doing a great job. So far this year, it is estimated that there has been a 40% increase in deaths in comparison to 2019, and this latest set of attacks only confirm Dabire’s incapacity to resolve Burkina Faso’s crisis. 

What is driving Dabire?

Answer: Not wanting to make the same mistakes as his predecessors.

Burkina Faso’s Prime Ministers have had a long history of conflict with terrorist groups, and Christophe Dabire is aware of this pressure. Between 1987-2014 the country was ruled by Blaise Compaore, who was ultimately forced to resign by the Regiment of Presidential Security (RPS) after the violent protests that surged when he announced the abolishment of presidential term limits. Under his rule, Burkina Faso was mostly free of any terrorist attacks, and it is an unspoken truth that it was due to Compaore’s agreements with the jihadist groups, in which he allowed them to settle in the country as long as they did not attack Burkina Faso. 

When Blaise Compaore was replaced by Michael Kafando, the RPS also tried to oust Kafando, but failed to do so and ultimately dissolved. The collapse of the RPS left a hole in the Burkinabe security apparatus, and these counterterrorism-trained soldiers are now said to be supporting Ansarul Islam. 

Similarly, even though Paul Kaga Thieba -Dabire’s predecessor- resigned without disclosing any particular reason, many believe that this abdication was a result of the unbearable pressure caused by Burkina Faso’s brutal terrorist conflict. In spite of Thieba’s efforts, the tension with terrorist groups continuously escalated throughout his 3-year rule. 

And so, as PM Dabire enters his second year of mandate, he has the burden of his predecessors to carry. He can’t compromise with the terrorist groups as Compaore did, but he can’t be as passive as Thieba either; he must be able to walk the tightrope between the two methods while ensuring the safety of his people. 

What does it mean for you?

Answer: The solution to this conflict isn’t anywhere near.

While Dabire and the G5 Sahel struggle to find an effective approach to this brutal crisis, deaths and displacements keep mounting; Burkina Faso has become the 106th worse off country out of 163 in the Global Peace Index. On top of the violence, the country faces extreme poverty and now has to endure a global pandemic while also lacking an effective health infrastructure, having food insecurity levels that affect more than 2 million people in the country, and having more than 400,000 children unable to go to school due to security threats. 

Unfortunately, this is not a solely national issue. The terrorist conflict has ravaged the Sahel region for almost a decade, and the resolution must come through a level of cooperation and trust between these countries that is hardly achievable, much less so under the threat of COVID-19. 

Laura Escobar Díaz

External Contributer