By Bate Felix
DAKAR – The West African nation of Burkina Faso hit international headlines on Sunday when machinegun fire rang out from barracks as soldiers demanded more support from their political and military leaders. Here’s what you need to know.
A spokesperson for the mutineers told journalists they were demanding “appropriate” resources and training for their fight against militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State. They demanded the resignation of the army and intelligence chiefs and better welfare for wounded soldiers and their families.
The army has suffered heavy losses at the hands of the militants, who control swathes of Burkina Faso and have forced some residents to abide by their harsh version of Islamic law.
Public anger erupted in November when gunmen affiliated with al Qaeda killed 49 military policemen and four civilians in an attack near a gold mine in the northern town of Inata. Burkinabes were outraged by reports that the troops had gone without food rations for two weeks.
President Roch Kabore, reelected for a second term in November 2020, has since faced protests and growing calls to step down. He has replaced the prime minister and military chiefs, but some critics say that is not enough.
WHY IT MATTERSFORREGION
Sunday’s mutiny underscores the political consequences of the growing Islamist insurgency across West Africa’s Sahel region. The militants have seized control of swaths of territory across landlocked Burkina Faso and neighbours Mali and Niger.
The insurgency has drained national resources in Burkina Faso which, despite being a gold producer, is one of West Africa’s poorest countries and has seen rising numbers of people going hunger because of conflict and drought.
The militant attacks have driven farmers from their lands, while handing control of informal gold mines to the insurgents, who have also attacked Western interests, including convoys belonging to major mining companies.
The militants and their attacks risk further destabilising West Africa, according to regional experts.
The insurgency is playing out against the backdrop of major upheaval in Mali, where there have been two military coups since August 2020. France, which has 5,100 counter-terrorism troops in Mali, has decided to draw down its forces and review its involvement in the region.