Jihadists in Burkina Faso renew fears of instability in West Africa



France remains the main stabilizer and military force in West Africa thanks to its seasoned Special Forces, experimented soldiers and colonial history.

Despite a decade-long unabated engagement against terrorism – currently Operation Barkhane – in an area (the Sahel) that’s seven times larger than France, military officials noticed lately a scattered resurgence of the jihadist offensive especially aimed at destabilizing local governments and spreading fear among the population.

On December 17, 2018, President Emmanuel Macron and his Burkina Faso counterpart Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, while meeting in Paris, stressed on the fact that no additional French troops would be deployed in the country which is a member of the antiterrorist G5 Sahel group with Chad, Mauritania, Mali and Niger.

In the meantime however, Defense Minister Florence Parly and her Burkinabe counterpart Jean-Claude Bouda signed an intergovernmental agreement with a view to strengthening bilateral cooperation, including the delivery of 34 military vehicles by June 2019.

13 days before that, France had shown its willingness for more involvement after conducting an air strike against jihadist operatives who were attacking gendarmes at Inata, north of Burkina Faso. On December 28, 2018, a similar attack took place near the Malian border in Loroni, 250 kilometers north-east of Ouagadougou that left 10 gendarmes dead in an ambush, raising fears of increased jihadists’ operational capabilities and therefore greater potential of instability for West Africa as a whole.

“Average GDP growth in West Africa stalled in 2016, after several strong years, to 0.5 percent. It rebounded in 2017 to 2.5 percent, and was projected to rise to 3.8 percent in 2018 and 3.9 percent in 2019,” wrote the African Development Bank Group (AFDB) in its West Africa Economic Outlook 2018.

Such a growth dynamic could be at risk since the jihadist threat is increasingly developing outside the Sahel and spilling over into nearby countries, especially Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso.

Senegal-based researcher Bakary Sambe recently cited by the Washington Post pointed out “there are worries that West Africans are underestimating the threat” and the killing of ten gendarmes has come as a reminder of the growing challenge posed by jihadists to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).