It was not so long ago that Burkina Faso was known as a beacon of cross-religious harmony, but this is increasingly jeopardised as Islamic extremists take advantage of political instability and wage a war that’s leaving the country’s Christians facing an ‘existential threat’.
Burkina Faso is facing political instability amid growing Islamic militancy that's gravely impacting the country's Christians
Burkina Faso has faced its second coup this year after rival officers ousted military ruler President Paul-Henri Damiba. It’s in the wake of spiralling Islamic militancy that’s having a devastating impact on the country’s Christian population.
Last Friday (30 September), residents in the capital Ouagadougou woke up to gunfire close to the main military camp and a blast was heard near the presidential palace. Several main roads were blocked and state television was cut.
On Sunday, President Paul-Henri Damiba resigned to avoid further violence. This was accepted by Captain Ibrahim Traoré, the new self-declared military leader, who agreed to several conditions. These include honouring Damiba’s promise to the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) and the African Union that constitutional order will return to the country by the end of 2024.
It’s the ninth coup since Burkina Faso gained independence from France in 1960 and the second this year. In January, Paul-Henri Damiba himself ousted Roch Kaboré as president, due to what he regarded as a failure to address Islamic extremism in the country – the very same reason given for President Damiba’s deposal over the weekend.
"An Islamist takeover is terrible news for all of Africa and beyond" Illia Djadi
“Islamist militants are waging an insurgency to establish a Caliphate, an Islamic State ruled by Islamic law or Sharia. Thus non-Muslims are their prime target,” explains Illia Djadi, Open Doors’ analyst for sub-Saharan Africa, who says Christians in the country are facing an 'existential threat'. “When there is chaos and disorder, they flourish and further their aims. And that is what is happening now with the current unrest.”
“The current crisis has created a humanitarian catastrophe,” he continues. The UN has highlighted Burkina Faso as suffering a serious hunger crisis, with over 630,000 people on the brink of starvation – a situation badly exacerbated by blockades by militant groups which are preventing aid distribution.
Burkina Faso has attempted to transition to democracy after years of political turmoil and military dictatorship, following a military coup in 2015. Christians have made a huge contribution in stabilising and leading the country to independence, but they have also been targeted by jihadists which are growing in influence in the Greater Sahel region, of which Burkina Faso is a part.
“Militants control 40% of the country now,” continues Illia. “In northern Burkina, there is no Christian presence, with most of the Churches in the region destroyed or closed down, and their members forced to flee. A similar scenario is taking place in the east now. Christians represent nearly a quarter of the population, and they are slowly being uprooted as radical Islam attempts to take over.”
“There is no room for Christians in the militants’ dreamed-of Caliphate. Christians are deeply concerned, and we should be too. An Islamist takeover is terrible news for all of Africa and beyond.”
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