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BURKINA FASO: JIHADIST INSURGENCY

Amine Sahli, Meaghan Mackey, AFRICOM

Rohan Rajesh, Editor; Manja Vitasovic, Senior Editor

September 17, 2022


Jagdkommando in Burkina Faso[1]


Geographical Area | The Sahel

Countries Affected | Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger



On August 5, a convoy carrying civilians and supplies to Ouagadougou hit an improvised explosive device (IED), killing 35 civilians and injuring 37.[2] No group has claimed responsibility, but the country has been experiencing many violent jihadist insurgent attacks since 2015, with many conducted by Jama'a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin'.[3] The seven-year-long jihadist insurgency in the country has escalated during the past year as violent attacks have increased by both jihadist insurgents and government-backed militias.[4] Violent attacks will likely increase in Burkina Faso, likely targeting critical infrastructure, humanitarian activities, and the agriculture and mining industries. Increased violence will very likely exacerbate the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Sahel region, likely increasing the number of displaced people and deteriorating food security.


Areas of High-Security Concern: Increased jihadist violence and attacks will likely continue in Burkina Faso. Jihadists will very likely target critical infrastructure to weaken the government. Insecurity from the insurgency will very likely continue to deteriorate Burkina Faso’s humanitarian crisis, almost certainly increasing the number of displaced persons and worsening food insecurity. The Burkinabe military and government-backed militias will likely target ethnic Fulanis in retaliation for increased terrorist attacks in the region, likely further increasing tensions between different ethnic and social groups.

Current Claims: Burkina Faso; Mali; Niger; humanitarian organizations

Groups Involved in Conflict: Burkinabe government; Burkinabe armed forces; Burkinabe self-defense militias Volontaiires pour la Defense de la Patrie (VDP); Jama'a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin' (JNIM); Ansar ul Islam; Fulani civilians

Current Conflicts: Burkina Faso’s jihadist insurgency, a part of the Sahel insurgency also affecting Niger and Mali, has pit JNIM, Ansar ul Islam, ISGS, and ISWAP against the Burkinabe government since 2015.[5] The insurgency was partly responsible for exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in Burkina Faso.[6] In January 2022, the Burkinabe military instigated a coup to oust the democratically elected president for not addressing the insurgency before signaling a readiness to diversify and review Burkina Faso’s international partnerships,[7] including moving away from France toward new partners.[8]

Major Capital Industries: gold mining industry; telecommunications industry; electricity industry; health care infrastructure; humanitarian sector

Potential Industry Concerns: Increased attacks will likely target public industries, likely disrupting Burkina Faso’s infrastructure. The telecommunications, energy, healthcare, and gold mining industries are likely the most at-risk, likely due to jihadists' aim to disrupt daily life. Jihadists will likely also target the humanitarian sector, specifically aid convoys trying to relieve regions most affected by the humanitarian crisis. Jihadist rebels will likely try to kidnap and kill humanitarian workers from aid convoys and likely take aid supplies for themselves.


Areas of Caution:

  • Geopolitical: The French Ambassador's recent statement that Burkina Faso’s conflict is a civil war complicated French-Burkinabe relations.[9] Anti-French sentiment is increasing in Burkina Faso, with protests demanding an end to French-Burkinabe relations in favor of increased cooperation with Russia[10] and a movement demanding the departure of the French diplomatic representation.[11] Mali and Burkina Faso’s presidents recently agreed to strengthen military cooperation to secure their shared borders,[12] following the departure of the French Barkhane force from Mali.[13] Mali withdrew from the G5 Sahel framework on May 15, citing G5 leaders' alleged agenda to isolate it from the rest of the region.[14]

  • Political: The military junta ousted the democratically-elected government in January 2022 for failing to curb the terrorist threat, citing popular anger with the president’s competencies.[15] The Burkinabe public demonstrated in support of the military takeover, despite international condemnations.[16] The military allegedly ousted the former Burkinabe president after he refused to hire Wagner mercenaries, while Yevgeny Prighozin, the alleged head of the Wagner Group,[17] welcomed the Burkina Faso coup in a statement.[18] The Burkinabe government signaled its readiness to support reconciliation efforts between community leaders and militants willing to disengage from terrorism.[19]

  • Military: The Burkinabe military instituted special military zones to carry out counterterrorism operations in the northern parts of the country, demanding inhabitants leave or be caught in the crossfire.[20] Humanitarian organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International accused the Burkinabe military of human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings targeted at the Fulani and Peuhl ethnic groups.[21] In 2020, The Burkinabe government introduced a law to permit the formation of civilian-defense militias to support the fight against terrorism.[22] Those militias, including the Volunteers for the Defense of the Homeland (VDP), were also accused of human rights abuses and ethnically motivated extrajudicial killings.[23]

  • Economic: Burkina Faso is an economically poor, landlocked country relying mainly on subsistence farming due to droughts, poor soils, and lacking agricultural infrastructure.[24] Gold mining and cotton are the key export goods, and the rise of artisanal mining coincides with an increase in attacks against mining communities.[25] In June 2021, unknown insurgents attacked Solhan village, a gold mining hub, causing at least 132 casualties.[26] Insurgents had targeted members of the VDP before assaulting a gold mine, prompting the government to ban artisanal mining.[27]

  • Social: Ethnic tensions are partly responsible for the violence in Burkina Faso, with the Burkinabe military and government-backed militias targeting ethnic Fulanis in retaliation for terrorist attacks[28] and for being suspected of affiliation with terrorists.[29] The Fulanis make up the majority of insurgents that joined Ansar ul Islam, whose discourse played on Fulani marginalization to encourage recruitment.[30]

  • Emergency Management: By the end of 2021, there were 1.6 million internally displaced people (IDPs) fleeing the conflict.[31] Food insecurity is worsening in Burkina Faso, with 600,000 people suffering from emergency hunger levels,[32] while 2.8 million are food insecure.[33] International donors are needed to address Burkina Faso’s humanitarian crisis.[34]

  • Infrastructure: Populations in the north of Burkina Faso lack access to basic infrastructure, including healthcare and education facilities and roads.[35] Successive governments have marginalized the Soum province, which supported the anti-government discourse of Ansar ul Islam.[36] In 2019, armed groups targeted at least five bridges in the Soum province, limiting the movement capacity of persons and vehicles.[37]


Predictive Analysis:

  • Who: Terrorist groups, like ISGS, ISWAP, JNIM, and Ansar ul Islam, will very likely continue with attacks in Burkina Faso. Increased violence will likely affect Burkinabe civilians the most, as the humanitarian crisis will likely worsen. Burkinabe military and government-backed militias will likely try to mitigate jihadist insurgency, with a roughly even chance of partnering with the Wagner Group for counterinsurgency support. Insurgents will very likely continue to target Burkinabe civilians, and Fulanis will very likely continue to be victims of ethnic-based retaliation. Increased violence will likely target humanitarian aid organizations, likely making it harder for communities to receive necessary supplies.

  • What: The jihadist insurgency in Burkina Faso will likely continue, likely making critical infrastructure vulnerable to attacks. Terrorist groups will very likely intensify their insurgency and will likely exploit historical grievances to bolster their numbers. The Healthcare industry, telecommunication, and gold mining industry will very likely be targeted in any future attacks, likely to display the government and its allied militias’ inability to maintain order. Competition over Burkina Faso’s agricultural and mineral resources will almost certainly continue to fuel conflict in the northeast, very likely hindering development efforts and exacerbating poverty. Attacks on marginalized regions like the Soum province will almost certainly exacerbate the humanitarian crisis by limiting access to essential goods and facilities. The Burkinabe military and government-backed militias will likely attack in retaliation, likely further increasing tensions in the region.

  • Why: Jihadists will very likely exploit internal conflicts to further establish a presence in Burkina Faso. Terrorist groups will almost certainly continue to use local civilian grievances to bolster their numbers and legitimize their actions.

  • When: The ongoing violence in the region will likely worsen as jihadist groups gain momentum, likely as a result of previous successful attacks. These attacks will unlikely decrease or stop in the near future, likely due to the recent increase in attacks in the Sahel. Burkina Faso’s junta will very likely lose credibility in the coming months for failing to address the Jihadist threat, very likely leading to popular discontent and increased instability. Insurgents will almost certainly intensify their attacks to accelerate and exacerbate public dissent.

  • How: Jihadist rebels will likely use local grievances and disfunction to rally local support, likely further dividing the country. Increased violence will likely deteriorate the division, with pro-government forces likely retaliating against jihadists. There is a roughly even chance that the Burkinabe government will allow the Wagner Group to conduct counterterrorism efforts, likely further adding to the tensions between tribal groups and the government.


The Counterterrorism Group’s (CTG) AFRICOM Team recommends that citizens in Burkina Faso prepare for an increase in violent attacks throughout the country. The Burkinabe military should increase its intelligence collection capabilities to better mitigate future attacks against the country’s infrastructure and stability. Burkinabe government-backed militias and the military should not counter jihadist violence with anti-Fulani violence and should encourage ethnic reconciliation to diminish the appeal of terrorist groups’ recruitment rhetoric. The Burkinabe government should support reconciliation efforts led by local community leaders and establish a robust disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) program. International aid organizations should continue to supply the region with aid to help mitigate the humanitarian crisis by providing affected areas with health care materials, food and water supplies, and other necessary aid. CTG’s AFRICOM Team will continue to watch and update on developments in the Burkina Faso jihadist crisis and any further attacks conducted in the region. CTG’s Worldwide Analysis of Threats, Crimes, and Hazards (W.A.T.C.H) Team will also provide timely updates on these attacks as they happen.


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[1] "Jagdkommando in Burkina Faso" by Bundesheer.Fotos licensed under Creative Commons.

[2] Bomb Kills Dozens of Civilians in Burkina Faso, New York Times, September 2022 https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/06/world/africa/attack-burkina-faso.html

[3] Ibid

[4] The Sahel Mid-Year Update, ACLED, 2022

https://acleddata.com/10-conflicts-to-worry-about-in-2022/sahel/mid-year-update/

[5] Burkina Faso: A history of destabilisation by jihadist insurgencies, France 24, January 2022 https://www.france24.com/en/africa/20220125-burkina-faso-a-history-of-destabilisation-by-jihadist-insurgencies

[6] Burkina Faso: How conflict and climate change are worsening a water crisis, Doctors without Borders, June 2021

https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/latest/burkina-faso-how-conflict-and-climate-change-are-worsening-water-crisis

[7] Burkina Faso soldiers announce military takeover, Kaboré ‘suspended’, France 24, January 2022

https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20220124-burkina-faso-president-kabore-held-by-mutinying-soldiers-sources-tell-france-24

[8] Burkina Faso: le Premier ministre remet en question "le partenariat avec la France", TRT Français, August 2022

https://www.trtfrancais.com/actualites/burkina-faso-le-premier-ministre-remet-en-question-le-partenariat-avec-la-france-10019047 (translated by Amine Sahli)

[9] Brouille diplomatique entre Paris et Ouagadougou, VOA Afrique, July 2022 https://www.voaafrique.com/a/brouille-diplomatique-entre-le-burkina-et-la-france/6672740.html (translated by Amine Sahli)

[10] Burkina Faso civil groups protest against French military cooperation, Africa News, March 2022

https://www.africanews.com/2022/03/28/burkina-faso-civil-groups-protest-against-french-military-cooperation//

[11] A new anti-France movement rises in Burkina Faso, Africa News, July 2022 https://www.africanews.com/2022/07/31/a-new-anti-france-movement-rises-in-burkina-faso//

[12] Le président Burkinabe en visite au Mali pour discuter de lutte antiterroriste; RFI, September 2022

https://www.rfi.fr/fr/afrique/20220902-le-pr%C3%A9sident-burkinab%C3%A8-en-visite-au-mali-pour-discuter-de-lutte-antiterroriste (translated by Amine Sahli)

[13] France says Barkhane mission troops fully withdraw from Mali; DW, August 2022 https://www.dw.com/en/france-says-barkhane-mission-troops-fully-withdraw-from-mali/a-62811269

[14] 'Mali's departure from the G5 Sahel de facto signs the organization's death warrant', Le Monde, August 2022

https://www.lemonde.fr/en/international/article/2022/05/18/mali-s-departure-from-the-g5-sahel-signs-de-facto-the-organization-s-death-warrant_5983848_4.html

[15] Military Takes Power in West African Nation of Burkina Faso, New York Times, January 2022

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/24/world/africa/burkina-faso-military-coup.html

[16] Supporters of Burkina Faso's Military Welcome Coup, VOA News, January 2022 https://www.voanews.com/a/supporters-of-burkina-faso-s-military-welcome-coup/6412157.html

[17] African President Was Ousted Just Weeks After Refusing to Pay Russian Paramilitaries, Yahoo News, January 2022

https://www.yahoo.com/news/president-ousted-just-weeks-refusing-185359462.html

[18] Coup d’Etat au Burkina Faso : le parrain du groupe Wagner salue une « nouvelle ère de décolonisation », Le Monde, January 2022 https://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2022/01/26/coup-d-etat-au-burkina-faso-le-parrain-du-groupe-wagner-salue-une-nouvelle-ere-de-decolonisation_6111025_3212.html (translated by Amine Sahli)

[19] Burkina Faso to support local talks with jihadists: A Q&A with the minister of reconciliation, The New Humanitarian, April 2022 https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/interview/2022/04/27/dialogue-with-jihadists-interview-with-burkina-fasos-minister-of-reconciliation

[20] Burkina Faso to create military zones to fight jihadi rebels, ABC News, July 2022 https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/burkina-faso-create-military-zones-fight-jihadi-rebels-85556915

[21] Burkina Faso: Residents’ Accounts Point to Mass Executions, Human Rights Watch, May 2022

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/08/burkina-faso-residents-accounts-point-mass-executions

[22] “Pandora’s box. Burkina Faso, self-defense militias and VDP Law in fighting jihadism”, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Peace and Security, 2021

https://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/fes-pscc/17590.pdf

[23] Government-backed Militias in Burkina Faso Accused of Abuses, VOA News, July 2021 https://www.voanews.com/a/africa_government-backed-militias-burkina-faso-accused-abuses/6207880.html

[24] Burkina Faso - Economic Indicators, Moody’s Analytics, 2022 https://www.economy.com/burkina-faso/indicators#ECONOMY

[25] Insecurity in Burkina Faso – Beyond Conflict Minerals : The complex links between artisanal gold mining and violence (NAI Policy Notes 2021:3), Relief Web, September 2021 https://reliefweb.int/report/burkina-faso/insecurity-burkina-faso-beyond-conflict-minerals-complex-links-between-artisanal

[26] At least 132 civilians killed in Burkina Faso’s worst attack in years, Reuters, June 2021 https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/armed-attackers-kill-100-civilians-burkina-faso-village-raid-2021-06-05/

[27] Insecurity in Burkina Faso – Beyond Conflict Minerals : The complex links between artisanal gold mining and violence (NAI Policy Notes 2021:3), Relief Web, September 2021 https://reliefweb.int/report/burkina-faso/insecurity-burkina-faso-beyond-conflict-minerals-complex-links-between-artisanal

[28] Burkina Faso: Armed Islamists Kill, Rape Civilians, Human Rights Watch, May 2022 https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/05/16/burkina-faso-armed-islamists-kill-rape-civilians

[29] Fulani mass graves in Burkina Faso 'suggest security force involvement', RFI, September 2019

https://www.rfi.fr/en/africa/20200709-fulani-mass-graves-burkina-faso-djibo-security-forces-human-rights-watch-report

[30] “The Social Roots of Jihadist Violence in Burkina Faso’s North”; Crisis Group, October 2017

https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/west-africa/burkina-faso/254-social-roots-jihadist-violence-burkina-fasos-north

[31] Burkina Faso Country Profile, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, May 2022 https://www.internal-displacement.org/countries/burkina-faso

[32] Burkina Faso: Almost 2 million people displaced amid worst food crisis in a decade, Norwegian Refugee Council, September 2022 https://www.nrc.no/news/2022/september/burkina-faso-almost-2-million-people--now-displaced-amid-worst-food-crisis-in-a-decad/

[33] After the Coup: Burkina Faso’s Humanitarian and Displacement Crisis, Relief Web, April 2022

https://reliefweb.int/report/burkina-faso/after-coup-burkina-faso-s-humanitarian-and-displacement-crisis

[34] Ibid.

[35] “ROADS TO SCHOOLS AND HEALTHCARE FACILITIES: IDENTIFYING ACCESSIBILITY GAPS IN BURKINA FASO”, The World Bank Group, April 2021 https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/622561619416816205/pdf/Roads-to-Schools-and-Healthcare-Facilities-Identifying-Accessibility-Gaps-in-Burkina-Faso.pdf

[36] “The Social Roots of Jihadist Violence in Burkina Faso’s North”; Crisis Group, October 2017

https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/west-africa/burkina-faso/254-social-roots-jihadist-violence-burkina-fasos-north

[37] “ROADS TO SCHOOLS AND HEALTHCARE FACILITIES: IDENTIFYING ACCESSIBILITY GAPS IN BURKINA FASO”, The World Bank Group, April 2021 https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/622561619416816205/pdf/Roads-to-Schools-and-Healthcare-Facilities-Identifying-Accessibility-Gaps-in-Burkina-Faso.pdf

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