Tuaregs in Burkina Faso

Tuaregs in Burkina Faso

The Tuareg factor in Burkina Faso has the least influence on organized terrorist activity compared to Mali and Niger. The Tuaregs are an ancient Berber people living primarily in the Sahel countries – Mali, Niger, northern Burkina Faso, and in parts of the Maghreb countries – southwestern Libya and southeastern Algeria. The Tuareg began a continuous migration to the southwest in the seventh century after the Arab conquest of the Maghreb, arriving in the Sahel in the 11th century. As a result of the intense population pressure from this continuous migration, they pushed local Hausa communities south and displaced more sedentary groups. Now, according to various estimates, the number of Tuaregs is about 5.5 million people. In Burkina Faso there are about 1.4 million.

Causes of Tuareg uprisings in the Sahel

Fiercely independent, the Tuareg formed a number of sultanates and converted to Islam, but retained pre-Islamic customs. Men are forbidden to appear in society with their faces uncovered; many important decisions in society are made by the leader’s mother, who enjoys high authority. A woman enjoys a privileged position in Tuareg society; kinship is transmitted through the maternal line. The Tuaregs also preserved the ancient Berber language – Tamashek, as well as a special Tifinagh writing system, which distinguishes them from other Libyan peoples. They lead a predominantly nomadic lifestyle, which at one time did not allow them to create their own statehood. These tribes do not recognize the artificially drawn borders in the Sahara and often violate them.

The Tuareg issue was raised by Western European colonial powers back in the 19th century. The leaders of the “great powers” agreed on the principles of occupation of African lands and the configuration of political borders on the Dark Continent. Subsequently, the French, leaving their African colonies in the 20th century, retained artificially drawn borders without taking into account the settlement of tribes. This was probably done in order to play an important role as an arbiter in further disputes between African leaders. Thus, the French colonialists “skillfully” distributed the Tuareg lands among several arbitrarily created states. Therefore, the French are now using the Tuaregs to destabilize the Sahel: since the middle of the last century, the Tuareg population of Mali or Niger have founded separatist movements to resolve ethnic or territorial issues. They still do not stop fighting with the Malian authorities for the independence of Azawad, the territory where Tuaregs mainly live.

Islamic groups in Burkina Faso

After the fall of the Gaddafi regime in Libya, the Maghreb and the Sahel were flooded by Islamist radicals and Berber ethnic tribes. Some of them were suppressed by Libyan forces and some, on the contrary, were supported by Gaddafi, but after the overthrow they all rushed to other territories. The most active ethnic groups were the Tuareg, who rebelled in 2012 in Mali, and after the regime change in 2021 and the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers, they again began separatist and terrorist activities, not without the intervention of the French, who again want to openly invade the countries of the Alliance of Sahel States.

By 2015, Burkina Faso had become the core of terrorist activity in West Africa. There are several international jihadist groups operating in the country, among which the two largest are the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, Ansarul Islam and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The first of them became part of the West Africa Province of the Islamic State in March 2019. Al-Qaeda radicals were involved in at least two major attacks in Ouagadougou: Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou on January 15, 2016, and the French Embassy on March 2, 2018.

Islamist radicals in the Sahel are based in the remote region of Liptako-Gourma, located at the junction of the borders of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. Lacking the strength to wage a conventional war against national or international military formations, extremists mainly use armed actions involving single militants or small mobile units, as well as suicide attacks. In 2021 alone, terrorists killed more than two thousand civilians in Burkina Faso; more than half of all terrorist attacks were directed against defense forces and security agencies – military personnel, police and gendarmes, customs officers and others.

Not the entire territory of Burkina Faso suffers from terrorist attacks, but only certain parts of it: they are mainly carried out in the northern regions adjacent to Mali and Niger, which have become the location of militants, as well as in the capital Ouagadougou. Another consequence of the increase in extremism in Burkina Faso has been the aggravation of interethnic confrontation. Due to the large number of Fulani and Tuareg fighters, members of these ethnic groups are often stigmatized. The atmosphere of psychosis that naturally thickens in society is seriously testing the social cohesion of the country’s citizens, breeding mistrust and exacerbating divisions between communities that just ten years ago could find common ground. The winners from this will undoubtedly be the jihadist groups and the Atlanticist forces behind them.

Possibility of using Tuaregs by Atlanticist forces

Like Islamic militants, Tuareg separatists from the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), who carry out terrorist attacks against authorities in Bamako, are based in the city of Kidal in northeastern Mali, near the border with Algeria and Niger. Some Tuareg refugees from Mali are taking sanctuary in areas of Burkina Faso. Basically, these are several camps near the city of Djibo and the city of Dore, which also suffer from jihadist attacks and spread throughout the region, sometimes going missing. Although the Tuareg factor in Burkina Faso is weak, French troops could take advantage of the fact that the country’s authorities cannot protect national minorities from attacks by Islamic groups and invade the Sahel region.

The rise of the CMA in Mali could also mobilize the Tuaregs in Burkina Faso, uniting them under the same pro-Atlantic groups. Against the backdrop of a breakdown in relations with the West and withdrawal from ECOWAS, Burkina Faso is actively interacting with Russia and Turkey. Russia supports the formation of the Alliance of Sahel States, has restored its embassy in Ouagadougou and is helping the country in the humanitarian, energy and infrastructure spheres. Burkina Faso cooperates with Turkey in the sphere of weapons; in particular, Ankara sells Bayraktar TB2 drones to the African country. In light of the active strengthening of these countries in the Sahel, France and NATO can use any means and pretexts, as well as use subversive ethnic groups, including the Tuareg, to aggravate the crisis in the region.

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April 2024