Burkina attacks – an unacceptable distraction
Like most of my countrymen and women, I was appalled and saddened by the terrorist attacks in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on January 15. Our country was previously spared from such barbaric jihadist violence, which has become a frequent occurrence around the globe. I am deeply concerned by the motives behind these unprecedented acts of cowardice, which aimed not only to destroy lives but to destabilise our country.
Curiously, the events started on the night of Thursday, January 14, when armed men kidnapped an Australian couple in Djibo, northern Burkina Faso. Octogenarians Dr Ken Elliot and wife Jocelyn had moved there in 1972 and founded a medical clinic that treated thousands of Burkinabe in the Sahel, our country’s poorest region. The next morning, gunmen attacked a gendarme post near the Malian border, killing two.
We had hardly started processing these incidents when on Friday evening the real terror began. Three baby-faced jihadists opened fire on the Cappuccino Café and Splendid Hotel, at the heart of our capital Ouagadougou, killing 31 and injuring dozens more.
As soon as I heard the news, I went directly to the site. I felt it was important to be on the ground to physically support our troops, who tracked the terrorists for 18 hours. Everyone knows the rest of the story. The attackers opened fire on everything that moved. Witnesses said they killed in cold blood, without claiming any political goals, as is often the case elsewhere.
Considering how little the gunmen valued human life, the only ideology they appear to defend is their hatred of life itself. They certainly do not have any religious lesson to give us here in Burkina Faso; it is because we are such strong believers in God that we have been able to overcome all our political struggles these past few years, in an incredible display of popular mobilisation.
After the insurrection of October 2014 and the heroic resistance of our people against the failed coup d’état in September 2014, we are starting to rebuild a true spirit of national unity. The democratic forces have begun to believe in their abilities to forge a new and free Burkina, where justice is guaranteed for all, and economic development and its fruits will be fairly shared.
Burkina Faso has no score to settle with jihadists to merit the barbaric attacks of January 15. Other than the foolhardy idea of attacking so-called Western interests, they had nothing to gain from spreading terror here, unless they were acting on behalf of individuals or groups who want to destabilise our institutions at any cost, to take back control of the country.
It is no secret that former President Blaise Compaoré entertained incestuous relations with jihadist groups, some of which had taken up residence in Ouagadougou. They were at home in Ouagadougou, and came and went as they pleased.
Some of them even built sumptuous villas, as was the case with Compaoré’s Mauritanian adviser, Moustapha Chafi. Chafi, Compaoré’s main link to terrorist groups in the Sahel (especially those in northern Mali), negotiated the release of Western hostages for large ransoms in the region for years and was constantly in contact with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
An obscure jihadist group, the Sahara Emirate, claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, while veteran Algerian jihadi Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s al-Murabitoun (the same group that killed two dozen at the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali, in November 2015) took credit for the Ouagadougou attacks.
The terrorists’ goal was to destabilise Burkina Faso. Why now? A plausible hypothesis is to regain a rear base they lost when a popular uprising overthrew Compaoré in November 2014. The only people who would stand to gain from these attacks are those wanting to maintain the status quo of the lucrative trafficking of Western hostages.
Our country chose democratic renewal when we chased Compaoré from power in October 2014 and halted the September 2015 coup d’état. Clearly this does not please everyone, especially those who profited from the deposed regime. We do not need to look far to see the motives of the Ouagadougou attacks and those preceding them. The jihadist explanation is a distraction. Chériff Sy is a journalist, editor and founder of the weekly
newspaper Bendré, and former president of the National Transitional Council (the name of Burkina Faso’s interim Parliament
after a revolution overthrew former president Blaise Compaoré)