(New York, N.Y.) — French influence in its one-time colony of Burkina Faso has deteriorated since armed soldiers deposed the government in a coup last September and coup supporters attacked the French embassy, believing it was harboring the deposed president. Given widespread frustration over continued jihadist violence, on January 21, the ruling junta's government ordered the nearly 400 French troops in the country—vestiges of a multinational force intended to combat violent extremists—to evacuate within the coming month. ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliate Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, among others, have been active in the country since 2015. On January 25, the French foreign ministry confirmed that they would comply with the notice and that their troops would withdraw from the West African nation by the designated deadline.
“Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State continue to grow unabated in wide swaths of Africa,” said Dr. Hans-Jakob Schindler, senior director of the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) and former coordinator of the U.N. Security Council’s ISIL (Da’esh), al-Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Monitoring Team. “While some thought that extremists in Iraq and Syria were sustainably defeated, itself a questionable assumption, Burkina Faso, along with Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, and Benin have fallen subject to increased extremist and terrorist activity. Weak government and chaos are always conducive to terrorism. Mercenary forces, famous for their brutality coupled with serious and systematic human rights violations, are not a replacement for the rule of law and effective governance and are very likely exacerbating the already very volatile situation in Burkina Faso and the broader region.”
In December 2022, press reports indicated that the military junta in Burkina Faso had concluded an agreement with the Wagner Group, a mercenary force linked to Russia, to counter jihadists threats in exchange for a mine. Although Burkina Faso denied allegations of the transaction, the mercenary group has deployed troops in neighboring Mali. The White House announced last week its intention to designate the Wagner Group as a “significant transnational criminal organization” and charged it with “committing widespread atrocities and human rights abuses” and receiving rockets and missiles from North Korea.
The Wagner Group has been repeatedly accused of giving Russia control over mineral resources in areas where they operate. Additionally, a 2021 U.N. report accessed by the New York Times found that Russian mercenaries and allied government troops committed “indiscriminate killings, occupation of schools and looting.” According to scholars on the Sahel region, while Wagner will provide training to local forces and offer security services to senior officials in partner countries, Wagner will also spread Russian influence across the continent.
To read CEP’s resource Burkina Faso: Extremism and Terrorism, please click here.