Burkina attempts “dialogue” in the search for solutions

Burkina Faso has unveiled a new tactic in its fight against a bloody jihadist insurgency: “dialogue” between community leaders and local fighters fallen into extremism.

The move, announced earlier this month by the junta that took power in January, marks a shift from security-focused efforts to end the country’s long-running conflict.

Over the past six years, more than 2,000 people have died, including many members of the security forces, and at least 1.8 million people have fled their homes.

Under an olive branch program, “local dialogue committees” bring together community leaders and local jihadists for talks.

There is a strict condition on the initiative – there is a ban on men deemed to have ties to al-Qaeda or the so-called Islamic State (IS), the two groups that launched the insurgency.

The scheme stems from the realization that most jihadists in Burkina today are not members of the two major transnational groups, said Francois Zoungrana, an anti-jihadist commander in the gendarmerie.

“Currently, the enemy is mainly made up of Burkinabe citizens…who are very often invisible and mixed in with the population,” he said.

A dozen “endogenous” jihadist groups have developed in Burkina Faso over the past six years, with no visible links to Al-Qaeda or IS, according to Burkinabe intelligence.

These groups are “a kind of metastasis of the terrorist phenomenon”, believes Drissa Traoré, professor and political analyst.

Their presence “means that the authorities must explore other options instead of the military alone”.

Sahel security experts often say that many jihadist recruits are lost or unemployed young men, lured by the promise of money and a mission.

National Reconciliation Minister Yero Boly said the dialogue was conceived after young fighters requested talks with traditional, religious and tribal leaders.

“The path they’ve taken is a path with no future, that’s what the young fighters said,” Boly said.

“They have weapons and are part of armed groups attacking their own villages.”

As a result, “the dialogue has been established and is ongoing,” he said.

He pointed out that important red lines remained in place.

The state still excludes “direct dialogue with terrorist leaders, and even more so to negotiate with them” and the army “continues its work” in anti-jihadist operations, he said.

Warning The extent of the talks is unclear, but a security source said “contact” is already underway between fighters and community leaders in the violence-torn north and east.

On April 20, residents say, fighters lifted a two-month-old blockade on Djibo, the capital of the northern province of Soum, allowing a military convoy of around 100 trucks of food and general cargo to reach the city.

Traore and others cautioned about the unclear scope of the talks at this stage – and whether the initiative has a future.

Those who engage in dialogue are only a “small minority” of active jihadists, Traore said.

“How many of these young people want to lay down their arms? He asked. “And are they speaking on their own behalf or on behalf of the armed groups?

Moussa Diallo, a member of a youth coordination team in the Sahel, also pointed to the sticking point for young fighters desperate to return to normal life.

“Everyone is wondering how you can live with people who killed your parents and then stole all your belongings,” he observed.

He also recalled that there had already been “informal dialogues led by local communities” in the past.

These initiatives resulted in only “a brief lull”, which ended when commitments were not kept, Diallo said.

“In the end, these people take up arms again and become even more violent,” he said.


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