Militant bloodshed brings Burkina Faso to its knees

French Army soldiers patrols the village Gorom Gorom in Armored Personnel Carriers during the Barkhane operation in northern Burkina Faso. (AFP / MICHELE CATTANI)
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Updated 27 June 2020

Militant bloodshed brings Burkina Faso to its knees

  • Government security forces became overwhelmed as jihadist attacks mounted from 2015,

OUAGADOUGOU: Little more than five years ago, Burkina Faso was on the up, priding itself as a favored tourist destination for well-heeled Europeans.
Today, the country seems to be visibly sinking, battered by a militant revolt that has swept in from neighboring Mali, rolled into Niger and cast a shadow on the countries to the south.
More than 1,650 civilians and soldiers have died since 2015, according to a local monitoring group, the Observatory for Democracy and Human Rights (ODDH) — a figure that some say is probably just a fraction of the real tally.
Nearly a million people have fled their homes and nowhere in the country rates as safe, under travel recommendations issued by Western governments.
The country, one of the poorest in the world, is scarred by stories of tragedy.
“My wife was killed in an attack in Arbinda in December, leaving a two-year-old baby,” said Aly Sidibe, a 42-year-old former herder displaced in the northern city of Kaya.
“The child is in Ouagadougou. He is being taken care of by social services.”
Sidibe said he had lost his entire herd.
“I had more than 50 cattle. I don’t even have a sheep anymore,” he said.

"Liberating axes"
Burkina Faso lies in the heart of the Sahel, whose leaders have joined a French-backed effort to roll back jihadism in the vast semi-desert region.
President Emmanuel Macron will join his five allies in the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott on Tuesday to debate the state of the campaign.
Burkinabe General Moise Miningou, speaking to AFP, hit out at perceptions that the armed forces were failing.
“People who talk like that do not know the real situation,” he said, pointing to a strategy of “liberating axes (and) securing populations.”
“(...) The battle is hard but we will shortly get results,” he said, noting that the country would have five operational combat helicopters by the end of the year.
Security sources say the armed forces have been a casualty of Burkina’s political turmoil.
For several years, Burkina Faso seemed immune to militant attacks — the result, according to some analysts, of a secret deal between the then president, Blaise Compaore, and militant groups.
After Compaore was ousted in 2014, the armed forces were essentially muzzled, deprived of funding, equipment and training, according to the sources.
The transitional government that took over and the government of President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, who took power in 2015, were afraid of coups.
“We had an army without weapons, an army without ammunition and not trained at all,” said one source.
As the miitant attacks mounted from 2015, the security forces became overwhelmed, said Mahamoudou Savadogo, a Burkinabe researcher specializing in armed Islamism.
“The army was never equipped, and there was never an appropriate strategy,” Savadogo said.
As a result the armed forces went from defeat to defeat, sometimes masking shortcomings with announcements of spectacular victories.
In the long term, the territory over which the state exercises its authority is shrinking and the army, police, teachers and administration are absent from whole swathes of the country.
Some say Kabore has done little to quell the relentless militant attacks.
“He’s a kind of lazy king who holds more and more audiences and listens in his chair without making any decisions,” a diplomatic source in Abidjan said.

Inter-communal violence
Savadogo said the void left by the state has been filled by inter-communal violence.
He pointed to the clashes between the Mossi and Fulani — an ethnic herder group, also called Peuls, who are accused by other communities of complicity with the militants — as the example of a vicious circle.
“The Mossi abuses in retaliation for the actions of armed terrorist groups have practically pushed young Fulani to join jihadism. They really have no other choice if they want to survive, but also to take revenge,” he said.
Exacerbating inter-communal tensions is a recurrent strategy of militant groups throughout the Sahel, according to a French security source.
These groups also seek to appeal to the aspirations of populations abandoned by the state. They have threatened holders of hunting concessions and mining sites, often granted by corrupt state officials, and then offer the hunting and gold-panning areas to locals in the north and east.
Drissa Traore, a teacher and political analyst, said Kabore’s lavish promises on security are unlikely to impress the public, many of whom are likely to see it as a campaign pitch ahead of presidential elections due in November.
“Their worries are elsewhere. Water, gas, food, everything is lacking... Even when these products are available, the prices are tripled or quadrupled,” Traore added.
The security crisis may deprive entire areas of the country from taking part in the vote, which could lead to a skewed or disputed result.
“Despite a disastrous record, the ruling party will win, because the opposition has no leader. We run the risk of even more tension,” predicted Savadogo. “We’re going to sink even further.”

Pakistan rolls out coronavirus surveillance app for incoming travelers

Updated 56 min 13 sec ago

Pakistan rolls out coronavirus surveillance app for incoming travelers

  • 246,351 cases registered since late February

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has developed a mobile app to keep track of travelers entering the country through land routes and airports to ensure a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for those testing positive for the novel coronavirus.

“The app will be rolled out in a few days,” Shabahat Ali Shah, CEO of the National Information Technology Board (NITB), told Arab News this week.

He said the app would help record symptoms of the incoming travelers and keep track of their location. It would also communicate coronavirus test results to them and check if they were violating the self-quarantine requirement.

The government was testing everyone entering the country until recently. Many travelers were kept at big isolation centers established in hotels and marquees for 14 days to prevent the spread of the virus.

According to government officials, the new app will eliminate the costs associated with the old quarantine protocols and maintain a better record of people’s movements.

Pakistan has registered 246,351 coronavirus infections since late February and over 5,000 deaths.

The government has also been carrying out contact tracing to test suspected cases and sent over half-a-million text messages to those who have come into close contact with COVID-19 patients, according to the Ministry of National Health Services.

“We don’t share contact tracing numbers with the public since they keep changing on a daily basis,” Shah said, adding that people suspected to have the disease were requested to get themselves tested.

Discussing the projections, he said the numbers of coronavirus cases would keep changing but that the government’s actions had proved successful in bringing down the country’s infection rate.

“Smart lockdowns in different areas have helped reduce the disease,” Shah said, adding the decision to lock down virus hotspots was taken on the basis of data collected by the NITB.

He said that the COVID-19 curve would flatten if the government properly managed Eid Al-Adha and Muharram processions in the coming months.

According to independent IT analysts, the app would prove ineffective if “big data” was not properly analyzed.

“Developing an app is not a big deal,” Mustaneer Abdullah, an IT expert, told Arab News. “The real task is to extract useful information through the algorithms and break it down in specific categories to achieve the desired targets. The trouble is that government departments lack that kind of expertise.”

He also pointed out that such apps were hazardous to public privacy in the absence of data protection laws since they sought permission from users at the time of installation to access their photo galleries, locations and contact lists to work smoothly.

“The data collected through these apps can also be a goldmine for scoundrels. People working with government departments could leak user information to digital marketers or fraudsters with total impunity.”