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The confluence of political, institutional, and societal breakdown, the murderous activity of militias and radical jihadist groups, the predation of criminal networks (often allied with other groups), corrupt and unresponsive government, and the coronavirus has produced a perfect storm of human misery in the small West African state of Burkina Faso. Burkina, with a population less about 20 million, is described as one of the world's poorest countries in normal times, which these are not. Burkina may be only the first of poor West African states already reeling from poverty, marginalized territories, and insurrection to be pushed over the edge into societal disintegration. Mali could be next. Jihadis are also beginning to threaten Ivory Coast and Ghana.
Before the coronavirus arrived, Burkina faced growing fighting among rival jihadi terrorists that the share goal of the destruction of the state, rival political and ethnic militias, political groups associated with the business community, remnants of the networks of former dictator Blaise Compaore, deposed in 2014, and the state security services. According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project (ACLED), fatalities caused by violence against civilians and in battles between armed actors has dramatically increased since 2018, and 2020 is on pace to surpass the highs set in 2019. Such violence killed over 250 people in 2018, over 2,000 in 2019, and 871 in the first four months of 2020. About 800,000 Burkinabes had fled their homes as of March 2020, according to the UN, or about 4 percent of the population. The French anti-jihadi Operation Barkhane is allied to the Ougadougou government, which commands little legitimacy in much of the country. Some from Burkina have described the breakdown of the country's social fabric as "incivisme,” and the breakdown of personal security as "insecurite."
Burkina Faso reported its first two coronavirus cases on March 9; by April 16, there have been 542 total cases in the country, with 32 deaths and 226 recoveries. The health ministry and Western non-governmental organization have been advocating the standard response of social distancing and testing. But, testing materials hardly exist any more than ventilators do. For the displaced and for ordinary slum dwellers, social distancing is impossible, as is hand-washing, where water is so precious it is reserved for drinking. There is anecdotal evidence of the security services attempting to enforce social distancing by the liberal use of whips. Meanwhile, jihadi groups, seeing their moment, are moving against the government and their rivals, and criminal networks are flourishing.
The Macron government in Paris appears to remain committed to the Ouagadougou government. France seeks with some success to increase the engagement of some of its European Union partners, and has pushed back against Trump administration proposals to reduce the U.S. military presence in the Sahel. Though small in number, U.S. forces provide logistical and intelligence support to the French. However, in France, comparisons are being drawn between Burkina Faso and Afghanistan, with growing concern as to how France can extract itself. But, French withdrawal and the likely subsequent collapse of the Ouagadougou government risks the domination of the state by anti-Western jihadis that France regards as part of its "near abroad."