Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 428, 25 August 2021

West Africa: Over 100 killed in series of attacks by bandits across countries
Apoorva Sudhakar

In the news
On 20 August, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres condemned an armed assault in Burkina Faso's Arbinda region, which left at least 80 people dead on 18 August. The casualties from the attack, suspected to be carried out by jihadists, included 59 civilians, 15 military police personnel and six pro-government militiamen. Guterres's statement conveyed that the UN would stand in solidarity with the Burkinabe government and other Sahel countries "in their efforts to counter and prevent terrorism and violent extremism, promote social cohesion and achieve sustainable development."
 
On 20 August, unidentified gunmen killed 16 people in the Tillaberi region within Niger, four days after 37 people were massacred in a different village in the same region on 16 August. On the same day, several parliamentarians reportedly called for enhanced security measures in the region.
 
On 21 August, 12 people were killed and six injured by gunmen in Nigeria's Katsina State. In two separate attacks, two people were killed each on 19 and 20 August.  On the same day, Chad announced that it would withdraw 600 troops from G5 Sahel forces from the border between Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, and termed it a "strategic redeployment to better adapt to the organization of the terrorists" in the country.
 
Issues at large
First, the continuation of violence and large-scale massacres. The attack in Burkina Faso took place two months after gunmen, including child soldiers aged between 12 to 14, massacred over 130 people. Similarly, in Niger, in the Tillaberi region, 137 and 66 people were massacred in two different instances in March. Meanwhile, in Nigeria, apart from massacres like that of 88 people in a coordinated attack across seven villages in June, bandits also frequently abduct students and villagers in regular raids.
 
Second, different regions, different actors, same issues. Insecurity and instability are common among these countries, despite the perpetrators being different. Regional governments refer to perpetrators with no particular allegiance to any group as bandits, who are involved in cattle-rustling, resource conflicts, inter-communal conflicts. Lately, several attacks have also been linked to an "Islamist insurgency" on grounds that groups like the Islamic State and the al Qaeda, have shifted base to Africa from the Middle East. Following the latest massacre in Burkina Faso, the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Office said that the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara had spread across the African continent, particularly in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. Meanwhile, Nigeria has already been facing the brunt of terrorism since 2009 when Boko Haram marked its presence and later paved the way for the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).
 
Third, collective regional failure and external intervention. France intervened in the fight against this insurgency in 2013 in Mali; since then, it has deployed 5,000 troops. However, observing that there was no indication of violence abating, in July 2021, it announced that it would withdraw over 2,000 troops. Similarly, Chad's decision to withdraw 600 of its 1,200-strong troops from the G5 forces will also affect the fight against the above threats as the country had been one of the strongest contributors to the task force.  
 
In perspective
Some regions in West Africa have been witnessing a slow burn for over a decade since Boko Haram established its base in Nigeria. The latest series of attacks indicate that despite regular and similar tactics used by the perpetrators, the regional governments have not served their promises of security and stability of neither their respective countries, nor the affected region. Therefore, it is likely that the gaps in governance are being exploited by terrorist groups in the region, therefore, leading to the expansion of the IS and al Qaeda bases in the continent. Some media reports also suggest that these terrorist groups are gradually bringing bandits into their fold. In light of this, the protection of civilians is at stake.

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