What is the current political situation in Burkina Faso?

By Isabelle John

Why was France involved in the first place?

As a consequence of the Libyan Civil War, there was a rise in instability in northern Mali sourced by a Tuareg rebellion in opposition to the central Malian government and proceeded to be exploited by Islamist groups that then acquired controlled over the northern half of the country.[1]

In January of the year 2013, France launched a military operation in retaliation to combat the Islamist opposition from overthrowing the Malian government and to reclaim the northern part of Mali. Macron had mentioned that the Sahel region was “the epicenter of international terrorism”.

This operation that begun was codenamed Operation Serval, seeing the end with the full reclamation of all the territories that were held by the Islamist troops by the 15th of July 2014, which was the operations conclusion date.

Thus this article deals with the involvement of France in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso.

History Behind the Operation Barkhane

Under the operation cover “Barkhane”, French military forces have been deployed in Mali in order to contest the armed groups present in the Sahel, since 2014, more specifically August 1st, 2014. The Sahel consists of Mauritiana, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Chad, all of which are former French colonies.

This operation had the intention of following up the success of Operation Serval and expanded the military affairs over an extensive area of the Sahel region.

The stated aim of this operation was that of aiding the Sahel countries’ governments to be able to retain and support control of their own territory and to prohibit their region from becoming a refuge or sanctuary for Islamist terrorist groups with the intention of attacking France and other parts of Europe.

Hence, it can be discerned that the main objective was counterterrorism.[2]

According to the French Defense Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian: “The aim is to prevent what I call the highway of all forms of traffics to become a place of permanent passage, where jihadist groups between Libya and the Atlantic Ocean can rebuild themselves, which would lead to serious consequences for our security.[3]

The Current State of Operation Barkhane

Currently there are around 5000 French troops in the Sahel region. They provide direct support through training and the introduction of new resources and technologies, to the 5 countries that make up the Sahel forces.

Nevertheless, their presence has not received a favorable reception by all Malians, particularly after the recent murders of a number of civilians in air strikes conducted by the Barkhame forces.

A total of around 100 civilians were killed and last September a civilian in Gao was killed by a French solider. The French army charged it as “accidental”.

What is the situation now?

The French President, Emmanuel Macron as of June 10th, has said that France’s operation involving the fight against the Islamist militants in the Sahel region of West Africa is to come to an end with the troops now operating as part of a greater international effort within the region.

To quote Macron: Many of our soldiers have fallen, I have thought of their families. We owe them consistency, clarity.”[4]

France had obtained some success against the Sahel militants in the recent months; however, the situation is exceedingly delicate. As a result, Paris has become quite exasperated as there seems to be no evident end in sight to their operations and the political turmoil occurring particularly in Mali. Our desired objective is to reduce our bases, to reduce the external operations,says Macron.[5]

Macron to a news conference has said that ‘The time has come to begin a deep transformation of our military presence in the Sahel.” This decision occurred mere days after the Malian army Colonel, Assimi Goita, took power subsequently to his overthrow of the second president in the span of 9 months.

Also following the growing criticism about some of the governments in negotiations with the militants in question.[6]

Macron has greatly criticized Mali’s latest coup and earlier last month described the Mali move as a “coup within a coup” and proceeded to suspend temporarily, the joint operations in place between the Malian and French troops on June 3rd, 2021.

He also mentioned that the Western bloc ECOWAS was in the wrong to have backed the coup and that France could not proceed with sending soldiers to their deaths if the Sahel governments are negotiating with the very people who have murdered them.

About fifty-five soldiers have died in the region since Paris proceeded to intervene in the year 2013.

Militants that are linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State have persisted on and managed to strengthen their foothold across the Sahel region. This leaves large parts of the territory ungovernable and fueling ethnic violence and brutality, specifically within Burkina Faso and Mali.

What will the transition look like?

Macron has mentioned that the details for the transition and changes to occur would be concluded at the end of the month of June ensuing deliberation with European states with involvement in the region and the United States of America, as well as of course the 5 Sahel nations.

More countries would be requested to contribute their forces to the alliance, which includes the United States of America, which as of now had only provided intelligence and logistical aid in the Sahel. Other French forces would work as part of training operations and as part of the international operations that were already being operated in the region.

The lasting presence of France’s external operations cannot replace the return of the state and state services and political stability and the choice of sovereign states,claims Macron, emphasizing the point that despite the persistent repeated operations the state had still not been returned in several areas.

France is in hopes that Takuba, which is a European military task force led by France in order to assist with the operation and work in collaboration with the G5 Sahel nations, will fill in the gaps that will be created as it retracts out of the region.[7]

There has been a lack in eagerness however, for this task force from the European partner nations to date. It is highly unlikely that the United States will step up in its engagement in Sahel, though they have been requested to do so amidst the latest change in administration in the White House.

There is no doubt that France will continue to be an inherent part to the counterterrorism battle.

Some locals believe that Russia will step up and fill in the gaps, but this all calls for speculation and seems to be more of a deceptive trick, though Russia has a mild presence in the Sahel.

What is the impact of the removal of the French troops for the nations? What does this mean for the Sahel?

The vast majority of the Burkhane troops were present in the tri-border region which consisted of Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali. However, France has no military bases in the Burkina Faso region, and the military patrols generally tend to be operated in Mali.

Local officials believe that the removal of the French troops will be detrimental for the local people present in the area. It was mentioned that the security in Tin-Akof had improved for a few weeks following the French forces’ visit however it worsened yet again and the situation was comparatively critical.[8]

As the government officials fled, the government become lawless. Dialo, a local official says that, “Terrorists have a chokehold on the area. There are no more markets, so the vehicles no longer come and there is no work. Before, [fighters] just came to loot our animals, kidnap the people they were looking for and leave. Now it’s come to the point where they just burn down whole villages.”[9]

It can be discerned that the situation is quite dire in the Sahel region. The large portion of terrorists seem to reside in the Mali region and the French militant troops are also present in Mali.

However, Burkina Faso is just three kilometers away from the border that they share with Mali and if the French troops leave and their presence is no longer there in Mali that could result in a larger portion of the terrorists going to wreak havoc in Burkina Faso.

Another top official in Tin-Akof’s administration mentioned that ever since the Operation Bakhane had been established, things were relatively stable. There was a level of security present when the French troops were in attendance, and when they leave that is when the attacks increase.

The French manage to eradicate a good number of terrorists in the name of the operation.[10]

On the other hand, there seems to be some contrasting opinions between the locals and the officials on the topic of the troops and their purpose. Locals mention that the French presence was not prominent, and their removal will not have a great impact on the nations.

What does the current political situation look like in Burkina Faso?

The armed groups that are linked to ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda, who originally had their established base in the neighboring country Mali, had proceeded to embed themselves across the north and east part of the country, attacking civilians on a regular basis.

Local citizens have rallied up protests to show their dissatisfaction and the trauma that they are being put through demanding a response from the government. They have encountered more than 300 deaths since the start of the year.[11]

The rage that the locals feel has been rising ever since the deadliest attack in years occurred on the village of Solhan on June 4th, 2021. There were armed men, which included younger individuals from the age of 12 to 14 that killed on a minimum of 132 people. The death toll came to around 160 and this number included children.[12]

Several people in Burkina Faso have lost all confidence they had in the government. The president tends to limit his communication as a new attack surfaces and this causes people to feel defenseless and weak. They believe that the increase in attacks is confirmation that the Burkina Faso government is weak, and the attacks are a result.[13]

Though there is a large presence of UN peacekeepers the West African Sahel region is continuously being attacked by the rebel groups, with Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger bearing the brunt of it. [14]


There is still quite a bit of confusion on what is going to happen and what the consequences will be. Only time will tell what the outcome of this will be. This topic is deemed to be relevant to today’s time as there is global involvement in this situation as well as ethnic violence occurring.

Considering the research that is being conducted, the French troops might not have been able to reclaim the territories that have been overtaken, however they have provided security.

If they had not been there, the nations would have probably seen an exponential rise in the terrorist attacks against them. Supporting this, when the operations were suspended the attacks increased, hence the troops were beneficial to the nations when they were in play.


  1. Rebellion and fragmentation in northern Mali, CRU Report, available at: clingendael.org. (last visited on July 4, 2021).
  2. Jamie Prentis, “France threatens to withdraw Barkhane troops from Mali”, The National News, June 1 2021, available at: thenationalnews.com. (last visited on July 4, 2021).
  3. “French military to extend Mali ‘counterterrorism’ operations into Sahel”, FRANCE 24, July 13 2014, available at: france24.com. (last visited on July 4, 2021).
  4. Tangi Salaün and John Irish, “France ends West African Barkhane military operation”, Reuters, June 10 2021, available at: reuters.com. (last visited on July 4, 2021).
  5. Tangi Salaün and John Irish, “France ends West African Barkhane military operation”, Reuters, June 10 2021, available at: reuters.com. (last visited on July 4, 2021).
  6. Sylvie Corbet, “Macron to reduce French military troops in Africa’s Sahel”, AP News, June 10 2021, available at: apnews.com. (last visited on July 4, 2021).
  7. “France’s decision to pull troops out of the Sahel invites a less military approach”, The Conversation, June 29 2021, available at: theconversation.com/ (last visited on July 4, 2021).
  8. “What does end of France’s Barkhame mission mean for Burkina Faso?”, Al Jazeera, available at: .aljazeera.com. (last visited on July 4, 2021).
  9. “What does end of France’s Barkhame mission mean for Burkina Faso?”, Al Jazeera, available at: aljazeera.com. (last visited on July 4, 2021).
  10. “What does end of France’s Barkhame mission mean for Burkina Faso?”, Al Jazeera, available at: .aljazeera.com. (last visited on July 4, 2021).
  11. “Burkina Faso protestors demand gov’t response to rising bloodshed”, Al Jazeera, available at: aljazeera.com. (last visited on July 7, 2021).
  12. “Burkina Faso protestors demand gov’t response to rising bloodshed”, Al Jazeera, available at: aljazeera.com. (last visited on July 7, 2021).
  13. “Burkina Faso protestors demand gov’t response to rising bloodshed”, Al Jazeera, available at: aljazeera.com (last visited on July 7, 2021).
  14. “Burkina Faso protestors demand gov’t response to rising bloodshed”, Al Jazeera, available at: aljazeera.com. (last visited on July 7, 2021).

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