He is now nicknamed “the No. 1 sniper” of Burkina Faso. This Saturday, November 20, Aliou S., 13, was carried as a hero by a jubilant crowd gathered in Kaya, the main city of the north-central region. Using his traditional slingshot, Aliou shot down a French drone which was monitoring the many demonstrators gathered since the day before to prevent the passage of a convoy of the French army. Having left Côte d’Ivoire in the direction of Niger, it had already been blocked for several hours in Bobo Dioulasso and Ouagadougou the previous days.
This November 20, when the French had withdrawn onto a fenced-in wasteland while waiting for the road to be cleared for them, the situation escalated. “Demonstrators wanted to force the fences and started throwing stones. French soldiers opened fire [des tirs de sommation]. They left four injured “, argues Issa Ouedraogo, a student from Kaya. If the toll has been confirmed by several local sources, the origin of the bullets remains undetermined, the Burkinabe security forces were also present at the time of the facts. In Paris, the general staff assured that there was “No injuries due to the action of the French soldiers”.
During the night, the negotiations carried out by the local authorities allowed the convoy to be redirected towards Ouagadougou. But this Sunday evening, the sixty vehicles were again blocked in Laongo, a town located about thirty kilometers from the capital while further to the east, on the road to Fada N’Gourma leading to Niger, the populations began to organize themselves, in the event that the convoy decides to continue on its way here.
People are looking for a culprit
“We have given the slogan across the country: they will not pass. France is an accomplice of the terrorists. We cannot accept that its soldiers cross our territory with armaments which could be delivered to our enemies ”, castigates Roland Bayala. The spokesperson for the Coalition of African Patriots of Burkina Faso (Copa-BF) reproaches the French army, present in Ouagadougou through the special forces of operation “Saber” of “Do nothing to stop the attacks”, forgetting to recall that support for the anti-terrorist operation “Barkhane” in Burkina Faso had been refused by the Burkinabé government.
In any case, these sharp words reflect the growing anger of a Burkinabe people who, like their Malian neighbor, are fed up with seeing terrorists increasing the number of massacres on their territory, without the government or its Western allies succeeding in prevent it.
The last large-scale attack that targeted Inata’s gendarmerie detachment on November 14 left the Burkinabés in shock. With a still provisional toll of 49 gendarmes and 4 civilians killed, the attack is the deadliest ever perpetrated against the military forces since the start of the jihadist expansion in 2016.
Furious, the populations are looking for a culprit. Demonstrations erupted in several cities to demand the departure of President Roch Kaboré, in power since the end of 2015 and re-elected at the end of 2020. Messages against the French military presence have also crept into some gatherings, recalling the situation in Mali, where the action of Paris in the Sahel is castigated at almost every mobilization.
Shadow of russia
Interrogated by the LCI channel this November 21, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian underlined having “Let President Roch Kaboré know that we want him to help resolve this situation in Kaya”, fearing future tensions “For internal and external reasons, since there are opinion leaders who are now also engaged in information warfare”.
In the sights of Paris: Russia, suspected of supporting African associations in their engagement against the French military presence in the Sahel. Roland Bayala defends himself from any Russian interference in the affairs of COPA-BF but claims his proximity to the Malian association Yerewolo, at the origin of the mobilizations in support of the arrival of the Russian private security group Wagner, in Mali.
At the entrance to Ouagadougou on November 21, demonstrators awaiting the arrival of the French military convoy held a Russian flag. “If Wagner wanted to come and free our country from terrorists, we would wish them a safe arrival”, emphasizes Roland Bayala. For the association leader, “The wind is turning in the Sahel” and “The same feeling today animates the Malian and Burkinabe youth”. The accusations of France’s complicity with armed groups recently launched by the Prime Minister of the Malian transition Choguel Maïga have resonated in Ouagadougou.
How far will the protest against the French military presence extend in the Sahel? In neighboring Niger where the blocked French military convoy had planned to transit, voices are rising to protest, as during a rally in Dosso (southwest) this Sunday, against “The military occupation of France in Niger”. So many disputes which, if they were accentuated, would make more and more difficult the reorganization of the French military system in the Sahel announced by Emmanuel Macron in June and which intended to make Niger its pivotal country in the region.