News / Africa

    Al-Qaida Attack Dents Burkina Faso's Hopes of Recovery

    Pizzas are seen on the terrace of Cappuccino restaurant after an attack on the restaurant and the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Jan. 18, 2016.
    Pizzas are seen on the terrace of Cappuccino restaurant after an attack on the restaurant and the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Jan. 18, 2016.
    Reuters

    When Burkina Faso swore in its first new president in decades last month, many people hoped the democratic transition would pave the way to an era of progress. Now a deadly raid by al-Qaida militants has shaken that optimism.

    Thirty people were killed when gunmen struck a restaurant and hotel in the capital Ouagadougou on Friday, exposing a days-old government to a critical security challenge that risks derailing its pledge to transform the economy of one of the poorest nations on earth.

    Mass protests in October 2014 drove out former President Blaise Compaore, who had ruled for nearly three decades after taking power in a 1987 coup. Following a year of transition, Roch Marc Christian Kabore won an election to become leader.

    Kabore promised to improve access to water, health care and education, and signaled a break from the past last week by naming a cabinet packed with ministers with no ties to Compaore.

    ‘Timing not random’

    But those ministers had not even been sworn in when the al-Qaida fighters killed citizens of several countries including six Canadians at the Cappuccino cafe and Splendid Hotel, two Ouagadougou establishments popular with foreigners.

    Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Christian Kabore (C) inspects damage caused by the attack on the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Jan. 18, 2016.
    Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Christian Kabore (C) inspects damage caused by the attack on the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Jan. 18, 2016.

    "The timing is not random," said Cynthia Ohayon, an analyst with the International Crisis Group. "We are at a moment of political fragility because the country is coming out of a transition after 27 years and the new government is just starting to get to work."

    Compaore's departure has left Burkina's security apparatus in disarray.

    Having taken power in a coup himself, Compaore sought to prevent his own overthrow by pouring resources into the elite presidential guard.

    However the unit, the best equipped and trained in the army, was disbanded last year after it mounted an unsuccessful coup against the transitional government in September.

    Compaore's fall also disrupted discreet links his security officials had established with militant and rebel groups in the region that could perhaps have served to warn the authorities of the attack or even prevent it, according to Ohayon.

    While neighboring Mali has been subject to a growing campaign of militant assaults in the past year —including one on a hotel in the capital in November — until last week Burkina Faso had been spared a major attack.

    High stakes

    Kabore and his ministers have taken to the airwaves to reassure the public, investors and potential tourists that the government can face down the threat facing Burkina Faso, one of a belt of French-speaking countries in the Sahel, south of the Sahara.

    A French police officer photographs burned vehicles outside the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Jan. 17, 2016.
    A French police officer photographs burned vehicles outside the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Jan. 17, 2016.

    "All security measures have been taken to make Burkina Faso peaceful," Foreign Minister Alpha Barry told ambassadors Tuesday at a specially-convened meeting.

    Security Minister Simon Compaore was even more direct: "We want to reassure everyone who lives on Burkinabe soil that foreigners can continue to come to our country, to invest in our country and live here."

    In the days to come, France is set to play an important security role both in terms of investigating the attack and using its intelligence network to track potential threats.

    Burkina's former colonial master has around 200 special forces based in Ouagadougou as part of a regional operation against Islamist insurgents. Some of them participated in the counter-attack that killed three of Friday's attackers.

    "Everything depends on the effort by the government after this attack to reassure our international partners and the friends of the country to continue to come here," said Idrissa Nassa, chief executive of Coris Bank, a leading lender in Burkina Faso.

    "If the government can limit it to just one attack, then I think the climate of fear will dissipate quite quickly and things will go back to normal," he added.

    The stakes are high. Kabore campaigned on promises to revive the economic and social fortunes of a landlocked country that produces gold and cotton but remains impoverished.

    Political uncertainty has slowed an economy already hurt by a fall in global gold prices, but one senior security official said the attack would put security at the top of the public agenda.

    Revolutionary spirit

    Former President Thomas Sankara, who was murdered in the 1987 coup that brought Compaore to power, remains a hero in the country that he named Burkina Faso — meaning "The land of the upstanding people" — and his image is plastered on walls around Ouagadougou.

    Sankara himself took power in a coup in 1983 and pursued a philosophy of Marxism and pan-Africanism that led him to be called "Africa's Che Guevara." Many African intellectuals view him as a visionary.

    Adama Ouedraogo, who teaches philosophy at a high school in the capital, said Sankara's revolutionary spirit was shown in the 2014 uprising and would now help the country overcome the militant threat.

    "The Burkinabe people are proud to be able to give their contribution to the government," he said. "I think the Burkinabe people are prepared to contribute to develop their country."

    You May Like

    Chechen Suspected in Istanbul Attack, but Questions Remain

    Turkish sources say North Caucasus militants involved in bombing at Ataturk airport, but name of at least one alleged attacker raises doubts

    With Johnson Out, Can a New ‘Margaret Thatcher’ Save Britain?

    Contest to replace David Cameron as Britain’s prime minister started in earnest Thursday with top candidates outlining strategy to deal with Brexit fallout

    US Finds Progress Slow Against Human Trafficking in Africa

    Africa continues to be a major source and destination for human trafficking of all kinds -- from forced labor to sexual slavery, says State Department report

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Eitheri
    X
    Jim Malone
    June 29, 2016 6:16 PM
    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora