Islamist militants launched an attack Saturday in the Seytenga commune in northern Burkina Faso, leaving at least 79 dead according to government reports.
The attack comes after months of increasing violence in both Mali and Burkina Faso, both countries currently under military rule. ACLED, the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, now puts Burkina Faso as the epicenter of the Sahel conflict.
Though violence has drastically increased in Burkina Faso, Mali too has seen an increase in violence in 2022 – particularly in the Menaka and Gao regions, where there have already been more civilians killed by Islamist groups in 2022 than in any previous year.
Abdoul Aziz Azeibou, a security consultant working in Burkina Faso, said via messaging app from Ouagadougou that these Islamist groups work across borders, and have put not just the Sahel at risk, but coastal West African countries. Benin and Togo suffered attacks by Islamist militants in April and May.
He says, if we want to fight against people who have erased borders, we have to also work in an integrated manner. If Mali takes care of itself, and Burkina Faso also tries to move forward in its own manner, as long as there is no synergy of action, the problem will just get worse.
Dan Eizenga is a research fellow at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. He says that in some way the Seytenga attack is characteristic of the violence that has plagued that region in recent years, but that the scale of civilian deaths sticks out.
“I think not only are we looking at a situation where the security situation in both countries is likely to continue to deteriorate, and possibly deteriorate at a much more rapid pace, that we can expect that these juntas will continue to make the claim that because of that deterioration they need to remain in power.”
Mali’s military government previously cited the country’s insecurity as a reason that elections could not be held in February of this year as originally promised. The army has launched a publicized military campaign against Islamists, the claims of which often conflict with local reports of the military killing civilians rather than Islamist extremists.
Mali was sanctioned by regional bloc ECOWAS over the elections delay in January, after they announced a new plan to hold elections in 2026. ECOWAS released a statement today condemning the Seytenga attack, and will be holding a meeting on the situations in Burkina Faso and Mali on July 3.