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International Development

Security Concern Forces Peace Corps Volunteers to Leave Burkina Faso

West Africa) — West Africa is enormously vulnerable to Islamic extremism as militant groups based in northern Mali and Libya are changing operational tactics to include decentralizing attacks and fronts in advancing their weak ideology.

Globe Afrique has learned from western regional security sources that West Africa might be the new front for global terrorism because of the vulnerability of the governments in the sub region.

There is eagerness among Islamic extremists to change the political structure and western-influence cultural landscape of several West African nations. The group are specifically targeting Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Senegal, Togo, Benin, and the Gambia.

Security officers on alert in Burkina Faso

After coming to power, Gambia’s new president, Adam Barrow, has reversed a decision by its former dictator Yahya Jammeh who renamed the country as the Islamic Republic of the Gambia as well as pulled its membership from the Commonwealth of Nations to join numerous Islamic organizations without regard to other religious groups in the country.

Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast are accessible to extremists

Sources say the region extremist groups’ purpose is to ensure that countries in the sub region adhere to strict Islamic laws and political philosophy, including paying allegiance to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) based in Saudi Arabia and the Arab League based in Egypt.

Numerous failed attacks have been launched against the Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso in the past months, but security forces in both countries have successfully repealed the attacks.

Despite these unsuccessful attacks by the Islamic extremists, the sub region continues to remain entirely unprepared. A senior regional security officer in West Africa says Sierra Leone and Liberia remain weakest of the 16-country bloc.

Several diplomatic missions in West African are notified of the growing presence of jihadists’ infiltration in communities throughout the region, in part, due to weak security intelligence. One European regional security officer says Sierra Leone and Liberia have had the most infiltration, and it is just a matter of time for hell to break loose.

Numerous foreign missions in the sub region are considering reduction of staff and development presence.

Today, the United States embassy in Burkina Faso says it has evacuated all Peace Corps volunteers from the West African country due to security concerns.

An embassy communique says 124 peace corps volunteers have traveled back to the U.S. over the past few days.
In a communique, the embassy says the Peace Corps program has been closely monitoring the safety and security environment in Burkina Faso and looks forward to a time when volunteers can return.

Swearing in of 30 new Peace Corps in Ouagadougou. These volunteers are now leaving

Although the embassy’s statement provides no specifics regarding its a concern, but security experts and analysts say Islamic extremists have been launching increased attacks and are hatching more dangerous attacks on many countries in the sub region.

Last month, a serious attack on a Turkish restaurant in Ouagadougou killed 19 people. Few days later, three soldiers were killed in the restive north of the country where a local radicalized movement, Ansarul Islam, is targeting security forces and civilians.

Islamic extremists find it easier to penetrate Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast as well as operate more freely because of the huge Muslim populations in those countries. On the southeastern border of Liberia, some unspecific group of herders from a mixture of West African states have passed through the Ivory Coast and settled in the area without much surveillance, making Liberia, a nation recuperating from years of conflict more at risk.

While a lot of good and faithful Muslims in West Africa are opposed to the Islamic extremist group, including African nations with Muslim head of states, little is done by West African governments in developing a concerted strategy to eliminate the groups.

As westerners develop a plan to evacuate the sub region, perhaps the regional group ECOWAS will define a mission to target extremism.
More than 2,075 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Burkina Faso since the program was established in 1966. If the insecurity continues, it is unlikely that the program will continue in the country in the coming years.

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Dave Okonjie

Dave Okonjie is a public affairs analyst, researcher and senior issues correspondent.
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