People in north and east Burkina Faso are now living under the increasingly dangerous rule of extremist Islamist groups. Illia Djadi, Open Doors’ Senior Analyst for Freedom of Religion and Belief in Sub-Saharan Africa, reports that the state is “absent and security forces have great difficulty regaining the control of the area, leaving people unprotected, having to fend for themselves.”
Reportedly, al-Qaeda-affiliated extremist group Jana’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) is competing with Islamic State-linked Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) for control over territory in West Africa. Recently, the two groups have moved south into Burkina Faso, supplanting Mali as the epicenter of Islamic extremism in West Africa. The attacks are thought to be reprisals for some citizens’ refusal or inability to cooperate with the groups.
The loss of life is devastating. From January to May, the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) reports that 514 people have been killed in 277 attacks. This comes after a 200% increase in violent attacks during 2021.
Fearful of the dangerous rise in extremism, hundreds of thousands are fleeing their homes—the UN estimates that nearly 2 million people are currently internally displaced in Burkina Faso. In the chaos, basic services like schools have closed, adding further disruption to the lives of innocent civilians. It’s difficult for Burkinabé to find stability anywhere, facing violence to the north and east and a refugee crisis across the country.
5.1 million Christians at risk
Christians are directly impacted by the violence—accounting for 25% of Burkina Faso’s population. In addition to the horrific violence and kidnappings, Christians are not guaranteed freedom of religion.
Djadi recently shared about a Burkinabé pastor who was kidnapped from his church during a morning service. “They took him and his car and kept him for a few days, asking him questions and to renounce his faith,” he said. “But the pastor refused. In the end, they told him they would let him go on the condition that he would not mix men and women in his church or play music.”
Many churches face similar intimidation, knowing they’re at risk of attack or being shut down from week to week. Meanwhile, congregants are forced to ask themselves if they can leave their homes to seek safety elsewhere.
But as the May 25 attack demonstrates, leaving the region comes with risk. The 50 people killed were part of a larger group fleeing their homes in Madjoari. Wherever civilians turn, it appears, danger and death loom.
Burkina Faso remained at No. 32 on this year’s Open Doors World Watch List of the top 50 countries where it’s most difficult to be a Christian. Open Doors’ researchers, however, found that in 2021 the situation for Christians had deteriorated significantly.
Researchers stressed: “Jihadists expanding their areas of control, the closure of churches and Christian social service providers, as well as attacks on Christians, have created an environment of fear.”
Join us in prayer
Let’s lift up our Burkinabé brothers and sisters. Join us in praying for God’s hand of protection over them. Let’s boldly pray that wherever they walk, they will be safe from the violence around them.
Pray that God would comfort the families of those killed in these attacks. May they find God’s peace and comfort as they grieve.
Finally, pray that God would soften the hearts of militants. May there be peace in Burkina Faso, and may the church be at its forefront.