“If the world continues to do nothing, the result will be the elimination of the Christian presence in this area and quite possibly in future from the entire country.” These were the warning words given to the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) by Bishop Laurent Birfuoré Dabiré of the diocese of Dori, in the northeast of Burkina Faso, following the umpteenth attack against Christians in the country recently.
The latest incidents took place on 27 June, but the news had only come through now. “It happened in the neighbouring diocese of Ouahigouya, the bishop explained, “when the people of the village of Bani had gathered together to speak among themselves. The islamists arrived and forced everybody to lie face down on the ground. Then they searched them. Four people were wearing crucifixes. So they killed them because they were Christians. After murdering them, the Islamists warned all the other villages that if they did not convert to Islam they too would be killed.
This is the fifth attack against Christians since the beginning of the year in the northeast of the country, bringing the number of Christians killed to 20. The attacks have affected the three dioceses of Dori, Kaya and Ouahigouya. According to Bishop Dabiré, the action of these Islamic fundamentalists has intensified since 2015. “At first they were only active in the frontier region between Mali and Niger. But slowly they have moved into the interior of the country, attacking the army, the civil structures and the people. Today their main target appears to be the Christians and I believe they are trying to trigger an interreligious conflict.”
Although initially it was thought that the extremist were all foreigners, over time it has been discovered that there are also some Burkinabé among them. “They include youths who have joined the jihadists because they have no money, no work and no prospects, but there are also radicalised elements who are involved in these movements which they see as the expression of their Islamic faith.” Meanwhile, there is growing fear within the Christian community. “It is since 2015 that we have been subjected to this spate of violence” said Bishop Dabiré, in whose own diocese a priest was abducted on 17 March this year, Father Joël Yougbaré. “To this day we still have no news of him”, the bishop adds. “The degree of insecurity is growing constantly and it has even forced us to reduce our pastoral activities.” He explained that in fact there are some areas where it is now impossible to go and that he has been forced to close down two parishes in order to protect his priests religious and faithful.
What hurts, in the midst of so much suffering, is also the lack of any action to defend the Christian communities, and above all the aid being channeled from abroad to the jihadists. “The weapons they are using were not made here in Africa. They have rifles, machine guns and so much ammunition, more than the Burkina Faso army has at its disposal. When they come to the villages they shoot for hours. Who is supplying them with these resources? If they were not getting this support from outside, they would have to stop. That’s why I’m appealing to the international authorities. Whoever has the power to do so, may they put a stop to all this violence!”