Hundreds of schools shut in Burkina Faso over jihadi attacks

In some parts of the North and East of Burkina Faso schools and school teachers are targets for Jihadists, AFP reports on November 16, 2018. File photo

In Burkina Faso, a country struggling to contain jihadist violence, education is one of the victims of the insurgency, with hundreds of schools closed, teachers in hiding and pupils kept indoors over the fear of attacks.

In the conflict-ridden north, more than three years of assaults and threats by radical Islamists have led to the closure of more than 300 schools, according to estimates, with the east of the West African nation now also seeing school closures.

“They (the jihadists) are slowly killing education,” said Kassoum Ouedraogo, who used to teach in a primary school in the small town of Nenebouro, near the border with Mali.

One of his colleagues was murdered in 2016 and last year teachers felt the security threat was so dangerous that they shut the school.

Ouedraogo moved to the northern regional capital Ouahigouya where, he says, he “lives with fear in his stomach”.

“They do not want ‘French’ schools… they want schools in Arabic,” he said, describing how teachers have been threatened by Islamists angry about “Western-style” education.

“(I used to) stay with villagers so that they could not find me so easily,” Ouedraogo said, who considered the accommodation provided by the school unsafe.

Violent extremism

Burkina Faso is part of the vast Sahel region, which has turned into a hotbed of violent extremism and lawlessness since chaos engulfed Libya in 2011, the Islamist takeover of northern Mali in 2012 and the rise of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.

Despite international efforts to create a transnational anti-jihadist military operation, named the G5 Sahel force, the situation is getting worse.

A recent report submitted to the UN Security Council warned that security had “deteriorated rapidly over the last six months” in the area between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, with attacks spreading to eastern Burkina Faso.

According to an official report in September, 229 people have been killed in Islamist attacks in Burkina Faso since 2015 — including three major assaults on the capital Ouagadougou.

Another teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, said jihadists attacks and destroyed his school.

“One day, armed men arrived in the village. Some students ran to warn me and we went into the bush to hide. The men shot at the doors of the school, then they burned everything inside,” the teacher told AFP, declining even to name the region of the attack.

In the eastern town of Matiakoali, a dozen schools were forced to close at the end of October due to threats of violence, teachers and local security forces said.

Jihadists had visited mosques in nearby villages and warned that the staff had to leave, a teacher said on condition of anonymity.

“The teachers from neighbouring villages got together and we decided to leave,” he said, explaining that they moved to other cities for safety.

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