Monday, March 25

Hundreds of schools shut in Burkina Faso over jihadi attacks

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File photos shows pupils of Nongana Fulfulde primary bilingual school read in peul in a village of Nongana of Ziniare in plateau central region, north of Ouagadougou, where lessons are held in French and peul. — AFP photo

OUAHIGOUYA, Burkina Faso: 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.

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. — AFP