“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 words of Bishop Laurent Birfuoré Dabiré of the Diocese of Dori in the northeast of Burkina Faso; he spoke with Aid to the Church in Need following the most recent attack on Christians in the country.
The latest killings took place June 27, 2019. “It happened in the neighboring Diocese of Ouahigouya, the bishop said, “when the residents of the village of Bani were gathered together. 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 villagers that if they did not convert to Islam they too would be killed.”
This was 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 dioceses of Dori, Kaya and Ouahigouya. According to Bishop Dabiré, the fundamentalists have stepped up their activities 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, 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,” the bishop said. Muslims comprise about 60 percent of the country’s population of 20 million; Christians, mostly Catholics, make up 30 percent.
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. The bishop said: “They include youths who have joined the jihadists because they have no money, no work and no prospects, but there are also radicalized elements who are involved in these movements which they see as the expression of their Islamic faith.”
“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 March 17 of this year, Father Joël Yougbaré. “To this day we still have no news of him,” the bishop added; “the degree of insecurity is growing constantly and it has even forced us to reduce our pastoral activities.” He explained that there are some areas where it is now too dangerous to go and that he has been forced to close down two parishes in order to protect his priests, religious and faithful.
What hurts even more, in the midst of so much suffering, the bishop said, is the lack of any action on the part of the international community to defend the Christian communities of Burkina Faso, while the jihadists receive support from outside the country. The bishop said: “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!”