Hundreds of schools shut in Burkina Faso over militant attacks
Hundreds of schools shut in Burkina Faso over militant 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-militant 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 militant 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.
Militants had visited mosques in nearby villages and warned that the staff had to leave, a teacher said on condition of anonymity.
“The teachers from neighboring villages got together and we decided to leave,” he said, explaining that they moved to other cities for safety.
The growing boldness of militant fighters in the former French colony reflects the government’s apparent inability to protect its citizens across vast stretches of the country.
Teachers and unions warn that thousands of children face years without access to schools unless the government steps up the fight against the growing terror.
“The situation is worrying. More than a dozen secondary schools have closed... hundreds of primary schools. There are many places where there are no schools,” said Yssa Kintiga from F-Synter union.
“The state must give itself the means to ensure security so that all children have access to education,” Kintiga added.
In one of the world’s poorest countries that is proving hard to do.
France has a 4,500-member military mission in the Sahel and is backing Burkina Faso and other members of the G5 Sahel group to improve security but it has had funding issues.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited Ouagadougou last month and announced a 30 million euro ($34 million) “Three Borders” aid package for Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger to help spur development.
The money is seen as essential for easing the conditions which have allowed the militant insurgencies to thrive.
But optimism is hard to find with a French diplomatic source warning of a “very long” anti-terrorist fight.
“People are no longer going to school, the administration has fled,” said Ly Boukary, teacher and member of NGO Balai Citoyen, but added that the situation could improve.
New Chicago mayor gives Arabs hope
- The election of Lori Lightfoot as mayor gives Chicago’s Arabs an opportunity to reverse the damage that Rahm Emanuel has caused
- Emanuel’s first acts as mayor included blocking the annual Arabesque Festival, which Jewish groups complained against
Plagued by ongoing controversies and criticism that he tried to hide a video of Chicago police killing a black teenager in October 2014, Rahm Emanuel decided he had had enough as the city’s mayor and decided to retire.
Elected in 2011 with a big boost from his former boss, US President Barack Obama — also a Chicago native — Emanuel served two full terms.
But his hopes of reversing the city’s tumbling finances, improving its poorly performing schools, and reversing record gun-related violence and killings, all failed.
However, Emanuel did have one success. He managed to gut the involvement of Chicago’s Arab-American minority in city-sponsored events, responding favorably to its influential Jewish-American community leadership, which complained about Palestinian activists who advocated for statehood and challenged Israeli oppression.
Emanuel’s first acts as mayor included blocking the annual Arabesque Festival, which Jewish groups complained included photographs of Palestinians protesting against Israel. The festival had only been launched four years earlier by his predecessor in 2007.
Emanuel also disbanded the Advisory Commission on Arab Affairs, and ended Arab American Heritage Month, which had been held every November since it was recognized by Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor.
Emanuel refused to discuss his reasons for these decisions with leaders of Chicago’s Arab community.
He declined repeated requests by me to interview him, despite my having interviewed seven Chicago mayors. He declined similar requests from other Arab journalists.
While he hosted iftars for Muslims, he never hosted an Arab heritage celebration during his eight years in office.
His father was a leader of the Irgun, which was denounced as a terrorist organization in the 1940s by the British military.
The Irgun murdered British soldiers and thousands of Palestinian civilians, and orchestrated the bloody Deir Yassin massacre on April 9, 1948.
Before becoming mayor, Emanuel volunteered at an Israeli military base repairing damaged vehicles. His pro-Israel stance was never challenged by the mainstream US news media.
But with the election in February of Lori Lightfoot as mayor, Chicago’s Arabs have an opportunity to reverse the damage that Emanuel caused.
Lightfoot was sworn into office on Monday and serves for four years. She has already reached out to Arabs, appointing at least two Palestinians to her 400-person transition team, whose members often remain and assume government positions with new administrations.
The two Palestinians in her transition team are Rush Darwish and Rami Nashashibi. Darwish has organized several successful marathons in Chicago and Bethlehem to raise funds for the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. Nashashibi is involved with the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN).
As an African American, Lightfoot knows what it is like to be the victim of racism, stereotypes and discrimination. That makes her more sensitive to the concerns of Chicago’s Arabs.
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