Military leader Paul-Henri Damiba was sworn in as President of Burkina Faso on 16 February, pledging to tackle the Islamist insurgency that has claimed the lives of thousands of civilians and forced more than 1.4 million to flee their homes.
The lieutenant colonel led a military coup that ousted Roch Kabore, the country’s elected president of more than six years, in January. Damiba opened his first speech in office as president with a moment of silence for the militants’ victims, who include many Christians.
Since 2015, jihadi violence has spread from neighbouring Mali and Niger to affect most regions of Burkina Faso, particularly the north and north-east.
Extremist Islamist groups have carried out relentless attacks on civilians, frequently targeting Christians, Christian leaders and places of worship. A contact told Barnabas that most Christians have fled the worst affected areas, church buildings are closed or destroyed and the few remaining believers worship in secret.
The military cited President Kabore’s inability to halt the worsening security situation as a reason for the coup. In his opening address, Damiba said, “To … gain the upper hand over the enemy, it will be necessary … to rise up and convince ourselves that as a nation we have more than what it takes to win this war.”
Damiba has not said how long he plans to hold power, but has promised to work with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) towards staging democratic elections.