Nearly a million children were unable to return to school in Burkina Faso this week due to insecurity caused by the country’s ongoing jihadist insurgency. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) expressed its concern and strengthened its radio system for distance learning.
Some 3.8 million primary and secondary school children started the new school year on Monday, but Unicef says around a million children still cannot go to school due to violence and insecurity.
“Some 6,000 are still closed schools, which represents around 25 percent of the country’s schools,” Emilie Roye, Unicef’s head of education in Burkina Faso, told RFI.
“Insecurity prevents the opening of some schools because civil servants, such as teachers, cannot reach their posts. In other cases, insecurity has forced the displacement of a large part of the population, some villages being completely emptied.”
Some parents, especially in rural areas, do not allow their children to walk to school for fear of potential attacks.
Three regions are affected: Mouhoun, the Sahel and the East, where more than 1,000 schools have closed their doors.
Insurrection in progress
Burkina Faso has been battling a jihadist insurgency since 2015. More than 10,000 people have been killed – civilians and soldiers – according to NGOs, while around two million people have been displaced.
In October 2022, Captain Ibrahim Traoré overthrew Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba and took power in what was the second putsch in the space of just eight months.
The junta accuses the government of being incapable of confronting the rise of jihadist groups in the country.
However, the situation did not improve under the new rulers, who severed ties with the former colonial ruler France and turned to support from Russia.
To help thousands of out-of-school children continue learning, Unicef, in collaboration with Burkina Faso’s Ministry of Education, is trying to scale up an existing distance learning program.
More than 2,600 solar radios were distributed for the start of the school year.
“Radio education allows children to continue their educational routine, to acquire the necessary basics in reading, writing, arithmetic, with the hope that they will be able, as quickly as possible, to return to some form of education,” explains Roye.
“The regime is incapable of doing what it criticized its predecessors for: not ensuring security,” Francis Kpatindé, West Africa specialist at Sciences Po, told RFI.
“The situation is going from bad to worse, with almost half of Burkina Faso’s territory beyond government control.”
This situation, adds Kpatindé, also weakens Burkina Faso’s neighboring countries and opens access corridors to the sea for jihadists.
There has been no political life in Burkina Faso since Captain Traoré came to power and his junta suspended political activities and repressed freedom of expression.
Referring to a new coup attempt on September 28, Kpatindé asserts that Traoré is even more weakened.
“There is unease within the army. Obviously, certain senior officers do not agree with the line followed today and are trying to make it heard,” he said.
“We cannot exclude that there were putsch attempts.”