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Burkina Faso: Christians Caught between Charybdis and Scylla

For several years now, the “country of the three borders” – Burkina Faso has Mali and Niger as its immediate neighbors – has been a hotbed of Islamic terrorism in the face of which the Church is trying to stand. This sub-Saharan African land was evangelized in 1900 by the White Fathers who arrived from France, and in 2023 the Catholic Church’s 15 dioceses account for about 24% of the population of a state that remains predominantly Muslim.

On 22 June 2023, Bishop Théophile Naré spoke in Rome at a symposium organized by Aid to the Church in Need (AED) to raise Europe’s awareness of the plight of Christians in his country, and his statement is chilling: Islamist terrorism has spread over almost the entire territory it now controls at 60%. Its modus operandi is characterized by mass deportations, kidnappings, and massacres perpetrated against the civilian population.”

The Bishop of Kaya, in the center of Burkina Faso, says that the political class has done nothing regarding this murderous expansion of jihadism. The authorities have been slow to recognize the magnitude of the extremist threat and have been unable to trace the roots of evil: the poverty and resentment of a part of the population persuaded they have been abandoned by the state.” But there is also “the greed of the leaders, the corruption and the malaise of a youth deprived of reference points have fueled the frustration.” 

For Bishop Naré, one thing is certain: “The extremists want to trigger an interreligious conflict, after having tried in vain other methods to achieve their ends, first playing on the existing antagonisms between the regions of Burkina, then between the ethnic groups.”

But the threat does not come only from Islamism: the “Kamites” – or Kemmites – who are ardent defenders of Africa’s cultural traditions, constitute a growing danger for Christians. This movement, which holds Catholicism responsible for the destruction of African culture and the enslavement of the peoples of the continent, has grown more and more in cultured circles and in universities.

In fact, kemmitism brings together “a set of beliefs and practices that are inspired by the polytheistic religion of ancient Egypt,” explains the Senegalese sociologist Abdou Khadr Sanogo. “It is a form of resistance to monotheistic religions but it instrumentalizes the very sensitive fiber of identity,” he says.

This is where, according to him, the danger of this movement lies, because “even, politicians use the identity register of anticolonial sentiment so that the populations adhere to their cause.”

“It is important to make known what is happening in Burkina Faso,” concludes Bishop Naré, as the sky darkens, last January, anxious to regain its “sovereignty” in the anti-jihadist struggle, the Burkinabe junta asked the French force “Sabre,” composed of 400 special forces personnel, to leave the country after a fourteen years presence.

It has since been replaced by Wagner Group mercenaries, who intend to participate actively in the collective efforts for the stabilization of the situation in Burkina Faso,” as Mikhaïl Bogdanov, Russian Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, recently declared. On the Burkinabe geopolitical chessboard, the Christians are no longer really a centerpiece.

Thousands of deaths and millions of people displaced by jihadi violence: Bishop Théophile Naré of Kaya (Burkina Faso), has sounded the alarm concerning this dire situation. He states that Christians face a double threat in his country: that of Islamists who want to trigger a “religious conflict” and that of “Kamites” who consider Christianity responsible for colonization in Africa.

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