YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – As Burkina Faso gears up for presidential and legislative elections later this year, the Catholic Church is warning the country that a fraudulent election will make the hurt the country’s precarious security situation.
The election is scheduled for Nov. 22, and the country’s bishops said it will be critical to the peace and stability of the country.
“Given that the right to vote and to be voted is a right guaranteed to all Burkinabè citizens, the question then arises is how to meet this important challenge through effective securing of the electoral process and taking account of internally displaced persons in their particular situation, ” the bishops said after their June 9-13 plenary assembly.
“Despite the thorny questions that demand appropriate and reassuring answers, keeping to the electoral calendar is a big challenge: Avoiding adding an institutional crisis to this already worrying security crisis,” they warned.
Burkina Faso is in Africa’s volatile Sahel region, which separates North Africa from Sub-Saharan Africa. The area has been plagued by instability made worse by several concurrent Islamist insurgencies.
Burkina Faso has one of the largest Christian populations in the Sahel, where they make up nearly a quarter of the population.
The bishops underscored the need for organizing the elections “throughout the national territory and ensure the full participation of all populations wherever they are in order to guarantee the President-elect full legitimacy and give all the provinces be represented in the National Assembly.”
Violence linked to Islamic extremists, and the local defense groups and military fighting them, is surging across Burkina Faso. Some 2,000 people died last year, and large swaths of land are increasingly being cut off due to insecurity.
On May 30, unidentified gunmen opened fire at a cattle market in eastern Burkina Faso, killing at least 25 people. In the country’s north, in a separate attack, a humanitarian convoy came under fire in Sanmatenga province, claiming the lives of five civilians and five security forces, according to a government statement. An untold number of people went missing.
The conflict has spread from Burkina Faso’s north to its western breadbasket in the Boucle du Mouhoun region, pushing thousands to hunger and threatening to cut off food for millions more in the country on the edge of the Sahara Desert. The fertile land produces large amounts of rice and maize, according to the government.
Humanitarian groups are concerned that the coronavirus pandemic could exacerbate an already dire situation in Burkina Faso, one of the most impoverished countries in the world.
Food insecurity already affects 2 million people in Burkina Faso, according to the latest report from its government and aid groups. Coronavirus is also spreading, with 899 reported cases and 53 deaths as of Saturday.
While the government has lifted restrictions on movement between cities, its borders with Mali, Niger and Ivory Coast remain closed, making the importation of food more expensive.
There also are fears that the attacks are becoming more sophisticated because of training by foreign jihadists.
“Clearly, it is the political and institutional stability of our country that is at stake as is its territorial integrity,” the bishops said.
“It is a challenge to be met at all costs, it is a challenge for the whole nation and we must pool our energies. It’s possible! Witness the solidarity aroused at all levels by the COVID-19 pandemic!”
The bishops called on the military to “produce and guarantee a security environment favorable to the conduct of the electoral process with the full participation of all citizens.”
Burkina Fasso has been beset by violence since 2015 when jihadists started attacks on the
In nearly five years of jihadhist attacks, more than 850,000 people have been forced from their homes, according to the United Nations.
The bishops said they are not only concerned about the worsening security situation in Burkina Faso, but also in the larger Sahel region.
“It is a great pain to no longer be able to reach the faithful in places or to see them flee terrorist abuses without guarantees of security,” they said.
This story incorporated material from the Associated Press.