OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso—Not long before the New Year, I paid a visit to an Islamic teacher, known as a marabout, who lives in an unfinished house here on the outskirts of Burkina Faso’s capital. I had first spoken with him earlier in 2020, after he was displaced from his home near the northern city of Djibo, in Soum province, near the border with Mali—a part of the country that has become a major frontline in the campaign against violent jihadist organizations.
The marabout belongs to the Fulani ethnic group, often the target of persecution despite being one of the largest constituencies in Burkina Faso. He narrowed his eyes as he outlined the difficulties he and his neighbors faced after fleeing their village. Other displaced members of the marabout’s community told me that in March, Burkinabe soldiers rounded up 23 Fulani men of varying ages from the area and took them into the bush, where they shot them dead. The remaining villagers fled and warned the marabout, who was in neighboring Cote D’Ivoire at the time, not to return. It was evidently not an isolated incident—residents of another nearby village told me that 12 men were massacred in the same way there.
“When you are in your home and people chase you out of it and the government doesn’t do anything, even if you feel like you are a Burkinabe, the government doesn’t see you as a Burkinabe,” said the marabout, who asked not to be named because he feared for his safety. “If you do anything, they say you are a jihadist and they kill you.”