Thousands took to the streets of Burkina Faso’s capital on Saturday to call for a tougher government response to a wave of jihadist attacks that has destabilised the West African country in recent years.
Some had travelled hundreds of kilometres to attend the opposition-led demonstration in Ouagadougou, where protesters waved the red and green Burkinabe flag and blew whistles.
“We had to show our dissatisfaction, show the distress of citizens who are crying out for security and peace,” said opposition supporter Alpha Yago on the sidelines of the protest.
Groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State originally based in neighbouring Mali have embedded themselves across the north and east of the country, launching regular attacks on civilians, including one in June that killed more than 130 people, the worst in years.
One protester held a placard with a photo of flag-draped coffins and the slogan: “Mr President, have the courage to decide. We are fed up!”
Pressure has increased on President Roch Kabore to take control and end a humanitarian crisis in which more than a million people have been displaced by the violence.
Last Wednesday Kabore took the role of defence minister in a cabinet reshuffle aimed at appeasing opposition leaders, who have demanded the resignation of the government.
One group of protesters had travelled nearly 400 kilometres (250 miles) from the eastern town of Madjoari, which has seen thousands of residents flee the jihadist threat.
“We cannot understand how a population suffers day after day and for over a month with no reaction from the government. It is deplorable,” said Madjoari’s deputy mayor Djergou Kouare, as fellow residents waved cardboard placards saying “SOS Madjoari”.
Despite the presence of thousands of U.N. peacekeepers, attacks by jihadists in West Africa’s Sahel region have risen sharply since the start of the year, particularly in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, with civilians bearing the brunt.