Burkina Faso Claims Disguised Jihadists, Not Military, Responsible for Civilian Killings

Map of Burkina Faso.

Map of Burkina Faso.

“A lot of people think it’s the Russians who are guiding us,” said Coulibaly. “But the Burkinabe aren’t children.”

Burkina Faso’s ruling military regime has denied claims that its soldiers were responsible for the massacre of an estimated 136 people in the northern village of Karma in late April. According to the accompanying article from the pan-African news aggregator AfricaNews.com, Burkinabe Defense Minister Colonel Kassoum Coulibaly claimed that the mass killings, which took the lives of an estimated 45 children on 20 April 2023, were instead carried out by jihadists dressed as Burkinabe soldiers. In many reports, however, villagers have asserted that the attackers were wearing patches indicating they belonged to the 3rd Battalion of Burkina Faso’s Rapid Intervention Brigade. According to Amnesty International, villagers have attested that the mass raids likely came as a result of their assumed complicity in allowing some members of jihadist groups to “pass through their village,” before jihadists launched a deadly attack killing 40 members of Burkina Faso’s Volunteers for the Defense of the Homeland (VDP) forces in the village of Aourema.[i] For several years, Burkina Faso has been overtaken by violence from armed groups associated with the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Along with neighboring Mali, it is now one of the most active sites of jihadist violence in the world.[ii] As the United Nations and human rights groups have urged an investigation of the so-called Karma massacres, leaders in Burkina Faso have also claimed that these calls are being led by an “international coalition”[iii] of unnamed enemies of Burkina Faso, which are angry about its closer ties to Russia.[iv] Many reports have suggested that the Wagner Group is operating inside Burkina Faso, although the Defense Minister denies it. As he articulated: “A lot of people think it’s the Russians who are guiding us… But the Burkinabe aren’t children.” Though not necessarily implicating Wagner Group personnel, the massacre of civilians in Karma, Burkina Faso, looks and feels like another massacre of civilians in Moura, Mali, which killed an estimated 500-plus civilians under the guise of counterterrorism operations in March 2022. In that massacre, still under investigation, the culprits were not only members of the Malian army but also foreigners, widely believed to be part of the Wagner Group, which operates in support of Mali’s fight against jihadist elements.[v] Indeed, a notable trend in West Africa is the ever-deepening alliance between Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea, all led by military rulers, with the former two having likely welcomed Wagner mercenaries to address their destabilizing jihadist insurgencies.[vi] Collectively, these events indicate that civilians continue to bear the brunt of often-unrestrained counterterrorism efforts by African militaries. Where the Wagner Group seems to be in play, such widespread human rights abuses appear to be more severe than in other spaces where they are not.


“Coulibaly dénonce ‘une coalition international’ contre le Burkina Faso (Coulibaly denounces an ;international coalition’ against Burkina Faso),” AfricaNews.com (pan-African news aggregator, 4 May 2023. https://fr.africanews.com/2023/05/04/coulibaly-denonce-une-coalition-internationale-contre-le-burkina-faso/

Burkina Faso’s defence minister on Wednesday denounced what he said was an “international coalition” lined up against his country and alleged there had been violations of the country’s air space.

And the country’s intelligence agency said an April massacre of civilians — which some rights groups have blamed on the army — was carried out by jihadist fighters dressed as soldiers.

Colonel Kassoum Coulibaly, appointed by the military junta running the country, also echoed the denials by the new regime’s leader, Captain Ibrahim Traore, that the Russian mercenary force Wagner was operating there.

“A lot of people think it’s the Russians who are guiding us,” said Coulibaly. “But the Burkinabe aren’t children.”

Russia, he insisted, was not setting the rules, and “gives us nothing”. It was the people of Burkina Faso who were contributing to the war effort against the jihadist insurgency in the country, he said.

“There is no Wagner here.”

Coulibaly was speaking in Ouagadougou at a meeting with union representatives and leaders of other civil society groups.

He suggested that the international coalition aligned against the country — the members of which he did not identify — was responding to the country’s closer ties with Russia since the coup last September that brought the military to power.

But the country only asked for what it needed, he insisted.“We don’t need anyone to send us a single foreign soldier,” he insisted. “We have our VDP,” he added, referring to the Volunteers for the Defence of the Fatherland (VDP), an auxiliary force.


[i] “Burkina Faso: Responsibility of the army indicated in Karma massacre,” Amnesty International, 3 May 2023. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2023/05/burkina-faso-la-responsabilite-des-forces-speciales-de-larmee-pointee-dans-le-massacre-de-karma/

[ii] For more on the Sahel’s rise as the deadliest global region for jihadist-linked terrorism, see: Jason Warner, “Coastal West African States Brace for Wave of Terrorism From the Sahel,” OE Watch, 10-2022. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/428040; Jason Warner, “African Leaders, UN See Terrorism in the Sahel as Dire,” OE Watch, 11-2022. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/429303; Jason Warner, “Global Terrorism Declined Slightly in 2022, With the Sahel as the New Epicenter,” OE Watch, 05-2023.

[iii] The trend of certain francophone African states decrying French, Western, or international forces targeting them or supporting violence within them has been on the rise. For examples, see: Jason Warner, “CAR Joins Mali in Accusing France of Funding Terrorists,” OE Watch, 04-2023.; Jason Warner, “Mali Claims France Funded Terrorists; France Denies,” OE Watch, 10-2022. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/428171

 [iv] As Burkina Faso has become one of the epicenters for jihadist violence globally, it has undertaken a shift away from historical reliance on France, and toward Russia. For more, see: Jason Warner, “Burkina Faso Fights Terrorism With Recruits and Russia,” OE Watch, 02-2023. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/436264; Jason Warner, “Burkina Faso: A Bellwether on Russian and French Presence,” OE Watch, 11-2022. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/429302

 [v] “Mali: Massacre by the Army, Foreign Soldiers,” Human Rights Watch, 5 April 2022. https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/04/05/mali-massacre-army-foreign-soldiers

[vi] For more on the deepening diplomatic and security links between Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea, see: Jason Warner, “Russia-Supported Military Rulers in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea Continue To Deepen Ties,” OE Watch, 04-2023.; Jason Warner, “”West African States Ruled By Military Leaders Seek To Circumvent Sanctions,” OE Watch, 03-2023.

Image Information:

Image: Map of Burkina Faso.
Source: https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=441923&picture=burkina-faso-transportation
Attribution: CCO Public Domain

Top Ugandan General Adds to Growing List of Pro-Russian African Military Personnel

Ugandan General Muhoozi Kainerugaba (right), meets with Rwandan President Paul Kagame (left) in Kigali, Rwanda on 22 January 2021.

Ugandan General Muhoozi Kainerugaba (right), meets with Rwandan President Paul Kagame (left) in Kigali, Rwanda on 22 January 2021.

“Call me Putinist if you want, we Uganda should send soldiers to defend Moscow if ever it was threatened by imperialists.”

Over the past several years, a notable trend has seen various francophone states in the West and Central African regions begin to reject French political and military assistance, and instead, align themselves with Russia and the Wagner Group.[i] From Mali[ii] to the Central African Republic[iii] to Burkina Faso,[iv] the most ardent African supporters of Russia have generally been francophone military commanders. However, the accompanying article from pan-African news aggregator AfricaNews illustrates how pro-Russian sentiment is now increasingly showing itself in anglophone countries, namely, in the East African state of Uganda.

As reported, Ugandan Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba made waves when he announced that if needed Uganda would send troops to help Russia defend itself. “Call me ‘Putinist’ if you want, we Uganda should send soldiers to defend Moscow if ever it was threatened by imperialists,” he tweeted. The only son of Uganda’s long-time president Yoweri Museveni, Kainerugaba is widely expected to be his father’s successor, the latter having served as the country’s president for the past 37 years. Kainerugaba, who attended the U.S. Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, previously served as the commander of land forces for the Uganda People’s Defence Force (2021-2022), and twice as the commander of Uganda’s Special Forces Command (2008-2017, 2020-2021).

The recent pro-Russian sentiments from Kainerugaba are in line with his own previous exaltations. In May 2022, he tweeted that “The majority of mankind (that are non-white) support Russia’s stand in Ukraine. Putin is absolutely right!” For its part, Uganda has abstained from the two 2022 UN Security Council resolutions condemning Russia, and in mid-2022, announced that its state broadcaster had signed a memorandum of understanding to disseminate two daily news bulletins from Russia’s state-funded RT news service. Though President Museveni has historically maintained good relations with the West, he has often been criticized for his illiberal rule. While Kainerugaba’s outlooks are officially only his personal opinions, his high-profile role in the Ugandan armed forces and Ugandan society in general, in addition to the real likelihood that he may assume the presidency of the country, suggest that an anglophone African country that was once a reliable U.S. ally may now be leaning more toward a key U.S. adversary.


Uganda will send soldiers to Moscow to defend Putin if need be – President’s son,” AfricaNews (centrist pan-African news aggregator,” 31 March 2023. https://www.africanews.com/2023/03/31/uganda-will-send-soldiers-to-moscow-to-defend-putin-if-need-be-presidents-son//

The son of Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, said he would send Ugandan troops to defend Moscow in case of an “imperialist” threat.

“Call me Putinist if you want, we Uganda should send soldiers to defend Moscow if ever it was threatened by imperialists,” he wrote on Twitter.

“The West is wasting its time with useless pro-Ukrainian propaganda,” added the president’s son, a staunch supporter of Vladimir Putin…

Uganda has abstained from UN votes on the Ukrainian conflict, including one in February on the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which called on Moscow to withdraw its troops from the country…

In July, during a tour of Africa by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Kainerugaba said, referring to Russia, “How can we be against someone who has never hurt us?

Russia has traditionally had strong ties to Africa because of its support for independence movements on the continent that were then struggling with colonial powers.Observers have long considered Muhoozi Kainerugaba to be a likely successor to his father Yoweri Museveni, 78.


[i] For more on Russian attempts to garner African allies, especially following its invasion of Ukraine, see: Jason Warner, “Russia Laying Groundwork Ahead of July 2023 Russia-Africa Summit,” OE Watch, 1-2023. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/434265; Jason Warner, “”African Stances on the Russia-Ukraine War Demonstrate Reliance on, Antipathy Toward West,” OE Watch, 9-2022. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/425767

[ii] For more on the relationship between Mali, France, and Russia, see: Jason Warner, “Mali Claims France Funded Terrorists: France Denies,” OE Watch, 10-2022. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/428171; Jason Warner, “Mali Defends Reliance on Russian Counterterrorism Assistance,” OE Watch, 03-2023. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/437332

[iii] For more on the deteriorating relationship between the Central African Republic and France, see: Jason Warner, “Following Mali, CAR Accuses France of Funding Terrorists,” OE Watch, 4-2023.

[iv] For more on the relationship between Burkina Faso, France, and Russia, see: Jason Warner, “Burkina Faso Fights Terrorism with Recruits and Russia,” OE Watch, 02-2023. https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/oe-watch-articles-2-singular-format/436264

Image Information:

Image: Ugandan General Muhoozi Kainerugaba (right), meets with Rwandan President Paul Kagame (left) in Kigali, Rwanda on 22 January 2021.
Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paulkagame/51836255739
Attribution: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Wagner’s Questionable Operations in Africa

The arrival of Russian military equipment, including these BRDM-2 armored vehicles, along with members of the Wagner Group helped prevent a rebel army from taking the Central African Republic’s capital in 2021.

The arrival of Russian military equipment, including these BRDM-2 armored vehicles, along with members of the Wagner Group helped prevent a rebel army from taking the Central African Republic’s capital in 2021.

“If no one else can provide it, African countries may continue to turn to the likes of Wagner…”

In 2021, Russia’s Wagner Group, a Kremlin-linked private military force, made a significant difference in the Central African Republic (CAR) when somewhere between 1,200 and 2,000 of its mercenaries, aided by 300 Rwandan soldiers, prevented rebels from capturing CAR’s capital, Bangui.  Wagner’s success was initially lauded by much of CAR’s populace, but as the accompanying excerpted article from South African Institute for Security Studies notes, those feelings of appreciation for restoring security have morphed into anger as Wagner has been accused of human rights abuses against civilians.  As the article states, Wagner has a mixed record in several African nations, including Libya, Sudan, and Mozambique.

In addition to the Wagner Group’s human rights record, people are asking questions about how the organization is paid.  As the article notes, no one has seen a contract between Wagner and CAR, leading to allegations that lucrative mining deals are the paramilitary force’s method of payment.  Further muddying the waters is the government of Mali, which denies the presence of the Wagner Group, claiming instead that it only has Russian instructors on its soil.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Wagner Group does not care that it is supporting undemocratic regimes.  This is particularly obvious in Mali, where Wagner did not arrive until after Colonel Assimi Goïta’s coup.  Still, as the article points out, despite the anguish of Western countries over Wagner’s involvement in Africa and the backlash of some African nations over the deplorable human rights abuses committed by the organization, there is grudging acceptance that in some beleaguered nations, Wagner has helped stabilize the situation by driving off terrorists.


Peter Fabricius, “Wagner’s Dubious Operatics in CAR and beyond, Institute for Security Studies (South African think tank), 21 Jan 2022. https://issafrica.org/iss-today/wagners-dubious-operatics-in-car-and-beyond

Russia has established a strong military presence in the Central African Republic (CAR) over the past four years, clandestinely using dubious actors like the military company Wagner, which is allegedly close to President Vladimir Putin. Wagner has become the deniable vanguard of a major Russian push into Africa, many analysts believe.

France has threatened to completely withdraw military support to Mali. Sweden has already announced its exit from the European force Takuba because of Wagner’s arrival. Such decisions are difficult because they may further weaken the fight against the common enemy – violent extremism.

But Wagner’s growing presence on the continent also poses some difficult questions to the international community, including the West. The problem is not only about democracy but also stability and security. If no one else can provide it, African countries may continue to turn to the likes of Wagner – though it’s too soon to judge its overall effectiveness either.

He says complicating any analysis or comparison is that Russia’s involvement in the CAR and elsewhere in Africa is probably more covert, so it’s hard to know just where it is and what it’s doing. (There are rumours that Russia has its eyes on Burkina Faso, for example.)

Image Information:

Image: The arrival of Russian military equipment, including these BRDM-2 armored vehicles, along with members of the Wagner Group helped prevent a rebel army from taking the Central African Republic’s capital in 2021.
Source: UN Security Council/Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RussiansinBangui.png
Attribution: Public Domain