Burkina Faso’s new government on Wednesday declared its top priority would be to secure the nation’s territory, after the latest coup to rock the jihadist-torn Sahel state.
A UN envoy warned in New York that around 4.9 million, or a fifth of the population, need urgent aid in Burkina Faso as many “mothers were forced to feed their children with leaves and salt”.
Prime Minister Apollinaire Kyelem de Tembela outlined the nation’s priorities at the first cabinet meeting chaired by Captain Ibrahim Traore, who seized power this month.
“It’s a government on a war footing that has been formed. It’s not a gala dinners government,” Tembela said in the capital Ouagadougou.
“The main and priority objective is securing the territory,” Tembela said.
“The second will be to do what is needed to improve the quality of life for the Burkina people,” he said.
The third aim will be to “improve the system of governance”, he added.
“Every Burkinabe who calls himself a patriot can contribute,” the prime minister said.
Named premier on Friday, the 64-year-old lawyer heads a 23-member government — including three military officers and five women — to lead the country until its promised return to civilian rule.
Of the key positions in the cabinet unveiled late Tuesday, Colonel Kassoum Coulibaly was appointed minister of defence and military veterans, a key post in a country ravaged by jihadist violence.
The two other officers are Colonel Boukare Zoungrana who oversees territorial administration, decentralisation and security, and Colonel Augustin Kabore for the environment.
- ‘Leaves and salt’ diet –
Five ministers in the previous government under Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who was toppled in the latest coup, have stayed on.
Traore mounted the coup at the head of group of disgruntled junior officers on September 30, although his tussle for control with Damiba lasted several days.
He was sworn in as interim president last Friday, vowing to win back territory and support a transition leading to elections in July 2024. At 34, he is the world’s youngest leader.
Damiba, who has fled to Togo, had seized power only in January, forcing out elected president Roch Marc Christian Kabore.
The motive for both coups was anger at failures to stem a seven-year jihadist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and driven nearly two million people from their homes.
More than a third of national territory remains outside government control.
On Monday, at least 10 soldiers were killed and 50 wounded in Djibo, a northern city that has been under a jihadist blockade for three months.
The authorities have launched a drive to recruit 50,000 civilian defence volunteers to help the army fight the militants.
UN envoy Martin Griffiths painted an alarming picture of Djibo, whose population has tripled to 300,000 with people displaced by jihadist attacks.
“There were no goods in the market,” as little food could grow in the area and cattle had been driven out, the undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs said in New York following a trip to Djibo.
“Mothers were forced to feed their children with leaves and salt,” he said.
But trees were becoming bare and women were now risking “attacks, rape and death” to travel to nearby villages under cover of darkness to find leaves for their “sick and hungry children,” he said.
Dozens of other parts of Burkina Faso, he added, were experiencing a similar fate.
He spoke of “road closures due to the presence of armed groups, leaving people without food, medicine and other vital services.”
Even though the UN had been able to provide food to 1.8 million people this year, he said, “Nearly 4.9 million men, women and children in Burkina Faso ….need urgent assistance.”
That amounts to more than a fifth of the population.
And nearly 10 percent have been forced to leave their homes.