A leading clergyman from Burkina Faso has lifted the lid on terrorist activities in the country, including deadly attacks on Christians, rigid dress codes and orders requiring everyone attend prayers at mosques.
Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Father Honoré Quedraogo, rector of the seminary in the diocese of Tenkodogo, in the centre of the African country, explained that people were living in a state of constant fear.
He said: “People wake up in the morning and don’t know if they will become the latest victims of an attack, and nobody feels safe any more.”
He added: “The attackers force the Burkinabé [people from Burkina Faso] to follow Shari‘a [Islamic law]. Men are forced to wear trousers of adequate length, and forbidden from shaving their beards, and women have to be veiled.
“Western-style education is banned, and children are made to attend Quranic schools, called Madrassas. Churches must not ring their bells, and everyone is required to participate in prayers at the mosques.”
Last January, Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba became Head of State, promising a crackdown on corruption and terrorism, but Father Quedraogo felt this had enflamed tensions.
The priest said: “By loudly proclaiming that he wanted to fight the terrorists, it seems like Damiba was actually issuing a challenge to them.
“The result is that we have had more attacks than ever. Is this a coincidence or consequence? For now, nobody can be sure.”
He added: “At least 60 percent of the population is unemployed. They have nothing to do all day, and no money, so if they are offered 100 euros to go and kill somebody, they accept.”
Many priests and catechists are so afraid they have fled the Tenkodogo area, which is overwhelmingly Muslim, meaning some parishes have suspended activities, although Christian radio stations broadcast Mass and prayers.
Father Quedraogo said: “Some of my parishioners spend their nights praying for peace. This painful situation has strengthened the faith of Christians in the entire country. Some have even gone so far as to be martyred, preferring to die than renounce their faith.”
The priest said the country’s best hope is an increase in religious faith.
He said: “Faith and prayer are what will save us, not guns. What we are experiencing is beyond us, these attacks are diabolical in nature, and therefore only God can help us.”
With thanks to Amélie Berthelin de la Hougue.