Ivory Coast is beefing up military deployment on its northern border and seeking stronger security ties with its neighbours to combat increasing jihadist violence in the region.
Ivory Coast lies to the south of Mali and Burkina Faso, both of which are struggling with years-long insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes.
Over the past two years, jihadists have carried out several bloody cross-border attacks in Ivory Coast, including a raid in Kafolo in the northeast in June 2020 that killed 14 troops.
In Tengrela, a town farther west near the border with Mali, the army have set up a special forces base, and convoys of trucks are a daily sight.
The jihadist threat in the Sahel region to the north of Ivory Coast first emerged in northern Mali in 2012.
Several years later, it spread to the country’s powder-keg centre and then to Niger and Burkina Faso.
The government‘s policy of more boots on the ground goes in parallel with a push to strengthen security cooperation with Mali and Burkina, and beyond.
Ivorian troops have already taken part in exercises with Burkinabe or Malian counterparts, and last Friday army chiefs from the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed to step up joint operations.
France and the United States have also pitched in.
A French-backed centre to train soldiers, police and the judiciary in the fight against “terrorism” was inaugurated in June in Jacqueville near the Ivorian economic hub Abidjan.
The United States has stumped up $19.5 million for a five-year programme to help combat the allure of extremism for young people in border regions.
But, say experts, whether jihadism takes root among youngsters in northern Ivory Coast can depend greatly on the economy.
In poor remote areas where jobs are few, jihadists become potential employers, offering large sums of money to new recruits, the Centre of Research and Action for Peace (CERAP) think tank says.
The government insists that it is carrying out programmes in the vulnerable north to spur job creation.
But analysts differ, saying the authorities’ approach to the jihadist threat is overwhelmingly military.