Arms Spilling Across Ghana-Burkina Faso Border
People walk freely between Ghana and Burkina Faso where the towns of Paga and Dakola are joined. Aside from the rickety metal barriers and gate that cut across the main road, there is little indication of where one country ends and the other begins.
The border is open for business in more ways than one.
With militant violence spreading south from Burkina Faso into the coastal states of the Gulf of Guinea, border towns are becoming a security focus.
Awal Ahmed Kariama is executive director of Rural Initiatives for Self-Empowerment, a human rights nonprofit that operates along the border and works to educate young people on avoiding violent extremism.
He is one of many Ghanaians on the frontlines, witnessing the deadly impact of porous borders.
“There is a dedicated route that we know that this is where people pass,” he told Voice of America. “Beyond that there are unapproved routes that are typical of border towns. Smuggling generally is the bane of most border towns.”
Northern Ghanaian border towns such as Paga report that weapons leaking across the border from Burkina Faso could be used in militant attacks.
In the Sahel, extremist groups linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group have killed thousands and displaced millions. Benin, Cote d’Ivoire and Togo have suffered from attacks by militants crossing their northern borders.
In Ghana, the northern region has seen attacks rise from one in 2021 to 19 in 2022, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project. The government does not refer to these attacks as terrorist incidents, but has warned of the threat of extremist violence in the country.
Security analyst Adib Saani says that easy passage across borders makes a terrorist attack a question of when, not if.
“It is closer than we think,” he said in an interview with Wontumi TV. “Especially what I’m worried about is the movement of refugees into this country. Militants can also act as refugees and come into the country.”
Thousands of Burkinabe have streamed across the border into Ghana seeking refuge from the violence. Elisha Abilla Afuugu, an assembly member in the border town of Widenaba, described the impact of the displaced people.
“Although there was fear and panic among the local people when their communities were invaded by the refugees, there is relative calm among the people,” he told Ghanaian state-owned newspaper The Daily Graphic. “They continue to go about their daily social and economic activities.”
The Sahel is awash with weapons from Libya and other sources across the globe, but violent extremist groups also have aimed more attacks at military installations in the Sahel in order to procure weapons.
Trafficking in illegal weapons is thriving, especially in Burkina Faso and Mali.
Saani is counting on the Ghanaian government to make better use of people who live in and around border areas.
“If you think you can do it alone as the government, no, it won’t work,” he said. “I will expect that the government will meet the civil societies, specifically on ‘see something, say something.’”
Ghanaian Army Col. Richard Mensah said the military is doing that and more, leaning on the regional Accra Initiative to collaborate with neighboring countries.
“We cooperate a lot,” he told Voice of America. “There’s always exchange of information, exchange of intelligence along the borders, not just among the military, but among the customs, among the immigration, among the police.”
Fresh off hosting the Exercise Flintlock, an annual multinational military training event in March, Mensah lauded the program for its real-world applications.
“Scenarios that are chosen for Flintlock mimic what has happened in various countries, the modus operandi of the terrorists,” he said.