Burkina Faso’s military government on Friday expelled the country’s top U.N. official without providing any specific explanation, but a senior Burkinabe diplomat says it was because she sought to “discredit the country” by preparing the evacuation of U.N. families over concerns about deteriorating security.
In a statement issued Friday, Burkina Faso’s Foreign Affairs ministry declared Barbara Manzi, the United Nations’ resident and humanitarian coordinator, “persona non grata,” ordering her to leave the country immediately.
Burkina Faso, one of the world’s poorest countries, has been wracked by violence linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group that has killed thousands and displaced nearly 2 million people — creating a growing humanitarian crisis. Lack of faith in the government’s ability to stem the violence has led to two military coups this year.
According to a senior Burkinabe diplomat contacted by VOA’s Bambara Service, government leaders believe Manzi moved to begin withdrawing family members of U.N. workers in order to make the military government look bad.
The senior diplomat confirmed that top Burkinabe officials agree with comments broadcast Friday by Foreign Minister Olivia Rouamba, who said Manzi’s “unilateral” decision to begin evacuating families of U.N. workers is “discrediting the country and discouraging potential investors and even tarnishing the image of the country.”
In Friday’s broadcast, Rouamba says she has “a note from [Manzi] which makes the case of the evacuation of the families of the diplomats of the United Nations system from Ouagadougou for security reasons.
“The decision was taken unilaterally,” said Rouamba. “Besides these facts, [Manzi] predicted the chaos in Burkina in the coming months. We don’t know on what basis she can do that. She openly told us that she is in contact with terrorist leaders in Burkina, and the evidence is overwhelming because she goes to [the North] and she comes back as she wants while even our defense and security forces cannot make this kind of trip.
“In addition to that, she prohibited representatives of the 33 agencies [of the United Nations] from working with us.”
The United Nations did not immediately comment on the decision.
Manzi, who was appointed U.N. Resident Coordinator in August last year, often traveled to hard hit parts of the country to try to raise awareness about the deteriorating humanitarian crisis, according to Sam Mednick of The Associated Press. The Italy native has extensive experience with the U.N., working as the head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Ukraine, Iraq, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Before Burkina Faso, she was the resident coordinator in Djibouti.
Manzi’s expulsion comes amid a government crackdown on the international community. Last week, two French citizens were expelled from the country over accusations of espionage, and earlier this month, the government suspended French broadcaster Radio France Internationale for having relayed an “intimidation message” attributed to a “terrorist,” according to a statement from the junta.
Violence in the West African nation, which has rumbled on for about seven years, has been focused in the north and east, crippling local economies, causing mass hunger, and restricting access for aid organizations.
The U.N. provides some essential services, including supplying food for thousands of malnourished children. Some aid organizations say the decision to expel Manzi is a worrying sign and will make it harder for humanitarian groups to operate.
This is story originated in VOA’s Bambara Service. Some information is from Reuters and The Associated Press.