News & views | 11 April 2019 | by Wilbert van der Zeijden

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Pilot Project Starts on Early Warning / Early Action in Burkina Faso

Throughout 2019, PAX will coordinate a Pilot Project on Early Warning / Early Action (EW/EA) in Burkina Faso. The project is a cooperation between the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), the 1 German Netherlands Corps (1GNC) and the Common Effort Community, with PAX acting as the project coordinator.

Burkina Faso has been chosen as the focus country for this Pilot for a number of reasons. First, the Netherlands has recently opened a new diplomatic post in Burkina Faso, which provides a unique opportunity to contribute to the design of a country strategy that integrates mechanisms to address short term security threats that can undermine long term conflict prevention goals. Second, a number of Common Effort partners have expressed a long term strategic commitment to conflict prevention in Burkina Faso and the larger G5 Sahel region, and the Common Effort Community as a whole has chosen to focus on the Sahel region in the coming years. Finally, EW/EA is especially relevant for Burkina Faso at the time, given its current security environment.

Long considered a relatively stable haven in an otherwise unstable region, Burkina Faso has found itself in an increasingly insecure environment since 2015, which can be attributed both to regional spill over effects (most notably from Mali) and local dynamics. From 2015 onwards, various armed groups have spread from Mali into Burkina Faso’s northern Sahel-region. Groups like Al-Qaida in the Maghreb (AQIM), Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and Ansaroul Islam have established their presence in a violent manner by repeatedly targeting public buildings, such as schools, cafés and government institutions. Between 2016-17, Burkina Faso witnessed an estimated 80 attacks by Islamist groups, mostly in the northern regions and the capital city Ouagadougou, leaving more than one hundred people dead. Approximately 12,000 people have fled the Sahel-region due to the violence and are now internally displaced.

Faced with the growing presence of armed groups in the North, the Burkinabé security forces conducted two rounds of counterterrorism operations in 2017 and 2018. Instability throughout the larger Sahel region moreover prompted the establishment of the G5 Sahel, a cooperation between Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Chad.

The violence in Burkina Faso is not solely religiously motivated; part of the conflict is also the perceived distance between the country’s North and the Capital. People in northern Burkina Faso are frustrated about the discrepancy between the region’s economic potential and its actual poor infrastructure. Locally, state officials are more often regarded as foreigners, enriching themselves at the locals’ expense, than that they are perceived as responsible state agents, in charge of the provision of basic services.

The Pilot will collect a diverse group of experts on EW/EA and conflict prevention related matters from different sectors in order to develop, test and evaluate a conflict sensitive working mechanism for EW/EA in Burkina Faso. This way, the Pilot can test a new way of working that will enable the Dutch MFA and its Strategic Partners to quickly and effectively develop integrated and context specific threat analyses, to identify opportunities for early action initiatives, and to streamline early action related decision making processes. The resulting ideas for early action initiatives in Burkina Faso will be presented and discussed on location with local stakeholders. The Pilot aims to take a human security and people oriented approach to conflict prevention and, if successful, may serve as a prelude to more structural cooperation between partners on early warning and conflict prevention issues.

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