Rise of cross-border insecurity in Burkina Faso

The rise of cross-border insecurity. Burkina Faso National Report
[ version française ]

Research managers
National Report
Raguidissida Emile ZIDA, lecturer at the Languages, Arts and Communication Training and Research Unit of the University of Ouagadougou; coordinator of ARPIC [Programme d’appui au renforcement des politiques et industries culturelles du Burkina Faso, ARPIC], a program supporting the reinforcement of cultural policies and industries in Burkina Faso; member of GRESEC [Groupe de recherche sur les enjeux de la communication], a laboratory of the University of Grenoble, France

Field survey
Jacob YARABATIOULA, sociologist and lecturer at the Languages, Arts and Communication Training and Research Unit of the University of Ouagadougou ; member of GRESEC [Groupe de recherche sur les enjeux de la communication], a laboratory of the University of Grenoble, France.


Study areas
The collection of perceptions of people living on the border took place primarily in the provinces of Oudalan and Seno (at the Goudebou refugee camp). These provinces, in the extreme north of the country, are located in one of the thirteen administrative regions of Burkina Faso named “Sahel”. With Dori as its capital, Burkina Faso’s Sahel region had a population of over 1.1 million in 2012, compared with around 860,000 in 2003. These provinces are characterized by their diverse ethnicity (Tuareg, Fulani, Moors, Bela, Hausa, Mossi and Gurma all live here) and language (mainly Fula, Tamasheq, Songhai and French, with Hausa, Moorish, Mossi and Gurmanché also spoken in the region). This wide variety of cultures is further enriched by the influence of Malians, Nigerians, Algerians and Mauritanians who live in, or frequently visit, the region. In addition to these cultural aspects, security and economic issues are other reasons why these areas were chosen for the study. In general, people expressed satisfaction that such a study would take into account their perceptions.

State and citizenship, religion and identity
Previously known for its stability and as a mediator and actor in sub-regional security, Burkina Faso now finds itself caught up in instability. Political transition has revealed the latent divisions of the Compaoré era. The country must now face the history behind these social crises and tensions. Their origins are structural: Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world and it has an active and engaged civil society including young people. The challenge now is to act on the ‘push factors’ that make the country vulnerable to insecurity. The secular state’s commitment to managing the peaceful coexistence of religions has so far been successful and it should continue these efforts.
Inter-communal and cross-border relations
Unequal access to basic social services makes the Sahel region a place that is still isolated and in search of a development model. The media could be a relevant tool for increasing that access. The border offers opportunities for trade and transhumance, but this can result in two types of trafficking: ordinary trafficking, which is vital for people, and hidden trafficking, with adverse effects on security. Beyond the pride in being Burkinabé, the idea of the border is relativized by the ties between people on both sides, outside formal citizenship and according to opportunity. The security situation in the border region is precarious. In addition to illegal trafficking and the crisis in Mali, resulting in the controversial presence of refugees, there is a perception that other factors cause insecurity: poor management of natural resources (including panning for gold), tensions around pastoral activity, delinquency, diet and health.

Radicalization: clues and process
Respondents believe that violent extremism is a phenomenon coming from outside the country and is essentially motivated by material needs, not by religious beliefs. No case of extreme violence was identified. Yet, if the survey area were to become an area of action for jihadist groups, they would find structural conditions which facilitate the recruitment of sympathizers. Education and economic development are the basis for prevention against radicalization and violent extremism. They must be complemented by awareness raising programmes for young people, in partnership with the media, schools and civil society organisations. The state should take advantage of the people’s strong sense of trust in the army to ensure their safety by developing frameworks for dialogue with them.

The role of women and young people
Vulnerable and ignored, teachers and counsellors, women see their role in the prevention of, and the fight against, insecurity as underused. The establishment of specific talks including women could lead to progress. The issue of the place and role of young people in preventing insecurity and violent extremism is crucial in Burkina Faso. The focus must be on inter-generational dialogue to address the demands, and the need, for recognition of young people. Religious and community leaders can be an asset in this way. The state must renew trust with young people through a convincing development plan for Oudalan and the greater Sahel region. The effects of unemployment and poverty are exacerbated by the feeling of marginalization. They form the basis for youth recruitment by criminal groups and, potentially, jihadists.

Avenues for reflection
Based on the perceptions collected during the study and observation in the field, as well as the analyses of, and discussions with, various relevant stakeholders, the following avenues for further reflection emerge:

  • Facilitate the development, and opening up, of the Sahel Region of Burkina Faso, in collaboration with neighbouring countries;
  • Initiate dialogue to facilitate the prevention/management of insecurity and violent extremism;
  • Work with the media to increase the focus on development and the prevention of insecurity.


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