I’d like to tell you about a recent effort we supported in Burkina Faso where our US Army partners are building the capacity of their Burkinabé counterparts and improving local civil-military relations to ultimately defeat violent extremism. The first tangible step in this effort was a Spirit of America-supported Community Cleanup, where local leaders and citizens worked hand-in-hand with the military to improve their town while building relationships and the foundation for future cooperation. We first told you about this effort here.
For this event, 150 soldiers and officers from the Burkinabé 11th Regiment d’Infanterie Commando (RIC) joined 200 community members outside the Municipal Building in the town of Dori for a day of service. Together, the group worked to maintain and repair some of the city’s infrastructure in the wake of the most recent rainy season and, over the course of the day, managed to clean out 2.5km of clogged drainage ditches. This effort will ensure that the town is ready for next season’s rains but will also have a significant impact on local health and sanitation, as a clogged and over-flowing sewer system increases the prevalence of malaria and other water- and mosquito-borne diseases.
Our US Army partners first identified the need for an event like this during a security summit hosted in Dori by the US Embassy to discuss strategies to defeat extremism coming across the Malian border. During the summit, it became clear that the Burkinabé military was seen as unapproachable by the local community and that their operations were often misunderstood. Improved relations, trust, and cooperation were critical to moving security efforts forward.
There are plenty of improvement projects that the 11th RIC could have chosen for this event, but they understood they needed to humble themselves in the eyes of the community to reset their relationship. Clearing ditches was ideal for this purpose as it was valuable to Dori’s citizens and a task that people did not expect the military to perform because of its dirty and menial nature. Undertaking this unpleasant and grueling work together created an instant bond and trust between the groups where before there was a divide.
Fatimata, a female participant, summed up the impact of the event well when she stated, “We all want to continue the partnership. We are amazed and happy because this kind of initiative will be good for everyone. Women especially have a fear of approaching members of the military because of a culture and fear of the uniform. This event has been great for women in my community to understand there is nothing to fear.”
Salembene, an 11th RIC soldier, echoed this sentiment, saying “a lot of people have approached us since we started digging and thanked us. Above all, we are surprised by all the women who have approached us and joined us in this activity.”
The impact of the military’s gesture and efforts went beyond just the women of the community. After the day’s work finished, Mahamoudou, a local youth, reflected that, “youth of the Sahel are vulnerable to [extremist] recruitment, but we reject extremism. We are glad to work in harmony with each other and will always lend a stretched-out hand to those in need. If we see something suspicious we will report them. Anything the Army does the youth of the Sahel will do what we can to help.”
This event was the first step towards building a better functioning and more resilient community that is able to fully reject extremist recruitment and radicalization. Continued grassroots efforts like this one – conceived, planned, and executed locally, with advice and assistance from US Army experts and support from Spirit of America – will bring increased peace and stability to Burkina Faso and the region.
Thank you for your ongoing support and generosity.
Project Manager – Africa