Burkina Faso is a landlocked West African country, along the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. In late 2014, Burkina Faso was wracked by protests in reaction to an attempt by the then president to extend his 27-year rule. After a tumultuous year of protests, small-scale violence, and a short-lived military coup, the political situation stabilized in September 2015. However, that year of instability, 27-years of single party rule, and conflicts within the military itself led to a deterioration of the security situation in the country. Violent extremist groups like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Mourabitoun have taken advantage of these conditions, increasing attacks as they seek to expand beyond their previous strongholds in northern Mali.
Burkina Faso has been a strong ally in the past and has worked diligently to promote diplomatic engagement and peace in the region. Today, the United States is looking to further encourage the grassroots democratization efforts that took hold in 2014 while promoting economic development, increasing stability, and countering the influence of regional and trans-national violent extremist organizations.
Earlier this year, the US Embassy and US Military hosted a security seminar for members of the Burkinabé security forces, civil society, religious communities, and local government. Together they identified ways that all parties could better work together to improve local security. Of particular importance was the military learning that they were perceived as insular, inactive and out of touch with local issues. Also concerning was that many community members did not understand the military’s counter-extremism efforts or who to contact if they saw something suspicious.
After the seminar, it was clear to the US Army Civil Affairs Team mentoring with the Burkinabé Military that a key step to improving security was improving the military’s relationship with the local community. Improved relations would increase situational awareness, promote community buy-in, and encourage cooperation and information sharing.
To enact this strategy, the US Army team spent a couple of months working in the classroom with their Burkinabé counterparts to develop their ability to engage with the civilian population in a positive and productive way. Now comes the important step of moving out of the classroom and into the community. The military has planned a community cleanup event with advice from their US advisers and input from local leaders but lacks the necessary supplies and equipment to put it into action.
With your help and generosity, Spirit of American can fill this gap. Facilitating this crucial first attempt to revitalize local civil-military relations and enable a fledgling US partner in the fight against extremism.