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Customary Characters in Uncustomary Circumstances: The Case of Burkina Faso's Sahel Region

Cet article est également disponible en français.

What role can traditional authorities and religious leaders play to improve the resilience of their communities against violent extremism? Sahel, Burkina Faso’s northern region, is a key region in which to probe into this question for two reasons. First, it has been the region in Burkina Faso most affected by violent extremism, and so far attempts to stem violent extremism in the region have not yielded sufficient success. In 2020, reported fatalities in the Sahel region outnumbered those in the neighboring regions of Centre-Nord and Est by a factor of five. More civilians have been killed by state security forces than in attacks by extremist groups. Second, Sahel is only a moderately resilient place. Compared to other regions in the Liptako-Gourma, communities in the Sahel region are somewhat more resilient than in the Ménaka (Mali) and Est (Burkina Faso) regions, but fall short compared to Tillery (Niger) and Centre-Nord (Burkina Faso). Sahel scores moderately well on a number of other resilience indicators.

At the same time, Sahel differs from other regions in one key aspect: formal state authorities at the local level play a stronger role than they do in other contexts. What explains this discrepancy, and what does it mean for the role that customary leaders can play in promoting community resilience against violent extremism? This report explores this question on the basis of data collected in five municipalities: Djibo, Dori, Bani, Sampelga, and Gorom-Gorom.