After a period of relative stability, Burkina Faso has suffered political turbulence in recent years, sparking national debates on the government’s capacity to address insecurity and build inclusive institutions that restore peace and social cohesion. A growing terrorist campaign, public dissatisfaction with leadership and widespread youth unemployment have destabilized the country and now threaten to spill over into its neighbors. Since 2016, USIP has worked across civil society in Burkina Faso to bridge divides between security and judicial sectors and address drivers of fragility through training, structured dialogues and high-level consultations.
The past month has sharpened a decade-old question for U.S. and international policymakers: How best, in 2024, to help stabilize what is now the world’s largest single zone of military rule and violent conflicts — Africa’s Sahel region? After three military-ruled Sahel states withdrew from the West African regional community in January, those juntas last week proclaimed an alliance aimed at resisting international pressures, including those for their return to elected civilian rule. Former U.S. and African officials yesterday urged what they called vital changes in U.S. and allied policies to prevent a dangerous spread of the Sahel’s crises.
The United States has not traditionally viewed the Sahel as a region of vital interest, whether in terms of security or from an economic or business perspective. This has led to a pattern of reactive involvement shaped by the circumstances of specific events rather than proactive commitments. This pattern reveals the lack of a comprehensive strategy for the volatile Western Sahel region, which includes Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. In April 2022, President Joe Biden announced that the US government would advance the “U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability” in coastal West Africa by prioritizing a partnership with Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, and Togo.
Three years of coups around Africa’s Sahel region — eight of them in six nations, from Guinea on the Atlantic to Sudan on the Red Sea — leave many African and other policymakers frustrated over how to respond. The Sahel’s crises have uprooted more than 4 million people and could add millions more to our record levels of global human migration as Africa’s population grows and its climate destabilizes. Yet the pattern of coups and other evidence — notably from USIP’s Sahel fieldwork, counter-coup research and bipartisan analysis teams — offer guidelines for effective responses by African, U.S. and international policymakers.
In May 2021, USIP created the Bipartisan Senior Study Group for the Sahel comprised of 12 current and former high-level U.S. officials, renowned academics and prominent Africa experts. The senior study group aims to generate new insights into the complex challenges facing the Sahel region, including food security, human rights, security assistance, private sector development and job creation — as well as great power competition. The senior study group will provide original recommendations to the U.S. government and governments in the Sahel region to improve foreign assistance, resolve conflict and support lasting peace.
USIP’s Women Preventing Violent Extremism (WPVE) program aims to shape national policies and community approaches to countering violent extremism in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel. USIP does this by empowering women-led organizations and building local capacity that fosters collaboration between community-level activists and national-level policymakers.
In countries of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, USIP has pioneered a method to bring state officials, community leaders and citizens together to work out the roots of their problems and cooperatively rebuild security.