A perfect storm of violence is breaking upon Africa’s Sahel. Since late 2018, communal conflicts—many over access to food, water or productive land—have produced thousands of deadly attacks. Across the region, nearly 4,800 people died in conflicts from November to March, according to the violence-monitoring group ACLED. The greatest surge in bloodshed is in Burkina Faso, where communal militias or religious extremists killed 500 people over five months. But amid the dire headlines, governments and civic groups in Burkina Faso and other Sahel countries cite progress in stabilizing communities with a basic step that simply has seldom been undertaken: broad, local dialogues among community groups, police forces and officials. Community leaders and government officials say they are now expanding those dialogues to improve national security policies to help counter the tide of violence.
When violent conflict erupts, its roots often must be found and healed at the community level. Amid such turmoil, however, government officials, police, and community leaders are likely to mistrust each other—a breakdown in relations that opens space for security threats, including violent extremism and organized crime.
In 2013, musicians, artists and activists began what became one of Africa’s most successful grassroots political movements, The Citizen’s Broom (Le Balai Citoyen). Organized to fight corruption in Burkina Faso, the campaign brought thousands of people into the streets with brooms to “sweep them clean” and highlight longtime President Blaise Compaore’s illegitimate attempts to maintain power.