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Factors of crisis and exacerbation of social tensions in two communes in Burkina Faso

Located in the Province of Bam, in the Centre-Nord Region of Burkina Faso, the communes of Kongounsi and Tikaré are bearing the brunt of the security crisis that has been raging in the Sahel since 2010. Political instability, violent extremism, and internal displacement continue to threaten vulnerable communities and weaken local institutions.

A series of individual interviews and focus group discussions conducted by i-APS’ research teams with social and economic actors, young people, women, and traditional and religious institutions have made it possible to identify some of the factors contributing to increased social tensions and the destabilization of local structures in Kongounsi and Tikaré. Some of these reported factors are: 

The overpopulation of the communes: It appears that over the last three years these two communes have experienced extraordinary growth in their populations, which have practically doubled, or even tripled in the case of Kongounsi. Massive and recurrent displacements of populations from neighbouring communes in both the Bam province and the Sahel (Soum and Seno) have occurred due to attacks by violent extremist groups. Thus, the presence of internally displaced people (IDPs) is putting great pressure on basic social service providers and imposes challenges with food security, housing, and the availability of arable land. The ever-growing presence of IDPs is often a source of daily tensions between the indigenous and non-indigenous people. 

Traditional gold panning: The overpopulation of these communes is also due to the influx of economic migrants who have populated the region over the last couple of years in hopes of making their fortunes in traditional gold panning.

“One could argue that we have become victims of our own tradition for hospitality. In addition to hosting internally displaced people, we are being invaded by economic migrants practising illegal gold mining. They transform the outskirts of the village into housing areas, preventing women from practicing gardening. They also contribute to the degradation of the environment by digging holes in an antiquated way in hopes of finding gold. Children and animals can fall into these holes and lose their lives.  They also use cyanide which seems to facilitate the extraction of gold from the sand. They do not realize that they are poisoning the water and endangering the lives of our communities. – Community leader from the Focus Group Discussion in Kongounsi.

Robbery: The presence of artisanal mines gives way to economic growth based on the transaction of considerable flows of money. However, these communes are not currently covered by the national security forces. As a result, there has been a proliferation of organized crime and robberies with assault weapons. This growing criminality disturbs the peace and endangers the life of the communities. 

 Organized crime: Respondents have expressed their concerns with increased rates of organized crime that was not so popular among these communities before the crisis. Local criminal networks have spread to include prostitution, narcotics trafficking, smuggling, contraband sales, endangered fauna trafficking and money laundering. Although the origin and identity of these groups remain unknown, over 80% of our respondents speculate that many of them receive support from regional and international jihadist groups.

Concerns reported by the people we interviewed give us insight into the struggles of communities in the Centre-Nord Region of Burkina Faso. Facing, what seems to be a triple crisis (Security, Humanitarian, and Hunger), vulnerable people in this region are in desperate need of support to ensure peace and social cohesion. Communal authorities and decentralized state structures seem to be overwhelmed by the situation and struggle to provide adequate responses. Support to mitigate the risks and threats to peace and social cohesion, build resilient and sustainable agriculture and food systems, and help communities adapt to changing contexts could provide substantial impact and address the needs of vulnerable populations, community structures and local governance bodies.