5 questions to Carine Vanden Borre
Project leader Community-based support in Burkina Faso
You are working on a community policing project. What does it consist of?
Many people think that community policing is just another police service that is set up in neighbourhoods, close to the people. It is much more complex. To begin with, community policing is a philosophy that must be understood and incorporated by all members of the security forces: police, gendarmerie, water and forestry, etc. Secondly, it is based on prevention: The idea is not to intervene to fight crime, but to prevent crime from happening.
This brings us to a third aspect of community policing: It is based on trust between the population and the police. This trust is essential for feedback reasons. In Burkina Faso, there is a great deal of mistrust of the police. So we had to work to restore this trust, to increase contacts. For example, we set up a consultation mechanism and organised regular or ad hoc meetings, in function of needs.
We have also worked to make the police understand that they are also accountable to the public for the use of the information provided. People need to know that their action or the information they have shared has helped prevented a particular crime. This helps to build trust.
"Children hanging around the streets with nothing to do is never a good thing. With the help of the local community, we organised a two-week 'vacation camp' for about a hundred children between the ages of 8 and 17."
Can you give concrete examples?
In the Centre-Est region where our project is implemented, many families run small cross-border businesses: A husband works as a civil servant while his wife manages this side business. But because of the threat of terrorism and because of Covid-19 borders were closed and this source of income dried up. Many families could no longer afford to send their children to school.
So, children were bored and ended up unattended on the street, which is never good. With the help of the local community, we set up a vacation camp for a fortnight for about 100 children aged 8 to 17. The aim was to keep give them a good time, but also to make them aware of the risks of their situation, of street crime and of offences that could involve them as perpetrators or victims as well as the risks of being recruited by terrorist groups.
This camp was so successful that we unfortunately had to limit the number of places. One of the success stories was one of a child who was already a petty street offender. One day, he attended our camp. The next day he did not come because he had committed a theft. The Koglweogo, a traditional militia, heard of this and arrested him. We sent over a negotiator to get the child released. Then, he attended the camp, and assiduously. Later, his parents told us that relations with their child had improved and that he had even agreed to return to school.
These traditional militias in Burkina Faso, how do you involve them into this project?
For us, militias like the Koglweogo are part of what we call 'local security initiatives'. They therefore have a place in our project.
We have managed to get some of them to question their practices (editor's note: the Koglweogo arrest alleged criminals, sometimes beat them and impose fines as punishment as well as for compensation). For example, we have an excellent relationship with the head of the Koglweogo of the Boulgou Province. The fact that we chose an approach centred on discussion and exchange rather than confrontation enabled us to establish a real dialogue. So much so that there is now a core group that collaborates with the security forces.
The core of our action is to reconcile our objectives with the concrete needs on the ground. This means talking to all the actors: police forces, local authorities, local security initiatives, civil society organisations, traditional chiefs, etc. The goal is to formulate objectives that everyone can take ownership of.
For me, the success of a project depends on the involvement of all stakeholders. To show all participants that they can take charge. Strengthening the links between the population and the security forces, for example, not only helps to reduce crime, but also to resolve conflicts between people before they lead to violence. This ultimately strengthens social cohesion. And it ensures that all parties participate in co-building increased security for all.