Engaging communities and disseminating accurate and reliable information in the age of the internet during times of peace can be challenging. Burkina Faso, gripped by violence and grappling with an unprecedented humanitarian emergency, is demonstrating the much greater challenge of communication and community engagement during times of conflict.
With critical information often unreliable in times of conflict as regions become harder to reach and facts become more difficult to verify, those caught up in the conflict are often cautious about sharing information for fear of falling foul of warring factions. Such conditions mean Burkina Faso is fast becoming a case study in the complexity of communicating and engaging with communities in times of conflict.
With the increase in violence in the past year and a prevalent drought, there is a dynamic and complex crisis facing the regional populations of Burkina Faso. In total, 1.5 million people face crucial needs created by the deterioration of their living conditions; among them more than 1 million people are in need of services linked to their survival. The closure of health facilities, schools and markets, the displacement of populations, poor access to WASH services are among the visible impacts of the security and humanitarian crisis in country.
Efforts are underway to scale up the response to cope with these escalating needs. In late October 2019, the Humanitarian Country Team was activated in Burkina Faso, replacing the Humanitarian-Development Country Team, to enable dedicated leadership in coordination and information management. And between December 2019 and January 2020, the CDAC Network – in partnership with Ground Truth Solutions and with funding from the H2H Network and with the assistance of UN agencies and CDAC members operating in the country – undertook a scoping mission to the country to assess the status, current strengths and needs related to response-wide Communication, Community Engagement and Accountability.
Though communications in the country remain challenging, efforts to maintain communication connections persist. While simple mobile phones are widespread in the country, radio – both local and national – remains one of the most widely trusted sources of information, and there are multiple local and national radio channels and broadcasters, with local radio broadcasts taking place in both French and multiple local languages. And the multiplicity of languages is needed: while French is the national language, there are approximately 60 local languages in Burkina Faso, with French little understood outside the capital Ouagadougou and the country’s other regional cities. CDAC member Fondation Hirondelle has been active in the country since 2015 and currently supports a network of 27 radio partners, 14 of which are based in the affected areas. The organisation is currently spearheading Studio Yafa, a three-year media initiative which involves daily radio and once-weekly TV broadcasts by a team of trainee journalists and translators.
The CDAC Network has just published its Situational Analysis of Communication, Community Engagement and Accountability in Burkina Faso, available in both English and French. The report concludes that coordination and collaboration on CEA will require significant strengthening to meet the immediate and medium-term needs of affected people, and to build the existing capacity of humanitarian actors in the country to act on their accountability commitments and to develop better communications and community engagement initiatives.