In the Liptako-Gourma Region, where Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger meet, citizens face cross-border security challenges from violent extremist organizations, organized crime networks and anti-state armed groups. Understanding the urgent need for a regional architecture to tackle security threats that rarely stay within the borders of one country, defense-focused Burkinabe, Malian and Nigerien civil society organization (CSO) activists and members of parliament (MPs) came together in Bamako to strategize from February 26 to 28.
CSO representatives established the regional Civil Society Platform for Democratic Governance of the Security Sector in the Liptako-Gourma Region, which amplifies the advocacy and monitoring being done by national civil society observatories active in civilian oversight of security forces. The activists left the forum ready to begin joint, regional security monitoring and advocacy initiatives. MPs finished the forum by creating a consultation framework linking the three parliaments’ defense and security commissions. Members will meet periodically, as needed, to discuss how to harmonize legislation across the countries and address any gaps in existing legislation, as well as to exchange experiences and best practices. MPs in the consultation framework plan to meet with citizens and defense and security agents to inform the content of new legislation.
Throughout the three-day Regional Parliamentary-Civil Society Forum on Democratic Governance of the Security Sector in the Liptako-Gourma Region, frank, open discussions between civil society and parliamentarians revealed a shared perspective of the current security situation in the Sahel. Violent extremists, criminals and anti-government armed groups control large swathes of territory, and recruit from populations who feel the state was either absent or has abandoned them, and who lack access to basic social services or income-generating opportunities. Mali’s situation was recognized as more complicated due to the existence of a peace accord that has yet to be fully implemented and the presence of armed groups that were parties to the recent conflict. A convivial atmosphere characterized by mutual respect promoted collaboration across countries and sectors: MPs suggested that CSO members could lend their expertise by reviewing draft legislation, and CSOs made a plan to meet with the MPs as part of an advocacy campaign to ensure the inclusion of citizens’ views and needs in security legislation.
At the heart of participants’ discussions and resulting action items was the importance of involving defense and security forces (police, gendarmes and soldiers) and citizens who live in insecure areas in security sector governance.
Potential action areas for the CSO platform and parliamentary consultation framework identified during the forum are: building trust between citizens and security agents through increased interaction; increasing public awareness of security initiatives that impact them; police reform to put a greater emphasis on local, community police; passing witness protection laws and drafting legislation governing state intelligence services.
The creation of the regional CSO platform and MP consultation framework, two innovative, regional structures, promises to create stronger linkages in the three Liptako-Gourma countries. They will promote learning and exchange of information, and, perhaps most importantly, increase civilian oversight of the security sector.
NDI implemented this forum with funding from the Danish and Norwegian governments.