More than a million people in Burkina Faso have been displaced from their homes, victims of ongoing conflict and poverty. Nevertheless, following a recent visit to the central and northern regions of the country, Barbara Manzi, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Burkina Faso, says she met a resilient people keen to find their own solutions, to a better future.
“This was my first field mission in Burkina Faso, and I visited Kaya, some 100 kilometres northeast of the capital, Ouagadougou; Dori, which is the capital of the Sahel region, on the border with Niger and Mali; and Djibo, a town in the north of the country.
The people we met all asked the same questions: can we get jobs? Can we get back our dignity and go back to our normal life? Can we become the actors of our future? Can you help us to go back to a normal life?
Give women and youth a seat at the table
Women make up half of the population, and more than three-quarters of people in the country are under 35. However, they are conspicuously absent from decision-making.
I made a point of speaking to women, and I asked them if they can help to resolve longstanding issues and stop the violence. “Yes, that’s true”, they said. “If we say to our husbands, our sons, our brothers, to stop fighting, to stop the violence, they’re going to listen to us, and we need to find a space to make that happen, so that we have a seat at the table.”
My second question to them was, ‘what can I do? What can we do as United Nations to help you?’ They replied that they want to find their own solutions, but they asked for help educating the men to shift some of the traditional and cultural ways of doing things.
Contribute to solutions, do no harm
During the crisis, education and health services have been particularly vulnerable to violent non-State groups, and many have closed down, which has exacerbated the situation.
But I have seen that the UN and our partners are having a positive effect, from food distribution to out-of-school activities, psycho-social support, nutrition centres, and health centres.
Our guiding star must be to ensure that we contribute to solutions and do no harm. We can’t just see vulnerable communities as victims, but also as actors involved in finding a solution to humanitarian issues.
We need to listen to them, and bring their voices across the whole spectrum of discussions. And we need to be the voice of the voiceless, in a constructive way.
There is hope
My message for people outside Burkina Faso, including donors and development partners, is that there is hope, despite all the terrible things that are happening, and I think we have a collective responsibility to make sure that this hope does not fade away.
We need to be ready for some setbacks. It’s likely to happen, considering the situation, but this should not discourage us from continuing to focus on the people, trying to bring them to the forefront of discussions, supporting the State in what they’re doing, and ensuring that all levels of the traditional community systems are involved.
I think I’m really lucky to be in this position. It’s not an easy job, but it’s a job I love because I see the whole spectrum of the work that the UN is doing, and how the system can be put to better use to serve people in need.”