The West Africa region continues to experience periodic outbreaks of violence, intermittent regional droughts, and a high population growth rate. These challenges place increasing pressure on fragile West African communities and leave the region’s governments struggling to meet the needs of their growing populations. In this context of limited resources, corruption is rampant and elections frequently turn violent as political competitions are too often viewed as zero-sum games. Furthermore, the region contains large swathes of ungoverned space and is now facing a rising tide of violent extremism that threatens to undermine the democratic and developmental gains made in recent years.
USAID/West Africa’s Peace and Governance program aims to strengthen systems of non-violent conflict management in the region by countering violent extremism at the community level and building the capacity of local, national, and regional governments and organizations to manage and mitigate conflict peacefully. The program works in select Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) member countries as well as those countries participating in the Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP).
Countering Violent Extremism (CVE)
USAID/West Africa works to increase community resistance to violent extremism in countries that form part of the TSCTP.
The Mission’s flagship CVE program, Peace through Development II (PDEV II), aims to reduce the risk of instability and build on existing resistance to violent extremism in the Sahel by empowering youth, increasing moderate voices, enhancing civil society capacity to address community issues, and strengthening local governance. This five-year project targets Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso.
During Fiscal Year 2013, USAID/West Africa reached more than three million people at risk of violent extremism through activities in the target countries. The majority were accessed through radio programming focused on youth, community awareness of violent extremism, and good governance. Across the three countries, USAID supported the development of 94 hours of original radio programming that has been broadcast and re-broadcast a total of 2,203 hours across 44 partner radio stations. More importantly, these partner radio stations have taken the initiative and developed 237 hours of their own original content programming targeting these issues. With USAID support, radio programs are broadcast in local languages and explore peaceful ways to address grievances, teach skills needed to constructively participate in local government, and address other issues of concern to youth.
As an example of USAID/West Africa’s work to counter extremist messages, in 2013 PDEV II supported a public information campaign in N’Djamena, Chad, around the theme “One Week of Peace and Unity.” It included youth-led soccer matches, radio debates, a Koranic school question-and-answer session facilitated by religious leaders, CVE training for community organization members, and public broadcasts of peace messages via radio, SMS, and television. An estimated 4,600 people participated in campaign activities, and over 150,000 people received peace messages via SMS.
In an effort to strengthen the engagement between the population, civil society and local government, USAID/West Africa has supported Community Action Committees in 46 of PDEV II’s core zones. Comprised of traditional elders, a government representative, youth leaders, a representative of a gender equality organization, religious leaders, and a community reporter, their role is to create a link between the local government and the population they serve, thus enhancing participatory governance and transparency as well as supporting national decentralization initiatives. In addition, in Fiscal Year 2013 USAID supported almost 19,500 person-hours of training and capacity building to over 500 representatives of local civil society organizations. In the same period, more than 1,000 local government officials were trained in financial or management skills to support decentralization efforts.
In an effort to counter the pull factors of violent extremism, USAID also works to improve educational opportunities available to children in targeted areas, while strengthening school linkages with community and state structures. Working in 150 schools across 22 municipalities, the Niger Education and Community Strengthening Project (NECS) has supported the training of over 1,600 teachers, school supervisors, and parent-teacher association members. The project tackles obstacles to education resulting from poverty, poor health, and gender inequalities through activities that include teacher training, borehole and hand-pump construction and maintenance training, adult literacy, student leadership, and the production of learning materials in local languages. But above all, NECS activities engage communities, encourage families to keep their children in school, and increase early grade reading skills with messages of tolerance and gender equity. Although highlighting education issues, the activities are designed to support moderate voices in the fight against violent extremism by legitimizing community associations and empowering them to collaborate with their local government officials to meet their communities’ educational needs.
To better understand the impact of activities to counter violent extremism, USAID/West Africa created the Evaluation and Analytical Services (EAS) project. Through situational assessments, analyses, impact evaluations, and survey work, EAS augments the ability of USAID/West Africa to be a learning institution and make sound, evidence-based management and resource decisions while at the same time increasing the capacity of organizations in the region.
Political Competition and Consensus Building / Conflict Mitigation and Reconciliation
Over the past two years, USAID/West Africa has helped strengthen the ability of Niger’s National Assembly to draft, review and oversee laws and regulations governing the extractive industry sector. Activities include training National Assembly members to improve practices, increase their communication and collaboration with civil society organizations (CSOs), and ensure the representation of women in the National Assembly.
USAID provides a rolling program of election support to countries in the region. For example, in Fiscal Year 2013 USAID/West Africa supported a local initiative in Cameroon to pilot parallel vote tabulation during legislative elections, the first of its kind in Cameroon. The project built the financial and organizational capacity of a local civil society organization and laid the groundwork for civil society oversight of future elections.
USAID/West Africa is currently developing a program designed to improve the capacity of regional and national organizations to anticipate and mitigate election-related violence. The upcoming program will build off the success of USAID’s previous support to ECOWAS and the West Africa Network for Peace Building (WANEP) in the establishment of a region-wide conflict early warning system, dubbed ECOWARN. Future support will develop the network of National Early Warning Systems in the region and aim to streamline the flow of timely information to decision makers. This will enable national stakeholders to better respond to conflict risk information so that ECOWAS can quickly bring their influence to bear on issues that threaten peace in West Africa.
Last updated: September 17, 2014