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Local Humanitarian Action in Burkina Faso: Translating rhetoric into action

Burkina Faso
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Author: Magali de Biolley


Burkina Faso has been facing since 2015 an expansion of the armed conflict from central Mali and across the tri-border area between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. The number of people in need of humanitarian assistance has increased by 60 % between 2020 and 2021, thus the previously development-focused intervention approaches have changed dramatically. National and local non-state actors are adapting as best they can to this new crisis. However, more than three years since this massive shift towards humanitarian action, they are still very much on the sidelines of a humanitarian response dominated by international actors. On the other hand, international partners and donors are increasing resources for an appropriate humanitarian response, but a 0.17 % direct transfer of funds to local actors in 2020 is an indication of the current little consideration of local humanitarian leadership requirements.

This report first looks at the causes and challenges that help explain this marginalisation, in particular by bringing forward the perceptions of the local actors interviewed. The second part seeks to highlight existing good practices and proposes specific actions to strengthen the role of local actors and potentially LHL in the response in Burkina Faso.

This report focuses on four key LHL challenges and proposed solutions, including:

1. Local and national partners are still very much relegated to a service-provider role rather than being full partners. This is reflected very clearly in pre- and post- humanitarian project phases, including assessment, the definition of the intervention logic, the choice of activities or even the selection of private contractors. This leads to a certain disconnect between real needs and the responses provided. While the women's rights organisations interviewed seem to have an improved understanding of the humanitarian ecosystem and networking opportunities, the issues they address – such as women's leadership and advocacy – are still underfunded in this increasingly humanitarian environment. By choice, they restrict themselves to the development work they already know and do not yet see enough opportunity for them to fully integrate humanitarian action.

2. Lack of inclusion in programming has a direct impact on the ability and sense of legitimacy of any structure or individual to participate in the coordination groups of the international humanitarian system. We could see how local and national partners are marginalised in humanitarian coordination, which carries a double burden as it was also found that national and local actors are not involved in local coordination groups that are strong enough to stand up to international coordination.

3. More appropriate, continuous and equitable capacity building remains the unfulfilled primary demand, rather than funding, from the CBAs, national NGOs (NNGO) and community actors we met. While most international partners include capacity building as a part of their humanitarian projects, this component remains mostly an ad hoc peripheral activity limited by poor financing and is still in line with a top-down approach rather than a capacity-exchange view. Such approach does not take sufficient account of local responses already implemented by local actors or even the communities themselves and does not seek to build on or to learn from them.

4. Responses to the needs of vulnerable people in hard-to-reach areas rely mainly on the communities themselves as well as on CBAs and a few national or even international NGOs that can still access. However, budgets are not suitable for an operational environment that evolves every day; training programmes are too general; and the lack of dialogue between international partners, donors and local actors is not only hindering their security management, but also pushes them to use unsafe techniques.

In terms of solutions proposed to these challenges, there are a number of specific examples where international partners are committed to greater inclusion of local actors, and in particular the communities, in both preparing projects and asking for a legitimate space in international coordination fora. Other alternatives suggested are more inspired by success stories and initiatives carried out by local actors. We also identified a number of equitable and horizontal capacity-exchange approaches more conducive to make use of local expertise.

Based on this research, our main recommendations for all humanitarian local actors, international partners and donors are as follows:

  • Consider partnership and capacity-strengthening approaches as a medium-term process that requires monitoring and an adequate prioritisation to allocate the necessary budgets and time.

  • Embed humanitarian intervention into an approach where local actors and international partners understand that neither should disappear but that they must identify their complementarities and specific needs that bind them in the response.

  • Significantly increase the quantity and quality of humanitarian funding as pledged by the GB to reach the 25 % ratio flowing directly to local actors – including women's rights organisations –, to ensure humanitarian preparedness and response as well as recovery.

  • Favour flexible and multi-year funding such as the HDP Nexus to respond to the significant and rapid increase in humanitarian needs and take into consideration the lessons learned and practices of well-established development stakeholders.

  • Push for a change in the international partners’ internal mindset towards greater power-sharing and more diverse partnerships.

  • Institutionalise a dialogue at least every six months to develop non-project intervention scenarios with CBAs, NNGOs and devolved authorities to be taken as a basis for preparing future responses in addition to local contingency plans.

  • Promote the active participation of NNGOs and CBAs in the humanitarian coordination structures through their effective inclusion in project preparation and in strategic discussions on intervention logic.

  • Move from a capacity-building to a capacity-sharing approach by institutionalizing peer evaluation tools co-created by local actors and the international partner.

  • Ensure the creation of an official consultation channel including local actors, NNGOs and CBAs and donors to discuss the nature of security risks undertaken systematically before and during projects including through budgetary changes.