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Bikes in Africa's Sahel

The cycle of violence in Sahel is only one of the intense challenges the people in Burkina Faso face on a daily basis. For one of the poorest nations in the world resources are scarce and systems are overwhelmed.

The conflict in Burkina Faso goes back decades but has intensified over the last seven years. The Sahel is the region in Northern Africa which stretches from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Red Sea in the east. It is threatened by terror groups linked to the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda. As the growing jihadist insurgency spread from neighboring Mali, army forces in Burkina Faso seized power and removed the president in a 2022 coup. There has been no effort to reform the government or restore democracy.

The political turmoil and weak governance exacerbates an already dire situation in Burkina. During the pandemic, many small business owners felt the economic impact when borders were closed for the health emergency. As borders reopened and commerce resumed, shipping companies focused their attention on the busier, more profitable ports, leaving some of the most vulnerable countries with limited supplies. Meanwhile the insecurity in the Sahel continued to keep borders and communities unstable, affecting the local and international supply chains.

In times like these, Non-Governmental Organizations, have the ability to respond quickly and directly. Locally based NGOs understand their communities' needs and limitations and can adapt their impact to be most effective. This is why Bikes for the World partners with established NGOs who have a proven track record of supporting and uplifting their communities and can act immediately when crises strike.

For our Burkinabe partner Lumière des Enfants, also known as ALE, that response included a shift away from bikes and focused more on the immediacy of survival. ALE saw the effects from curfews and closures first hand, among their beneficiaries and within the organization itself. As more families had limited income due to the pandemic fallout, that money was needed to buy food and supplies rather than non-essential goods and services, like clothing or even bikes.

Because of the pandemic, many women lost jobs or saw their work load slow considerably. In spite of the pandemic, the situation in the Sahel never ceased. This year brought a coup and now an ongoing  war in Ukraine. In a country already struggling with hunger and malnutrition, there was a severe shortage of food and fuel in the spring. ALE's initial response was to supply bags of corn and rice to its community members.

Even today, as the situation escalates at the border, the impact ripples across the country. In Koudougou, where ALE is located, a refugee camp was established to deal with the humanitarian crisis affecting the Burkinabe as well as displaced people from Niger and Mali. The influx of refugees continues to strain already limited resources.

And ALE continues to respond. Moving forward, ALE will again shift focus to include addressing the needs of those forced to flee the violence as well as the impacted residents of Koudougou. They will resume the bike project as business picks back up to help support efforts to alleviate the strains on the healthcare system, schools, employment opportunities, and transportation.

Bikes for the World will send a container of bikes to Burkina Faso in August in an effort to provide transportation, boost job opportunities, and increase capacity building investments for ALE.

Frontline of the Climate Crisis
Featured Volunteer: Alexander Reichmann