The eruption of renewed armed conflict in Mali in 2012, the subsequent collapse of state authority over parts of the country, and the preponderance of small arms in the region led to the emergence of a broad spectrum of armed groups in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. Some were radical Islamic groups with ties to international networks, some were the various predominantly Tuareg factions of the Azawad independence movement, while others still were local self-defence militias established by communities at risk.<sub>1</sub> In the context of pervasive instability, many of these armed groups made use of the porous and unsecured borders to their advantage. Radical Islamic groups, for example, used rear bases in territory they controlled in Mali to launch attacks against the Nigerien armed forces. In response, desperate politicians have armed and empowered a growing number of militia groups, who in turn often develop predatory behaviour, preying on local populations and employing violence to extract benefits from the government.<sub>2</sub>This cycle left local communities mired in violence, hindered the delivery of basic services, and placed increasing pressure on resources in this frontier region. Although the national governments of all three states currently coordinate their efforts and enjoy good relations, the sheer scale of cross-border violence poses a constant risk of an incident triggering a severe diplomatic incident, or even an interstate conflict should the administration of one state or another change significantly.
Recognising the risks that pervasive border instability represented, the governments of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger invited the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) to help them reduce conflict and tension in the region on the border of the three countries in 2017. The following year, HD put in motion a tripartite mediation process involving armed groups that had not yet signed up to the ongoing national peace process embodied in the 2015 Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali (excluding radical Islamic groups), along with representatives from their communities of origin and officials from their respective states.<sub>3</sub> These efforts resulted in the signing of five peace agreements between communities in the area in 2018 and 2019, reducing the incidence of armed conflict in the area. In addition, HD continues to work with the state institutions of the three countries to ensure their conflict management efforts are harmonised and as effective as they can be.<sub>4</sub> The Government of France has dispersed over £55 million in emergency funds as part of the “Three Borders” project, which represents a concerted effort to improve access to water and other resources in the region.<sub>5</sub> Although Mali continues to face armed conflict, these efforts have helped to stabilise the frontier region between Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger.