MOUDERY, SENEGAL - In the Senegalese border town of Moudery, a committee initially created to protect residents from robberies has taken on a new purpose in the wake of jihadist violence in neighboring Mali.
In 2010, when Moudery inaugurated its "Committee of Vigilance," the goal was mostly to identify unknown people who might rob homes in the wealthy Senegalese river town.
Zakaria Ndiaye, one of the committee's founding members, said robberies had decreased since the committee was set up, because members perform nightly patrols and criminals are aware of the committee's presence on the ground.
Fousseynou Ndiaye, now the mayor of Moudery, served in the army for more than 30 years before moving back and helping in the founding of the committee. He said because Moudery is uniquely positioned along the river that separates Senegal from Mauritania, criminals can flee from one side of the border to the other without being prosecuted. This position, along with its proximity to Mali, has made the town sensitive to criminal activity.
The system for reducing crime in the village worked so well that members of the U.N.'s migration organization identified the program as a model for more border towns to secure their communities against the threat of jihadist violence.
Six years after the committee was founded, officials of the International Organization for Migration reached out to Ndiaye and explained how they thought his committee could serve to identify potential jihadists entering the country.
Not a militia
The committee is also registered with Senegal's interior ministry, partially to keep it accountable. Ndiaye was firm that his committee is not law enforcement or a militia and that his members simply keep an eye on the town and ask any suspicious people for identification.
But as ethnic tensions and jihadist violence in nearby Mali worsen, the city is also welcoming immigrants. After VOA interviewed the mayor, he left for a meeting with the Malians of Moudery to discuss a recent festival honoring that country's independence day.