Burkina Faso Country Report 2020
The period under review saw serious challenges, conflicts and instabilities that pose a threat to human, social and economic development. The current president and government have been in office for three years now after the turnover of long-standing President Blaise Compaoré in October 2014 and a failed coup d’état in September 2015. However, virtually all leading figures in politics, administration and business come from the elites of the previous regime. It is hardly astonishing that the change in government has not led to the political and economic transition that many Burkinabé had hoped for. Core problems persisted during the period under review: a political system based on patronage relationships; elites more interested in maintaining power and distributing resources within their clientelist networks than in dealing with claims and interests of the population; persistent corruption in all sectors and at all levels; drawn out and ineffective persecution of political violations, economic crimes and human rights violations. Terrorist attacks have significantly increased in the period under review. Since 2015, more than 300 people have been killed in attacks (including around 60 in the capital Ouagadougou); around 500 schools have been closed, resulting in around 60,000 students denied access to education; almost 40,000 people displaced, several thousand even seeking refuge in neighboring Mali, itself a crisis-ridden country. Most of the attacks have targeted institutions of the Burkinabé state, but some incidences have also affected foreigners, such as an attack on March 2, 2018 in Ouagadougou, targeting the main military quarter in Ouagadougou and the neighboring French embassy, as well as the kidnapping and murder of a staff member from a Canadian mining company in the province of Yagha in the north on January 16, 2019. Initially concentrated in the north, in the period under review, the terrorist threat has gradually spread to several other regions, including the southwest, southeast and east of the country. The recent creation of a transnational anti-terror military operation, the G5 Sahel Joint Force, has yet to improve the security situation. Nevertheless, economic growth has consolidated in the period under review and at least some indicators of human development have slightly improved. Moreover, Burkina Faso shows significant potential that allows for moderate hope for the social and political development of the country. This includes a highly motivated young generation, a vibrant civil society, strong cultural and social cohesion, and strong efforts toward solidarity and national unity. Agriculture and mining are the most important economic sectors. Investments in education and infrastructure are urgently needed to enable the country to adequately benefit from its social, cultural, human and natural resources.
In January 2019, Christophe Dabiré, economist and former commissioner of commerce at the West African Economic and Monetary Union, was elected prime minister. One might assume that he will push to boost the economy and promote regional integration.
Since achieving independence from France in 1960, Burkina Faso has endured decades of political instability, characterized by mass strikes and military coups. The 1983 coup led by Captain Thomas Sankara, who attempted to model the country and its society on the basis of a social revolutionary program, stands out for its anti-imperialist and populist leanings. However, four years later, in 1987, Sankara was assassinated in a military coup organized by Blaise Compaoré. The country began its gradual democratic transformation, and by 1991 several new parties had been formed and legalized. A new constitution was also approved in June 1991 via referendum, albeit with low voter turnout. Opposition forces demonstrated their dissatisfaction with the constitution through strong internal pressure, mainly exerted by the unions, forcing Compaoré to consider substantial reforms. The first presidential elections in 1991 led to further boycotts by the opposition. The only candidate on the ballot, Compaoré, was re-elected with only 25% of the electorate participating.
In 1992, Burkina Faso held its first multiparty parliamentary elections. Facing weak opposition, Compaoré’s Organisation pour la Démocratie Populaire/Mouvement du Travail (ODP/MT) achieved a two-thirds majority. The president’s party, renamed the Congrès pour la Démocratie et le Progrès (CDP) in 1996, repeated its success with an even bigger landslide victory in legislative elections five years later. The dominance of the ruling party and the weakness of the opposition turned out to be one of the largest obstacles to democratization during this period. The National Assembly’s ability to govern was theoretical at best, and lawmaking was reduced to a one-party affair. Political opposition began to form outside parliament. Institutions of representative democracy began losing credibility among the population. Human rights violations, notably by the security forces, occurred frequently. A culture of impunity and a weak rule of law prevailed. This became most obvious when
Norbert Zongo, editor of the weekly newspaper L’Indépendant, was killed in December 1998. His death triggered mass protests by trade unions, students, and human rights groups. Consistent political pressure forced Compaoré to make concessions. Numerous institutional and electoral reforms represented a qualitative improvement over the previous system.
Compaoré was re-elected president in 2000 and 2005. While the population’s discontent with social, economic and political conditions has grown continuously, and serious criticism of the political system increased even from inside the ruling circle, Compaoré secured his fifth term in office with more than 80% of the vote in the November 2010 presidential elections.
His new mandate, however, has plunged very quickly into crisis. Massive protests arose after the death of Justin Zongo, a young man who died in the town of Koudougou in February 2011 after being detained by the gendarmerie. These protests triggered one of the most severe political crises in the country since Compaoré seized power: soldiers mutinied in March, and one month later even the presidential guard revolted. Compaoré could only re-establish his authority by dissolving the government and discharging the prime minister after weeks of mass protests and mutinying security forces. The country’s major underlying problems remained unaddressed, and the ruling elite continued to concentrate on efforts to safeguard their benefits and power.
In 2013 and 2014, tens of thousands of people took to the streets on a number of occasions and protested against Compoaré’s attempt to revise article 37 of the constitution in order to enable himself to run for another term. The proposal for the constitutional revision passed the National Assembly on October 21, 2014. As a consequence, students and workers went on strike. When the proposal finally was supposed to be adopted on October 30, protesters stormed the parliament building. Security forces made use of teargas, truncheons and firearms; at least 30 people were killed. Compaoré withdrew the constitutional revision request and suspended the government. On October 31, 2014, he was forced by the military to resign. The army commander-in-chief took over power transitionally. After two weeks of military control, a transitional Charta was signed by political parties, the military, civil society groups and traditional authorities on November 16, 2014. For the first time in Burkina Faso’s history, a civilian was appointed (transitional) president, former diplomat Michel Kafando.
Presidential elections were scheduled for October 11, 2015. On April 7, a new electoral law was voted, and on June 5, a law was adopted that demanded military personnel to quit the army before they were allowed to hold political office. A core conflict related to the preparation of the presidential elections focused on the issue of whether candidates who had come out in favor of the disputed revision of article 37 of the constitution should be allowed to run for election. The transitional government decided against allowing these individuals from running, which meant that, as a consequence, several of former president Compaoré’s confidantes were excluded from running for office.
These developments led to a coup by the RSP on September 16, 2015. Under the direction of RSP commander, General Gilbert Diendéré, the RSP entered a cabinet meeting of the transitional government, and took President Kafando, Prime Minister Zida and two more ministers as hostages. Mass protests emerged immediately, with barricades burning in Ouagadougou and people trying to enter the Presidential palace. The following day, Diendéré declared the transitional government to be dissolved and himself president.
International organizations, many national governments, and civil society organizations around the world condemned the coup; the African Union temporary excluded Burkina Faso. Representatives of Western African states, the AU and ECOWAS tried to mediate the conflict. In Burkina Faso, the trade unions declared a general strike, and virtually all civil society groups mobilizd a massive resistance to the putsch. In Ouagadougou, the RSP responded with brutal force against the protests. Between September 16 and September 23, 2015, 14 protesters were killed and more than 250 injured. National and international media were massively intimidated. The RSP destroyed the station of the national phone company, so that phone and internet access was temporarily unavailable in the capital. However, this did not stop the protests, and after initial hesitance, the national army prepared itself to intervene, too. Finally, six days after the coup, on September 23, Diendéré turned himself in.
Presidential elections were finally held on November 29, 2015. Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, chairman of the Mouvement du Peuple pour le Progrès (MPP), succeeded in the first ballot, and was inaugurated officially to the presidential office in late December. From the point of view of most observers, this does not indicate a serious change in political orientation: Roch Marc Christian Kaboré had already been a minister, prime minister, and chairman of the National Assembly during the presidency of Blaise Compaoré. He left Compaoré’s party, the CDP, together with 72 other influential politicians and founded the MPP in January 2014. According to many civil society groups, that had hoped for a fundamental change after Compaoré’s fall, the transition ultimately amounted to on fraction within the CDP succeeding against another.
The election term is five years, and national elections (presidential elections, and elections for the National Assembly) are scheduled for 2020. A new electoral code affirmed by the National Assembly in 2018 excludes a majority of the Burkinabé diaspora and provides only very limited access to polling stations in 2020. This raises suspicion about the upcoming elections.
The state’s monopoly on the use of force is in principle established nationwide, but in reality, not enforced all over the country. The state’s control showed worrying signs of erosion during the period under review, in particular in the periphery near the borders of Mali and Niger, but also elsewhere, including the capital, the eastern region since mid-2018, and the countries’ west and south since the end of 2018. Within the security sector, serious problems already existed under the Compaoré regime. Extensive economic grievances (poor pay, housing, etc.) among the security forces persist despite the government’s efforts to meet their demands. The political aspects have not been addressed at all. These grievances, combined with political and ethnic fractionization of the security forces, have long threatened to weaken the state’s monopoly on violence to an extent that could destabilize the regime at any time. This became obvious, once again, when between September 16 and September 23, 2015, the Presidential Guard launched a coup d’état against the transitional government. Though popular protests succeeded to overcome the coup, disturbances and divisions within the army have remained. Army, gendarmerie and police bases, as well as public institutions such as schools and municipal administrations, were attacked repeatedly in 2017 to 2018 by non-state armed groups (most likely linked to al-Qaeda Maghreb/AQIM), and at different locations in many regions of the country – mostly, but by no means limited to the periphery. Since 2015, all in all, around 250 persons, civilians and service members, have been killed in attacks. In early January 2019, 49 people were killed in an intercommunal clash in Yirgou, 200 km north of Ouagadougou. The state’s security forces weakening ability to ensure the monopoly of violence can no longer be ignored. This is also reflected in the strengthening and spreading of the Koglweogo and other local vigilantes all over the country, who also come into conflict with each other and are being instrumentalized by political actors.
Burkina Faso has a relatively high degree of ethnic diversity (more than 60 ethnic groups, with the Mossi constituting almost half of the population). The major ethnic group, the Mossi, have a predominant role in politics, but there are only rare signs of institutional discrimination along ethnic affiliation. Interethnic marriages are common and not condemned by the government. Ethnicity hardly presents a politically relevant category with respect to state identity. Ethnic, religious or other identity groups are seldom systematically discriminated against by legal or state institutions. However, since the intercommunal clash in Yirgou in January 2019, a slight increase of discriminating narratives against the Fulbe (Peulh) is observed.
The majority of the population generally acknowledges the state’s constitution and accepts the nation-state as legitimate.
The state is constitutionally defined as secular. Religious dogmas have no relevant influence on politics or legal order. Pentecostal church groups have gained prominence and social influence in the period under review, but do not influence politics or the legal order. However, the religious authorities (Catholic, Muslim, and traditional religious authorities) play an important role in the Burkinabé society and often speak up. They frequently act as mediators in local and national political and social conflicts. According to the census about 61% of the population are Muslims, Christians (mostly Catholics) represent 29.9% and animists 7.3%. There are no tensions between religious groups so far, though there are voices complaining that Muslims were disproportionally represented in the political elite and civil service given their share among the general population. Recently, Islamic fundamentalists started to have noteworthy influence in the north and east. Concerns about the terrorist group al-Qaeda Maghreb (AQIM) spreading into Burkina Faso seemed to become a reality. Although the government has created a monitoring institution (ONAFAR, national observatory of religious issues) in early 2015, media reports and witnesses report on regions, where the support for terrorist groups grows. Nevertheless, the assumption must be made that citizens become accomplices out of intimidation and lack of perspective, not out of ideological convictions.
The state administration suffers from corruption on all levels. As a consequence, the existing structures provide most basic public services, but they show functional deficiencies and lack capacity in many areas. In particular, the population complains about shortcomings in basic infrastructure such as water, electricity, education (particularly regarding secondary schools and universities) and health care. Apart from main roads (Ouagadougou via Bobo-Dioulasso to the Ivorian border; Ouagadougou to Kaya, Kongoussi, and Koupela; etc.), roads and bridges are frequently in bad condition or do not exist. Officially, decentralization was designed to devolve some political decision-making to local authorities and to bring social services and basic administration closer to the people of the country’s 302 rural communes (in addition, 49 urban communes exist, among them two with “particular status,” Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso). In practice, however, thin financial, technical and human resources severely limited the extent to which this autonomy could be exercised and local administration could be strengthened.
The constitution guarantees all citizens the right to vote in direct, general, uniform and free elections, as well as the right to run for political office. General elections are regularly conducted on the national level and universal suffrage with secret ballots is ensured. National elections, both for the National Assembly and the presidency, were held at last on November 30, 2015. Voter turnout was 60.13%.
Roch Marc Christian Kaboré (Mouvement du Peuple pour le Progrès, MPP) succeeded in the first ballot with 53.49% (second-place candidat was Zéphirin Diabré, Union pour le Progrès et le Changement, UPC, with 29.65%). Roch Marc Christian Kaboré was inaugurated officially to the presidential office in late December 2015. Most observers note this does not indicate a significant change in political orientation, because Roch Marc Christian Kaboré had previously been a minister, prime minister, and chairman of the National Assembly during the presidency of Blaise Compaoré.
99 parties take part in the legislative elections. The MPP placed first with 55 out of 127 seats; the UPC won 33 seats; the former ruling party of Blaise Compaoré CDP won 18 seats; the Sankarist party UNIR/PS got five seats.
Nouveau Temps pour la Démocratie and the Alliance pour la Démocratie et la Fédération / Rassemblement Démocratique Africain won three seats each. PAREN (Parti de la Renaissance Nationale) and NAFA (Nouvelle Alliance du Faso) won two seats each. One seat each went to Le Faso Autrement, to the Organisation pour la Démocratie et le Travail, to the Parti pour la Démocratie et le Socialisme/Parti des Bâtisseurs, the Rassemblement pour la Démocratie et le Socialisme, to the Mouvement pour la Démocratie en Afrique, and to the Union pour un Burkina Nouveau.
Municipal elections were held in May 2016. Again, the MPP, UPC and CDP won the vast majority of seats: 10,749 seats in 361 municipalities for the MPP; 2,974 seats in 253 municipalities for the UPC, and 2,053 seats in 209 municipalities for the CDP.
While several parties with different platforms are able to run, the principles of equality and fairness were (and still are, even after Compaoré resignation) heavily constrained by the extensive patronage network maintained by the CDP and MPP and their control of the state administration and political institutions. Their exclusive access to substantial resources allows for a nationwide campaign machinery, including media coverage, and opponents have difficulty countering this. At the same time, despite some efforts to build coalitions, the opposition still suffers from extreme fragmentation and is unable to offer convincing political alternatives. Three municipalities were unable to hold elections due to conflicts, and 16 had difficulties establishing municipal councils. In these 19 municipalities which did not participate in the elections the preceding year, and those that had their municipal councils dissolved, elections were repeated on May 28, 2017.
Public resources are used for the incumbent for political campaigns, creating inequality between competitors.
In general, the elected government has the power to govern, but both the military and civil opposition groups have a serious potential for acting as a veto power. Also, after the putsch and presidential elections in 2015, the extent to which army officers influence political decisions or exercise veto power remains unclear.
Freedoms of assembly and association are constitutionally guaranteed and exercised extensively by oppositional political parties and civil society groups (in particular, trade unions, students, and human rights groups). However, human rights groups complain, that protesters frequently face repression by state security forces (e.g., in Houndé on February 24, 2017, during a march against an industrial mine, or on January 15, 2019 during a student march in Dori). On August 29, 2018, Safiatou Zongo Lopez, who has been engaged in the opposition against the government (namely, in the civil society organization “Bori bana”) was arrested and accused of an attempt of liberating detainees from the national prison in Ouagadougou. She has been liberated provisionally on January 2, 2019.
Related to the state of emergency that was declared in several provinces on December 31, 2018 due to the increase in terrorist attacks, assembly rights are at risk of restriction by the authorities.
Freedom of the press and freedom of speech are nowadays relatively secure. Radio is the most important media; numerous broadcasting stations exist. Journalists working for state-owned media often avoid political controversial issues. The private media are relatively independent and often critical of the government. Occasionally, journalists are condemned to jail or receive financial penalties for offenses such as insulting an officeholder. The Information Code grants journalists free access to sources of information, with exceptions for information pertaining to the internal or external security of the state, military secrets, strategic economic interests, ongoing investigations or legal proceedings, and anything that threatens people’s dignity and privacy. In practice, officials use these exceptions frequently, and accessing government information remains difficult. There are no government restrictions on access to the internet, which only a small percentage of the population has access to. internet access is growing but all in all still limited to urban areas. In recent years, social media have become relatively important also for political debates among a certain segment of society (notably young, relatively well-educated urban groups). On June 4, 2018, blogger Naïm Touré was arrested due to a social media post in which he criticized the lack of medical care for a member of the state security forces who was injured during an anti-terror operation. On July 3, Touré was sent to prison for two months, accused of “incitement to revolt.” In the Global Press Freedom 2017 survey by Freedom House, Burkina Faso was evaluated to 41 out of 100, an improvement of three points compared to 2015. On the Reporters without Borders’ Press Freedom Index, it was ranked 41 in 2018 (2016 and 2017: 42).
The institutional separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches is guaranteed in the constitution, but significantly limited in practical terms. The president’s position is, de jure and de facto, strong, whereas the unicameral National Assembly’s authority and involvement in decision-making suffers from limitations in its efficiency and its mechanisms of oversight. Moreover, the strong role of parts of the military, and the shortcoming of the elected institutions to control them, is a potential threat to the legislative, as became obvious in the course of the 2015 crisis.
The Senate, a relatively new institution established in 2012, could help strengthen the legislative branch against the powerful executive. However, it needs to be assured that the second chamber will not suffer from the same weaknesses as its predecessor. The country’s first Senate was abolished in 2002 amid different political concessions to the opposition, which considered the body duplicative, costly and insufficiently independent from government. The judiciary can at best partially balance the dominance of the executive since the latter has a strong influence on judicial appointments. Widespread corruption in the judiciary makes an independent stance toward the political branches difficult.
The judiciary is formally independent and institutionally distinct but dominated and politicized in practice by the executive branch. The executive orchestrates judicial appointments and promotions, and prosecutors are part of a hierarchy headed by the justice minister; because of this, the executive interferes in judicial decisions. The judicial system suffers from corruption, which stems from an overall system that is inefficient, poorly trained and poorly equipped. The economic vulnerability of its members makes them susceptible to exploitation, and they operate under extreme political pressure. Efficient court proceedings are conducted when critics of the government are put on trial, but rarely when politically or economically powerful people are concerned. Legal processes also accelerate when they serve the government’s interests. Notably, this is the case when quick legal proceedings against members of the army and the police were necessary to calm the outraged Burkinabé population and their demands for justice. Fighting government officials’ impunity has ranked among the population’s main demands since the murder of journalist Norbert Zongo, but the judiciary only hesitantly moves toward solving this or other crimes with suspected government involvement. The pressure on the Zongo case could rise, after the French justice approved the extradition of Francois Compaoré in December 2018.
In the period under review, official investigations were still ongoing in cases of people killed in the course of the popular uprisings of October 2014 and during the resistance against the military coup in September 2015. As of December 2018, a total of 84 defendants have been tried by a military court in Ouagadougou since the beginning of the trial in February 2018. Most prominently, the General Gilbert Diendéré appeared in the court; on December 5, 2018, he apologized to the victims. Diendéré was at the time the head of the military elite unit (the Presidential Guard) and responsible for the failed coup. The Burkinabé public eagerly waited for former foreign minister Djibril Bassolé to appear in the court in late 2018; until now, Bassolé denies any responsibility for the coup.
Public officials can be sued for the abuse of power or for other inappropriate actions. The leading figures of the government, however, are rarely subject to such measures. In general, lawsuits against public officials are only conducted in cases of disloyalty, or if public pressure requires the government to offer up a political scapegoat. Most politicians enjoy de facto immunity from prosecution. Fighting rampant political and bureaucratic corruption, including the criminal prosecution of corrupt officeholders, has been one of the public’s main demands for many years and that demand continued during the period under review. Isolated cases of corruption are prosecuted, but often without consequence. Corruption is widespread in all sectors of the economy and on all government levels. Officeholders in the municipalities are regularly associated with bribery and favoritism. In 2015, the government has passed a new anti-corruption legislation. However, enforcement is weak, due to poor access to information, a culture of impunity and ill-equipped institutions.
The national anti-corruption network (Réseau national de lutte anti-corruption, REN-LAC), in its 2017 study, reports that 36.6% of respondents state having been subjected to, or witness of, corruption. This represents a slight reduction compared to 2016 (39.3%). Most frequently, corruption is reported with respect to the municipal police, customs and the authority in charge of road transport (Direction Générale des Transports Terrestres et Maritimes, DGTTM).
The constitution forbids torture, but, in practice, security forces often subject citizens to torture and inhumane and degrading treatment. During the period under review, repeated acts of brutality, torture and ill-treatment by security forces have been reported, both in police stations and the over-crowed prisons all over the country, according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Ethnic Fulbe (Peulh) are reported to be particularly subjected to ill-treatment by state armed forces. Security forces, namely the “anti-riot brigade” (Compagnie républicaine de sécurité), frequently intervene violently in demonstrations by students and other citizens. Prison conditions are harsh and at times life-threatening. Cases of long-term detention without trial or access to legal counsel are widespread. Equality before the law and due process under the law exist in theory, but, in practice, it is often only citizens with financial means who can secure a fair or speedy trial. In addition, the right to fair trial is limited by popular ignorance of the law and a continuing shortage of magistrates. Protected by a corrupt and easily swayed judiciary, the government cultivates a culture of impunity. This is one reason for the widespread, public sympathy for the self-defense group “Koglweogo.” Their violent punishment against thieves are considered to be more effective than state law, but at the same time deteriorate the civil rights situation markedly. Freedom of religion and a ban on discrimination, both guaranteed by the constitution, are generally respected. A law condemns all kinds of discrimination, including gender discrimination, but the government does not effectively enforce it. Homosexuals, persons with disabilities and persons with HIV/AIDS are often confronted with social and economic discrimination, and women’s rights (including reproductive rights) are not always guaranteed in practice. Insufficient health care, including lack of equipment and staff in hospitals, result in a high risk of birth complications, infections, and death of mothers and newborns. Notably in the rural north of the country, over 50% of girls were married younger than 18, many forcefully. While attitudes within society change slowly, the government’s awareness campaigns and community outreach efforts to change attitudes toward women are said to have contributed to some modest improvement. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is illegal and fought through government campaigns and by exercising the law. These efforts have had some impact, but FGM is still widespread, especially in rural areas.
Democratic institutions exist but are functional only to a limited degree and still suffer from limitations with regard to intra- or inter-organizational stability, though this has improved after the turnover of Blaise Compaoré. On the national, regional and local level, stability suffers from shortcomings in the rule of law and a dysfunctional, politicized and often corrupt administration that lacks both materials and qualified personnel. In the past, the National Assembly is weak and has never been much more than a rubber stamp for the government’s legislative propositions. After the government and regime change, this seems to improve slightly. However, from top to bottom, institutions suffer from corruption, which limits their performance. Local institutions in particular very often lack material, financial means, staff and capacities to perform the tasks assigned to them. Moreover, central state authorities bypass local institutions when it comes to politically and economically important issues. From 2015, we can see that institutions responsible for financial control improved their performance, while other institutions such as the executive and the judiciary are not performing their duties in terms of sanctioning mismanagement of public resources.
Acceptance and support for democratic institutions is restrained both among the government and large segments of the population. This has improved as a consequence of the popular protest that stopped the Presidential Guard’s coup d’état and the presidential elections of November 2015. National institutions are still deemed nearly irrelevant to large parts of the rural population. However, a significant number of associations and civic organizations actively contributes to strengthening commitment to democratic institutions. Commitment by government bodies and political parties, by contrast, seem to be rather instrumental. They support democratic institutions whenever these are likely to serve their respective interests. Notwithstanding this, most actors in public discourse confirm their commitment to democratic institutions. At least some of the key actors of the previous regime and the 2015 coup, among them General Gilbert Diendéré and some leading military officers, are now being put to trial by international or national (military) courts. However, the underlying problems both in political and military institutions, have not been resolved, and the situation constitutes a serious risk in a country shaped by military coups. The military still presents a significant veto power having the potential to weaken and threaten democratic institutions.
In Burkina Faso, nearly 200 political parties exist. 99 were registered by the national election commission for the 2015 national elections. In the National Assembly, seven are represented:
MPP (Mouvement du peuple pour le progrès), six seats
UPC (Union pour le progrès et le changement), three seats
CDP (Congrès pour la démocratie et le progrès), two seats
Unir/PS (Union pour la renaissance/Parti sankariste), one seat
Nouveau Temps pour la Démocratie, NTD), one seat
Parti de la Renaissance Nationale (PAREN), one seat
Nouvelle Alliance du Faso, NAFA, one seat
The CDP’s decades of hegemony have led to a semi-authoritarian, dominant-party system. However, in January 2014, 75 CDP politicians, some of them with considerable influence (e.g., Salif Diallo, former Special Adviser to Blaise Compaoré; Simon Comparoé, former Mayor of Ouagadougou; and Roch Christian Kaboré, former President of the National Assembly), declared their resignation from the party and founded the Mouvement pour le peuple et le progrès (MPP), which is now the main political party in opposition to Blaise Compaoré’s CDP. Compaoré himself currently lives in Abidjan and has taken Ivorian citizenship; his wife is Ivorian. However, the secession did not emerge from fundamental programmatic or ideological differences but from discontent over Compaoré’s intention to establish his younger brother, François, as his successor. In particular, Salif Diallo, Simon Comparoé and Roch Christian Kaboré had been expelled from their former prominent positions within the ruling party and replaced by supporters of François Compaoré. Except for the CDP and MPP, the party system is highly fragmented and the level of organizational stability is low. The parties’ fragmentation and the inability of the opposition parties’ representatives to build stable coalitions have been two of the main obstacles to the country’s democratization process for the last 20 years.
The system lacks programmatic capacities and shows grave weakness with regard to the population’s social integration and political education. Parties can therefore, if at all, only partially fulfill their political role. Civil society groups are much more able to integrate large parts of the population and contribute significantly to the absorption of democratic awareness and action. Ideologies and programmatic issues do not play a significant role in party membership. Ethnicity and religion continue to influence political behavior, including voting, especially in rural areas.
Many non-parliamentary groups and an active civil society exist in Burkina Faso. Most important are the trade unions, student associations and human rights organizations. Other interests, in particular of rural groups and women, however, are underrepresented, though some important and well-organized rural interest groups (e.g., the Fédération Nationale des Groupements Naam) and NGOs (e.g., the Association Monde Rural, AMR) exist. Yet the quality of representation is high. Interest groups, cooperative associations or civil society organizations are able to cooperate when pursuing a common goal, better than political parties. In the period under review, this was demonstrated on the occasion of protests against the arrest of blogger Naïm Touré in June and July 2018 and against the government’s endeavor to increase fuel prices in late November 2018. Human rights organizations are steadily putting pressure on the authorities to investigate human rights violations, in particular in the course of the 2014 protests that led to the ousting of former President Blaise Compaoré and his regime, and during the resistance against the coup in 2015. Moreover, they persistently keep political murders, namely the cases of Thomas Sankara, Norbert Zongo, and former student body president Dabo Boukary, on the agenda. In the case of Norbert Zongo, civil society protested in December 2018 on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of his murder. During the period under review, civil society groups increasingly engaged in collective action in order to defend local people’s rights and claims related to industrial mining, such as the zinc mine Perkoa near Koudougou and the gold mines Houndé gold (Houndé, Tuy province) and Bissa (near Kongoussi, Centre Nord).
Meaningful data is available from the Afrobarometer’s Round 7 survey, whose preliminary results were published in 2018. According to the results, a strong majority (74%) of Burkinabé reject one-party rule and military rule (likewise 74%). A proportion of 63% of the Burkinabe’s citizens prefer democracy to any other kind of government. According to the survey, 70% favor a two-term limit on presidential mandates. However, Burkinabe’s see the extent to which democracy is achieved more critically: 28% feel that Burkina Faso was a full democracy; 36% see only minor problems with democracy in the country, 25% identify major problems. Only 5% say that in their view, Burkina Faso is no democracy at all. This shows some slight improvement, according to the respondents’ perception: In the Round 5 survey, published in 2013, only 24% saw the country as a full democracy while 31% saw minor problems, 24% major problems, and 8% stated that it was no democracy at all.
Nonetheless, the majority of Burkinabés trust in their democratic institutions: A share of 67% of the population trusts the president, 62% the electoral commission and 63% the courts.
There are a large number of autonomous, self-organized groups, association and organizations in Burkina Faso that address social, political, cultural, environmental or other topics. In many areas, civic organizations take on a representative function that government institutions, including the parliament and state agencies, are not able (or not willing) to perform. Civic organizations are cooperative and strategic. They generally operate under the principles of self-regulation and are a voice of political and social concern. It is difficult to assess the level of trust among the Burkinabé population, as no relevant public opinion survey is available. In Afrobarometer’s Round 7 survey, more than one-third of respondents stated that they are either a member or a leader of a civil society organization. An important factor, in any case, is the culture of “pleasantry,” which permits members of certain ethnic groups to make jokes about each other and communicate sensitive issues without causing bad feelings. However, some Burkinabé scholars point to the need to more strongly educate the youth about joking relations, as corresponding knowledge falls into oblivion. Nevertheless, this cultural trait is still widely praised as a reason for why interethnic relations in the country have been amicable. The strong approval for interethnic and intercommunal solidarity and cohesion became obvious in January 2019: An intercommunal clash in Yirgou (Centre Nord) in which nearly 50 people were killed, was followed by a strong broad nationwide solidarity campaign by a broad range of local and national associations (interest groups, civil society organizations, NGOs, political parties and others). These recent events require attention for the future development of intercommunal trust.
Poverty and social exclusion are quantitatively and qualitatively extensive and structurally ingrained. The 2018 United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Human Development Report (HDR) ranks Burkina Faso 183 out of 187 countries, despite steady but minor improvements in the country’s Human Development Index since 1975. In the context of extreme poverty and widespread inequalities, social exclusion is severe and structurally reinforced, especially in rural areas and for women. Despite some minor improvements in the education sector, literacy and school enrollment rates remain extremely low with an average literacy rate of 28.7% of the population age 15 and above. In 2016, gross enrollment ratio in primary education improved to 91.11% (2014: 86.9%) and at secondary level to 35.787% (2014: 28.4%). Nevertheless, the quality of education remains low. Access to education is constrained by large disparities from province to province and between urban and rural areas. Gender disparity has decreased; in 2014, Burkina Faso was rated 0.870 points on the UNDP’s Gender-related Development Index (GDI) (2014: 0.881 points). Its GII value is 0.610 ranking it 145 out of 158 countries (2017). Female enrollment ratio (2016) is at primary and 34.872% at secondary level.
Despite recent improvements, social indicators remain weak and the incidence of poverty is high. Approximately 8 million are living in severe poverty. 43.7% have to make their living with less than $1.90 a day (2014), according to the World Bank.
The institutional framework for market competition remains weak, with significant entry and exit barriers, pervasive corruption, a weak judicial system, a lack of access to financing for small and medium-sized enterprises. In principle, the rights of foreign and domestic private entities to establish and own enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activities are guaranteed by the constitution and the investment code. Businesses can be freely established and sold. The informal sector is large. The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom 2019 describes Burkina Faso’s economy as “mostly unfree” (but bordering to the category of “moderately free”), ranks it 96 out of 180, virtually unchanged from previous years. With an overall score of 59.4, Burkina Faso is above the sub-Sahara African average (which is 54.2) and slightly below the world average (60.8). Similarly, the World Bank Doing Business 2019 survey noted a slight worsening of the business climate in Burkina Faso, ranking the country 151 (a drop of 3 rank within one year) out of 190 economies. Despite slightly negative ranking trends, some improvement in the last years and the successful implementation of recent reforms can be noted. Burkina Faso has made moderate progress in some areas of economic freedom, such as the simplification of the business start-up process, the set-up of two commercial courts in the two major cities, and ongoing tax administration reforms. Also, the World Bank reported some progress in the business environment, as the government recently launched a credit bureau, adopted the public-private partnership (PPP) law and initiated reforms regarding business licenses and financial infrastructure. However, important reforms are still required concerning access to electricity, tax payment, access to land and enforcement of contracts.
According to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 report, it takes three procedures, 13 days and costs 42.5% of GNI per capita to establish a business, placing the country at a respectable rank 79 out of 190. The worsening security situation, too, presents a challenge to business activities.
The formation of monopolies and oligopolies is not regulated consistently. No clear and comprehensive legal provisions exist. Some public enterprises continue to enjoy a monopoly in their markets – including the electric and water utilities, the national lottery, mail, rail equipment and fuel imports.
On 27 April 2017 a new Competition Act was passed, modifying the provisions of the previous Competition Act of 1994. The new act harmonizes national and regional rules (e.g., regarding state aid and subsidies) and clarifies the relationship between the national and regional competition authorities. Moreover, it significantly increases the penalties payable by transgressing firms for violations of competition laws. However, although the new Competition Act has been passed into law it has not yet been enacted.
While foreign trade officially follows nondiscrimination principles, supplementary taxes on imports, targeted import bans, as well as significant non-tariff barriers such as inadequate infrastructure and corruption, all limit foreign trade. The MFN applied simple average tariff stood at 12.2 in 2017. As a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Burkina Faso’s objective is to adapt national regulations according to the Treaty on the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA). Despite the harmonization of the majority of trade policy instruments, mainly import measures, the implementation is far from complete in all areas. A landlocked country, Burkina Faso depends heavily on its neighbors, especially Côte d’Ivoire, for non-regional trade. According to a 2010 WTO report, Burkina Faso has improved its institutional and regulatory framework since the previous review of the country’s trade policy, in 2004. Burkina Faso is a member of the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes and hence participates in the peer review process, which encourages all countries to adopt an effective exchange of information in tax matters. The latest review was published in 2016 and rated Burkina Faso overall “largely compliant.” Corruption is pervasive. Since 2007, the surveys of the Burkinabé NGO Réseau national de lutte anti-corruption (REN-LAC) have ranked the customs service as the most corrupt institution.
Burkina Faso’s banking system is supervised by the regional central bank, the Banque Centrale des États de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (BCEAO), which serves all members of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU). Previously regulated and controlled by the government, the banking system continues to undergo restructuring to promote competition and improve the microfinance sector. Despite some progress in terms of diversification and increased access to financial services offered by banks, the overall healthy system has limited ability to finance the economy. Besides general weaknesses in the judicial and regulatory system, the sector lacks innovative financial instruments, notably access to credit for small to medium-sized enterprises. The banking sector is composed of 13 commercial banks and five specialized credit institutions. Access to banking services remains low, with 2.86 branches of commercial banks per 100,000 adults (2017). 174 out of 1,000 adults held a deposit account at a commercial bank (2017), according to IMF data.
As of May 2017, Burkina Faso received a sovereign rating of B (stable) by Standard and Poor’s. Regional and national fixed incomes markets are still in their early development stages.
The Heritage Foundation acknowledges that the government has pursued banking liberalization and restructuring, encouraging competition in the financial sector. However, according to this source, the banking sector remained underdeveloped, providing a low level of access to banking services in general.
Burkina Faso benefits from its membership in the CFA franc zone. The common currency has a fixed parity with the euro, which is guaranteed by the French Treasury. The exchange rate policy is heavily influenced by that of the European Central Bank (ECB) and thus it felt the effects of the depreciation and the crisis in the euro zone.
According to the World Bank, consumer price inflation was 0.368% in 2017.
The government’s fiscal and debt policies generally promote macroeconomic stability, but there remains a moderate risk of debt distress due to Burkina Faso’s excessive dependence on commodity exports, low diversification of the export sector and its reliance on external financing for most of its public investment programs. Public debt increased in the last decade from 25.6% of GDP in 2007 to 36.5% in 2017. The net lending/borrowing was in 2017 – 7.4% of the GDP according to world bank data.
Economic growth has recovered during the period under review and seems stable now. A recent IMF African Department publication identifies Burkina Faso as one of the few non- resource-rich, low-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa that have been able to achieve consistently high growth rates over a 15-year period. According to the IMF, Burkina Faso has a good track record of maintaining macroeconomic stability even in the face of severe shocks in recent years, but higher, more diversified, and more sustainable growth is essential in order to substantially reduce poverty and inequality.
While natural resource wealth particularly from gold (and potentially other commodity) exports has the potential to accelerate the country’s development, resource-rich developing countries that plan to increase public investment financed in part by external borrowing may carry substantial debt risk.
According to World Bank data, total debt service, in 2017, was 3.71% of exports of goods, services and primary income.
The current account balance, as in % of GDP, was -6.809 (2016). External debt stock was 25.012% of GNI (2017).
General government final consumption expenditure is 23.943% of GDP (2017).
Property rights and rules regarding the acquisition of property are adequately defined under the law, but weaknesses in the judicial system complicate or prevent their protection or implementation even though the state itself does not interfere with property rights. The International Property Rights Index (IPRI) score for 2018 is 38 (scores are from 0 to 100, with higher scores more desirable). According to Doing Business 2019, it takes about 67 days to register a property and four procedures are involved. Burkina Faso law permits private ownership. However, traditional systems and traditional authorities (chiefs) play an important role in allocating and protecting rights to land and, in practice, agricultural land is mostly governed by customary tenure systems. Land tenure insecurity is a serious and increasing problem. Structural deficiencies remain in enforcing property rights, including the arbitrary removal of land titles. Another pressing issue in Burkina Faso is robbery, particularly of breeding animals, to which state security forces have no effective answers. This gave rise to the mobilization of the self-defense group “Koglweogo,” whose agenda mainly targets the tracking of stolen property and punishing thieves.
The exercise of privatizing state-owned enterprises has been delayed. Private companies can, in principle, act freely but they may encounter economic, political and social barriers to development, such as a lack of financing. According to the Doing Business 2019, it takes about 13 days on average to start a new business and three procedures are involved. Burkina Faso stands at 79 on the ease of starting a business (2017: 72).
Rudimentary measures to preserve social welfare do exist but are extremely diverse in terms of territory, social strata and sector. International, national and local civil society play a major role in compensating multi-dimensional deficiencies. The country cannot systematically combat poverty on its own. More than 75% of non-agricultural employment exists in the informal sector of the economy; thus only a very small group of salaried workers, including state employees, benefits from the country’s modest social security system. Existing social welfare laws provide pensions, disability insurance, occupational injury insurance and health insurance. Workers and unions have demanded improved social welfare networks for years and continued to make this a key issue during strikes. The government, in cooperation with donors, has continued its efforts to increase access to education and health care, in addition to basic needs such as clean water and sanitation services, and to promote income-generating activities for vulnerable social groups. The poorest households will benefit from subsidies and school nutrition programs, reduced fees for health services and the introduction of cash transfer schemes. The main target of the development policy SCADD (Stratégie de croissance accélérée et de développement durable) is to combat poverty and improve people’s well-being based on an enforced stimulation of the annual GDP growth. These efforts have shown minor success; the gross enrollment rate for primary education increased from 88.37% in 2015 to more than 91% in 2016 and from 33.72% to 35.77%, at the secondary level, according to the World Bank; overall, these are still low even for regional standards. Reciprocal social safety relationships play a major role in families, villages and other social units. Those who are socially excluded from corresponding relations usually belong to the most vulnerable groups in the community.
Burkina Faso has a Gender Inequality Index value of 0.61, ranking it 145 out of 160 countries in the 2017 index. The World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report of 2018 ranks it 129 out of 149 countries (2013: rank 114).
Only 1.6% of adult women have reached a secondary of education compared to 4.3% of their male counterparts. For every 100,000 live births, 371 women die from pregnancy related causes (2015); and the adolescent fertility rate is 5.35 (2016). Female participation in the labor market is 58% compared to 75% for men (2016). Inequalities and disparities remain widespread across the sectors. There are many voices claiming that girls are disadvantaged at school. Sexual harassment at schools and early maternity of girls are common. Even though ethnicity is not a reason for the denial of equal opportunity, women and members of other vulnerable social groups have limited access to education, social services, public office, and so on. Especially nomadic groups are considered disadvantaged by some institutions. In the agricultural sector, women have less access to micro-credits, land rights, technology and know-how.
In the peripheral regions, non-citizens are sometimes regarded with mistrust, but, on the intercommunal level, there is no clear evidence for explicit discrimination.
The economy is heavily reliant on agricultural production, with 28.3% of the active population employed in the sector. Cotton is the country’s most important cash crop, but gold is the most important export. Burkina Faso is Africa’s fifth gold producing country (after South Africa, Tanzania, Ghana, and Mali). In 2017, 45.8 tons of gold were produced in Burkina Faso, a significant increase compared to 2016, when 38.53 tons of gold were extracted, and a continuation of the trend of increasing gold production in the country. After some years of slowdown due to the political crisis and exogenous shocks (Ebola crisis, fall in the price of raw materials), in the period under review, GDP growth has recovered and reached 6.73% in 2017. GDP per capita increased in the last decade from 1,261 international dollars in 2007 to 1,870 international dollars in 2017. The GDP per capita growth was 3.7% in 2017.
The strong growth of the extractive industries is increasingly structured around the industrial sector, but the primary and tertiary sectors continue to be the main drivers of growth, accounting for 32% (agriculture) and 46% (services) of the GDP, as estimated for 2017. Consumer price inflation was around 0.4% in 2018. As the CFA franc is pegged to the euro, the exchange rate is relatively stable. Burkina Faso’s current account balance is chronically negative. Public finances have deteriorated significantly, with the public deficit worsening to 7.7% of GDP in 2017 against 3.5% in 2016. The increase in tax revenues by one percentage point of GDP was not sufficient to offset increases in the wage bill, transfers, and public investments. To finance the public deficit, the government combined concessional aid and borrowing on the regional market. The current account deficit also deteriorated to 8.4% of GDP in 2017 (against 7.2% of GDP in 2016) owing to the increase in the balance of trade deficit resulting from imports and international oil prices. Burkina Faso has benefited from various initiatives, including Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI). Employment to population ratio is at 72.12% (2017). Tax revenue rate is 18.2% in 2016 (2014: 15.52%).
Large parts of the population, namely poor people in rural areas, directly depend on natural resources (land and water) for their livelihoods and are exposed both to the impacts of climate change and politically induced land use changes. In 2017, 12 out of 13 regions and 30,862 people were impacted by flooding and violent winds, according to the national disaster management agency SP/CONASUR. The agency provided emergency assistance in the form of food and non-food supplies. The National Adaptation Program of Action (NAPA) focuses on identifying and reducing disaster risk through monitoring, early warning and response systems. Projects by NGOs, the government and donors aim at raising awareness of environmental issues. They engage in sustainable forest and water management, and fight desertification and land degradation. Yet, environmental methods and knowledge of the international community often diverge with traditional knowledge, creating conflict and rejection by the population. Another problem is that, against the background of severe poverty, the protection of the environment is only a secondary priority for people living in the countryside, even though their livelihood depends heavily on related issues. This tendency is supported by a lack of education and resources. Nevertheless, there are some NGO approaches to sensitize the population and support them with the necessary resources to establish gardens. Connected methods spare the environment and have promising harvest yields. This is very important, as a majority of the Burkinabé population lives off agriculture. Nonetheless, for the current national development plan (Plan national de développement économique et social, PNDES, for 2016-2020) environmental policy is not a core topic, but subordinated to economic development. The strategy of promoting the extractive sector as an alleged driver of national development clearly contradicts the existing efforts of sustainable environmental policy.
The state’s system of primary, secondary and tertiary education remains inadequate despite increased investment and some improvements, such as the expansion of the free school program for all children from three to 16 years under the new Strategic Development Program for Basic Education (PDSEB) running from 2012 to 2021.Burkina Faso’s value on the UN Education Index was 0.286 in 2017.
Despite some minor improvements in the education sector, literacy and school enrollment rates remain extremely low with an average literacy rate of 28.7% of the population age 15 and above. In 2016, gross enrollment ratio in primary education improved to 91.11% (2014: 86.9%) and at secondary level to 35.787% (2014: 28.4%). Gender equality in education has not been achieved. Female enrollment ratio (2016) is at primary and 34.872% at secondary level. Female to male enrollment rate: 97.1% (primary and secondary school enrollment, gender parity index, 2016). Access to education is constrained by large disparities from province to province and between urban and rural areas.
Deficits in the education sector are due to weak infrastructure and the low quality of education. Permanent infrastructure and investment in science as well as research and development remain underdeveloped, despite increased government expenditure in education and rising donor assistance over the years. According to the World Bank, government expenditure on education was at 4.166% of GDP (2015), still a low rate.
The structural constraints on effective governance in Burkina Faso are still massive. Chief among them is the extremely high poverty rate, as reflected in all common indicators such as the low GDP per capita and Burkina Faso’s bottom ranking in the Human Development Index (HDI (183 out of 187, 2017). Other constraints include a weak infrastructure, in both physical and institutional terms; vulnerability to weather risks (floods and droughts), which regularly affects the country’s ability to produce staples as well as part of its export commodities (cotton and livestock); the low diversification of the economy; its high dependency on imported fuel and food; and its concomitant exposure to fluctuation of world market prices (particularly for gold, Burkina Faso’s main export). The country’s landlocked situation adds a further level of difficulty. Despite the recent recovery of GDP growth, Burkina Faso’s current account balance remains negative and is characterized by high imports of services and capital goods imports. The country lacks an educated labor force due to a rudimentary education system and a low literacy rate.
Burkina Faso has comparatively strong civil society traditions. The fragmentation and fluctuation of a number of political parties do not reflect these traditions and one should not mistake the relative strength of civil society with particularly strong political influence. Numerous organizations and associations, which partially have their roots in pre-colonial society, partly emerged in the colonial period (often in more or less open opposition to colonial rule), constitute one of the society’s key strengths. These organizations include “groupement villageois” (village groups, such as the Groupements Naam) and other community/village-based associations, which were originally self-help groups or traditional warrior associations (e.g., the Dozo). Trade unions, student unions, human rights groups and a wide spectrum of literacy, environmental and women’s advocacy groups, such as trade and professional organizations, are vital to civil society in Burkina Faso.
The federation of trade unions Confédération générale du travail du Burkina (CGT-B) originated from the French Confédération générale du Travail (CGT). It is the biggest trade union federation in Burkina Faso in terms of membership figures. Apart from the CGT-B, five other trade union federations exist: The Confédération Nationale des Travailleurs du Burkina (CNTB), the Confédération Syndicale Burkinabé (CSB), the Force Ouvrière – Union Nationale des syndicats libres (FO-UNSL), the Organisation Nationale des Syndicats Libres (ONSL) and the Union Syndicale des Travailleurs du Burkina Faso (USTB). The trade unions in Burkina Faso are organized along ideological lines. Overlaps in personnel among the civil society associations are commonplace; virtually all functionaries of the CGT-B and its member organizations were previously organized in the student movement, notably in the Union Générale des Etudiants Burkinabé (UGEB) and Association Nationale des Etudiants Burkinabé (ANEB), which are ideologically close to the CGT-B.
Trade unions, human rights organizations, students and political opposition parties joined forces in the Collectif d’organisations démocratiques de masse et de partis politiques (Collective of the Democratic Mass Organisations and Political Parties, or Collectif) following the killing of journalist Norbert Zongo in December 1998. The Collectif still exists today, and on December 13, 2018, to mark the 20th anniversary of Zongo’s death, the collective together with the Coalition nationale de lutte contre la vie chère, la corruption, la fraude, l’impunité et pour les libertés (Coalition against the High Cost of Living, Corruption, Fraud, Impunity and for Freedoms, CCVC), mobilized thousands of people for a central demonstration in Ouagadougou. The Collectif is led by the Mouvement Burkinabé des droits de l’homme et des peuples (MBDHP), one of the most active human rights organizations in West Africa. The MBDHP, the trade union federation CGT-B and the student union UGEB had already collaborated since the late 1980s. Their most recent alliance, the CCVC was founded in March 2008 in the course of intense protests against high food and fuel prices. During the period under review, the alliance organized, among others, a mass march on November 29, 2018. There were also several student protests, one of which in response to the French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Burkina Faso in November 2017.
In the course of the protests against the constitutional referendum in October 2014, a new civil society group came into existence in July 2013, the Balai Citoyen (literally ‘citizens’). The founders and front men of Balai Citoyen are the reggae musician Sams’K le Jah and the rapper Serge Bambara aka “Smockey.” The group still exists, but is relatively inactive.
Violent incidents have increased during this review period. The north of Burkina Faso is partly under influence of non-state armed groups (most likely linked to al-Qaeda Maghreb/AQIM). Since mid-2018, violent attacks by Islamist terrorist have increased in the eastern and northern regions. These attacks were targeted at military sites but also at civilians. In early January 2019, a serious intercommunal clash occurred in Yirgou (Centre North province, about 200 kilometers north of Ouagadougou) which particularly targeted ethnic Fulbe (Peulh). Almost 50 people were killed. The incident was followed by an enormous wave of solidarity for national unity. Nevertheless, the massive activity of different vigilante groups intensifies the potential for intercommunal conflict. Moreover, the activity of Islamist groups increases the potential for religious and/or ethnic division.
Social cohesion in Burkina Faso is relatively high. Social unrest and popular dissatisfaction with the government and the president have steadily grown over the last couple of years, reaching a peak with the 2014 protests and the overthrow of Blaise Compaoré. Almost all different groups of society demonstrated. Among them were marginalized urban youth (unemployed, informal sector, petty traders and the like) students, teachers, workers, judiciary personnel, security personnel and merchants. Support to the resistance against the September 2015 coup d’état was likewise broad, though it was predominantly urban youth who took to the streets and actively fought the coup instigators. The cohesion and solidarity that have emerged from the protests against the Compaoré regime and the coup d’état continues to have an effect today. In the period under review, the increase in terrorist attacks also had the effect of strengthening solidarity and endeavors for creating and maintaining national unity.
However, the growing gap between a small circle of wealthy, powerful figures and the poor masses continues to widen dangerously, mainly as a result of the government’s policies, which are more oriented toward maintaining power and clientelist relations than the well-being of the population. Therefore, the potential for conflict has grown over the years.
This has become obvious in numerous disputes, often either about local so-called Big Men, traditional and/or political authority or over natural resource (land, water), and increasingly over urban land during the period under review. Some seem to follow ethnic lines. However, the deep split between Burkinabé society and the political elite arises less along ethnic or religious lines than along social lines. As such, radical political actors occasionally have success mobilizing groups and protest movements.
During the period under review, there were many conflicts related to the mining sector. Gold mining has enormously expanded in Burkina Faso since the late 2000s. Currently, 11 industrial gold mines and one zinc mine are active; almost all of them have started within the last 10 years. Virtually all mines are accompanied by local conflicts between local communities, and particularly artisanal miners, on the one hand and state and company security forces on the other. During the period under review, some of these conflicts have escalated when security forces reacted violently to local protests, such as protests against the Houndé gold mine (Houndé, Tuy province) that started production in late 2017, and against the nearby Roxgold mine Yaramoko in October 2018. Particularly in the southwest, around the town of Gaoua, conflicts also emerge frequently related to artisanal mining, which are sometimes framed in ethnic terms.
The government has, by and large, adequately pursued strategic economic priorities that correspond with the normative framework in terms of striving for a market economy. Economic growth has been relatively consolidated during the period under review. As related to the PNDES, the government has put emphasis on the development of infrastructure, on promoting the agricultural and livestock sector, on (professional) education, and on water and health. In the last three years however, no significant socioeconomic or political reforms were introduced. The deterioration of the security situation also distracts from development-related problems. With regard to the political system and democratization, it remains unclear how far the new government’s priority is to enhance political transformation and democratization, or to stabilize its own power position.
The government has hardly made any far-reaching effort to consequently investigate and sanction economic and political crimes and to hold influential individuals among the old and new elite responsible for human rights violations. Rather, it might be that, similar as under the previous regime, the strategy is to try to calm the dissatisfied population but not react to civil society’s social and political claims with relevant measures of reform. Social and economic rights of large parts of the population are far from being ensured by the state authorities.
The government’s “National Plan for Economic and Social Development (PNDES)” for the period of 2016-2020 focuses on the structural transformation of the country’s economy and the welfare of its people. It is too early to evaluate its implementation. However, it is obvious that Burkina Faso remains extremely sensitive to developments in the global markets and dependent on the goodwill of donors, a situation that is aggravated by the structural constraints facing the country. Despite positive steps, reforms are so far sometimes implemented superficially or incompletely, as shown in the mining law that was revised in June 2015 but until now, is characterized by lacking or contradictory by-laws, administrative regulations, etc. A case in point is the “mining fund for local development.” Though the respective by-law has been voted in January 2017, until now, the fund is not effective, resulting in a loss of several million euro per year for the coffers of the municipalities. Improvements in conditions are not expected in the short or medium term. Although reforms are properly prepared and legally enacted, they often fail to become fully implemented. In many cases, the government simply does not have the required capacity to monitor results. Lack of qualified personnel is also a severe challenge. Poverty reduction measures have not been effective, and poverty levels remain high, and most social development indicators (health, education, gender equality, etc.) are, despite slight improvements, still alarming. Furthermore, decentralization and a culture of self-help mean implementation of measures is typically left to local institutions or organizations. In many cases, organizations’ financial support is dependent on foreign donors, which relieves fiscal pressure on the state budget. Moreover, the positive impact of reforms is subject to the constraints of a global market economy. Increasing terrorist threats in several parts of the country present an additional and serious challenge. The government continues to successfully pursue its primary objective of maintaining its hold on power. Compaoré’s resignation from the presidency and the 2015 presidential elections have not seriously challenged the existing power structure. The political elite is closely linked to former CDP, now MPP politicians. Its power machinery, which includes unlimited access to state resources, still exists, and overrides actors who might try to hinder the effective implementation of this political objective.
Burkina Faso’s path of transformation has long been characterized by partial and shortsighted democratic reforms that only go as far as necessary to address instances of social unrest and intense popular pressure. During the period under review, this trend seems to continue. However, since it covers only the 2nd and 3rd year that the government is in office after 27 years of Blaise Compaoré’s regime, the popular insurrection of 2014 and the failed coup d’état of 2015, it is still quite early to evaluate its policy learning performance. However, none of the policies implemented so far have fundamentally touched the underlying problem that blocks substantial democratization and social development: the continued grip on power exerted by a small elite unwilling to be held accountable for the abuses, corruption and mismanagement, and fundamental social and economic inequality. The government seems to prioritize the fight against terrorism (which is reasonable) and external (donor) relations instead of tackling core internal structural problems.
Available human, financial and organizational resources are utilized efficiently in very few areas. Huge amounts of resources are wasted due to corruption, clientelism, favoritism, poor coordination, and the country’s lack of infrastructure and official monitoring.
Moreover, the fillings of jobs or dismissals of public servants often serve favoritism or political motivations, hindering effective management. Insufficient financial resources limit the autonomy of the local state administration. The country’s youth, who as a whole are economically disenfranchised and lack adequate education and employment, have become increasingly frustrated with the selfish behavior of the political leadership and are essentially being ignored en masse as a valuable resource. In the period under review, this became, once more, visible in frequent protests by student and urban youth.
The country cannot manage the level of state debt on its own and has benefited and will continue to benefit from debt relief under the IMF and World Bank’s Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative. According to the 2016 IMF review, all quantitative performance criteria and indicative targets have been met, as well as most structural benchmarks. Tax revenues have decreased during the transition period, but are expected to consolidate and increase, according to the IMF.
On March 14, 2018, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a new three-year arrangement under the Extended Credit Facility (ECF) for Burkina Faso for Special Drawing Right (SDR) of about USD 157.6 million in support of the Burkina Faso’s economic and financial reform program. Public deficit worsened to 7.7% of GDP in 2017 against 3.5% in 2016. The increase in tax revenues by one percentage point of GDP was not sufficient to offset increases in the wage bill, transfers, and public investments. To finance the public deficit, the government combined concessional aid and borrowing on the regional market. The account deficit deteriorated to 8.4% of GDP in 2017 (against 7.2% of GDP in 2016) owing to the increase in the balance of trade deficit resulting from imports and international oil prices.
The population’s skepticism about reforms helps to explain the government’s conflicting objectives, even in cases where it may show foresight in seeking necessary change. Too many times, the authorities have made vast promises of far-reaching political reforms, but have mostly failed to deliver. Peasants and urban employees fear, with good reason, that their efforts are misused to benefit only a small group of elites. Although the government does try to coordinate conflicting objectives and interests, it is not always successful. Effective institutions and mechanisms of coordination, both horizontally between the ministries, departments and other national agencies, and vertically between political and administrative levels, are virtually absent. The self-interest of powerful individuals and elites furthermore continues to hinder policy coordination.
According to the national anti-corruption network (Réseau national de lutte anti-corruption, REN-LAC), the majority of the population considers politics and administration in Burkina Faso fundamentally corrupt. Its 2017 study reports that 36.6% of respondents state having been subjected to, or a witness of, corruption. This represents a slight reduction compared to 2016 (39.3%). However, corruption remains a taboo topic in the country and most people are afraid to point out related practices. On all levels, corruption remains one of the main problems blocking democratic and economic development in the country. The perception of corruption is widespread and the government’s rhetoric and institutional action in fighting corruption is significant. Besides the Superior Authority of State Control (ASCE), an entity under the authority of the prime minister that merges the High Commission for the Coordination of Anti-Corruption Activities, the State Inspector General, and the National Commission for the Fight against Fraud, there is the Public Accounts Court, which audits the government’s accounts and complements the functions of the ASCE, and the Regulatory Authority of Government Tenders, which monitors government contract processes. All of these bodies have comprehensive mandates and they have already exposed corruption at different levels of government and administration. In almost no cases, however, have their findings or recommendations been followed by action. Though the law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, the government did not implement it effectively. Supported by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), between February and May 2018, three national workshops were organized in Ouagadougou with the police, gendarmerie and customs, respectively, to formalize strategies tailored toward each security force to promote integrity and fight corruption.
There are few reliable public sources of information about corruption, and the media are often left to publish rumors and accusations. Few government agencies provide customer-friendly services (for example on websites), which seriously compromises citizens’ ability to obtain information about government operations, including the proposed national budget. Laws or regulations guaranteeing information access do not exist; nor does a provision for the president and major officeholders to declare assets acquired during public service. In 2013, Burkina Faso was accepted as a compliant in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Within this context, civil society organizations were granted a structured mechanism for accessing powerful contacts within mining companies and government.
A consensus on the tenets of democracy is driven by opportunism rather than a deep conviction of the benefits of such a system. Consequently, further democratization has, so far, always been carried out only with reluctance and particularly in response to civil society pressure. The relatively broad range of actors that were united in the resistance against the September 2015 coup d’état, despite political disagreements among them, demonstrates a principal consensus on goals such as strengthening democratic institutions, and rejection of military rule. In the period under review, this was shown through the broad support of national cohesion and solidarity in the face of frequent terrorist attacks that was shared by opposition parties and critical civil society actors.
Virtually all political actors (except for one party that is however not recognized officially) agree on the tenets of a market economy. The majority of the population, however, hardly benefits from a socially responsible market economy but, in contrast, suffers from the negative effects of privatization, restructuring and liberalization. However, consensus on democratic institutions is shared by a broader range of actors than on market economy. A considerable share of civil society organizations are engaged in the enhancement of democracy, but not necessarily link it to liberal market economy.
Burkina Faso is still a more or less neopatrimonial state, and politics is dominated by clientelism and political patronage. Within such a system, maintaining power becomes the primary or only objective for the political elite, and democratic reforms that could undermine this strategy will be circumvented by any means, which include exclusive access to the state’s machinery and its financial resources. In such a system, real reformers are rare, though they have grown both in number and influence after the ousting of Blaise Compaoré. In the period under review, non-state armed (terrorist, jihadis) groups posed a serious threat both to security and democracy. Civilian authorities, as well as the national security forces, were unable to deal with this challenge. This is why these actors continue to spread through the country and gain increasing control over communities and regions.
Beyond that, large parts of the ruling elite, including both party politicians and wealthy businessmen, are, de facto, opposed to the basic ideas of democracy, as they only support democratic institutions as far as these serve their own interests. While the exact influence of businessmen on policy-making is unknown, it must be assumed that they do have some degree of veto power. The customary authorities (traditional chiefs) also play an important role, both within and parallel to the power structure.
It remains to be seen how far the current government will be willing and able to seriously push democratization forward.
In Burkina Faso, societal cleavages along socioeconomic, politico-ideological and sometimes also ethnic lines are manifested in social conflicts or tensions. Political aspects of discontent have increasingly figured in demonstrators’ social and economic grievances. The period under review revealed that state authorities not only lack conflict management capacities but are conflict parties themselves. This became obvious, for instance, in conflicts related to rents and housing in Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso; in a considerable march by the political opposition on September 29, 2018; in the recent conflict over the fuel prices since November 2018; and in numerous conflicts related to the mining sector (e.g., in Houndé on several occasions in 2017 and 2018; Bagassi in early October, 2018; Boudry in December 2018).
Furthermore, at the local level, both political conflicts reflecting those on the national scale, and social tensions, for instance related to land use and tenure between autochthon and migrant land users or farmers and herders, are frequent. In the period under review, government and state authorities were mainly concerned with political conflicts on the national level and the fight against terrorism, and mostly failed to effectively manage local conflicts. The erosion of state authority in the last years has made it harder to contain localized conflicts. Overall, the political leadership repeatedly did not prevent cleavage-based conflicts from escalating. This became obvious, once again, in the intercommunal clash in Yirgou in early January 2019. Due to these increasingly violent events, many voices express concern with regard to the intercommunal and national peace in Burkina Faso.
While civil society participation is permitted in general, organizations’ influence on the political leadership’s democratization efforts becomes apparent only in situations when ignoring civil society would seriously endanger the government’s power. Though in the protests that overthrew former President Blaise Compaoré in 2014, and in the transition period, particularly during resistance against the coup d’état in September 2015, political (opposition) parties, including the now ruling MPP, and civil society organization have acted side by side and increasingly collaborated. This has decreased since Roch Marc Christian Kaboré and the MPP have seized power. In the period under review, however, opposition parties and civil society organizations marched jointly at some significant occasions such as an anti-government march on September 29, 2018 and a mass demonstration against the raise in fuel prices on November 29, 2018. In general, political and economic reforms in Burkina Faso are mainly the result of pressure from opposition parties and different civil society actors, primarily trade unions and professional associations, student associations and human rights organizations. In this way, all these groups exerted considerable influence over the political agenda. This influence touched not only economic and social welfare policy, but also issues such as impunity, the judiciary, corruption and others.
A straightforward strategy to deal with historical acts of injustice in Burkina Faso remains one of the most important steps toward further democratization and reconciliation of society. The political leadership, neither the previous nor the current, has hardly started serious attempts toward reconciliation. Burkina Faso has yet to establish anything resembling a truth and reconciliation commission, for example, to examine past human rights violations and, in particular, the circumstances of the assassinations of Thomas Sankara, Norbert Zongo and Dabou Boukary. Human rights violations and killings related to the protests in October 2014, the popular resistance against the coup d’état in September 2015 and the vigilante group “Koglweogo” have not yet been fully and seriously investigated, as civil society organizations point out.
In March 2016, a “High Council for Reconciliation and National Unity” (Haut Conseil pour la Réconciliation et l’Unité Nationale, HCRUN) officially installed. The body of 21 members has a five years mandate and shall “shed light on crimes and all other kinds of severe human rights violations from 1960-2015” (meaning that potential human rights violations committed after the current government has seized power are not included). Until now, however, its activities seem to be limited to occasional workshops and seminars.
Burkina Faso has advanced in implementing its development programs supported by the international community. A May 2012 debt sustainability analysis prepared by the World Bank and the IMF observed significant improvements in the authorities’ capacity to manage debt, upgrading Burkina Faso’s debt distress from “high” to “moderate.” This allowed Burkina Faso to receive financing other than grants, providing both new opportunities and new challenges. In its 2015 analysis, however, the IMF emphasized that debt management capacity should be strengthened in the future. This was confirmed, once more, in the IMF country report released on February 28, 2018.
On March 14, 2018, the IMF approved a new three-year arrangement under the Extended Credit Facility (ECF) for Burkina Faso for about USD 157.6 million in support of the country’s economic and financial reform program.
The current development plan “plan national de développement économique et social est le nouveau référentiel de développement du Burkina Faso“ covers the period of 2016 to 2020. It is supported by the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Extended Credit Facility (ECF).
Burkina Faso shows strong performance under the program despite the frequency of social unrest and adverse external shocks, which is mostly due to the threat of terrorist attacks. Burkina Faso’s economic policy remains strongly dependent on international aid. In 2016, Burkina Faso received, according to the World Bank, USD 1.023 billion (USD 54.878 per capita) of net Official Donor Assistance (ODA). ODA remains at a very high level. Burkina Faso has benefited and will continue to benefit from debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative.
Within three years in office, the current president and government seem to have obtained some confidence with the international community.
The increasing military cooperation is an indicator for Burkina Faso’s perceived credibility. For instance, the United States and Burkina Faso engage in a number of military training and exchange programs (e.g., Flintlock), particularly in counter-terrorism. Burkina Faso hosts two regionally oriented national schools financed by French cooperation, which take in trainees from third countries: ISEPC, the higher education institute for civil protection (Institut Supérieur D’Études de Protection Civile), and EMTO, the technical military academy (Ecole militaire technique de Ouagadougou). In addition, in the framework of Operation Barkhane, which was launched in August 2014, France has a base of operations in Ouagadougou.
Working within a regional context is a key element of Burkina Faso’s statehood. More than 60 ethnic groups in the country have cross-border settlements; nomads and migrant workers depend on pastures and jobs in neighboring countries; the fight against desertification, non-state armed groups/terrorism and trafficking is impossible without regional collaboration; seaport access for landlocked Burkina Faso is dependent upon agreements with neighbors to the south; and the CFA franc pegs the country to other states with the same currency. The international fight against terrorism in the region further strengthened security cooperation with regional partners (e.g., Ghana). In the period under review, regional cooperation with Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger has been reinforced with the establishment of the G-5 Sahel Joint Force to fight terrorism and criminal trafficking groups.
The crisis in adjoining Mali has led to new challenges, which have shaken the authorities in Burkina Faso. Despite the signing of the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali in June 2015, insecurity continues to hamper conditions conducive for return. Still more than 23,000 Malian refugees remain in Burkina Faso; most of them live in and around two consolidated camps in the Sahel region. Given the increasing insecurity in the region, it is possible that Malian refugees will spontaneously relocate to safer areas.
In January 2019, a new prime minister was appointed (Christophe Dabiré). He was commissioner of commerce at the West African Economic and Monetary Union for 10 years and is likely to turn out as a promoter of regional integration.
Burkina Faso faces enormous challenges. Since decolonization, the political system has been subject to several coups and military rule – half of this period under Blaise Compaoré’s rule. Hopes that a fundamental political transformation might take place have been rapidly dashed since the coup in 2015 that overthrew Compaoré. The current government has failed to make any palpable gains in achieving fundamental political or socioeconomic changes. And the gains made on key issues regarding impunity, corruption and a redress of human rights violations have failed to live up to ambitious hopes. Given the fact that virtually all of the current leading figures in government, administration and business come from the elite class of the Compaoré regime, this is hardly surprising.
In addition, the threat of terrorist attacks now poses a considerable risk to human, social and economic development. Though the overwhelming majority of the attacks targets institutions of the Burkinabé state rather than foreigners, incidents such as the attacks in Ouagadougou in 2016 and 2018, and (until recently, rare) cases of kidnapping of foreigners, are likely to hamper economic investment from abroad. At the same time, intercommunal and domestic security may continue to deteriorate in several regions.
The government faces several challenges. It remains to be seen how the newly appointed head of the military forces (elected in December 2018) and prime minister (elected in January 2019) will deal with the various issues in need of addressing. Fighting terrorism and guaranteeing effective security is a precondition for economic and human development. A party system still has to be developed that makes representative democracy possible. Until now, party politics in Burkina Faso mainly served as a way to secure access to state resources and their distribution to one’s own clientele – and not as a mechanism for the creation of political will and political majorities. There must be a legal appraisal of cases of murder and ‘disappearances’ that probably were politically motivated – not only the well-known cases of Thomas Sankara and Norbert Zongo, but also those of a number of activists from the student, human rights and trade union movements. An important requirement for ensuring that future governments in Burkina Faso do not use the same violent methods for dealing with the opposition, as in the past, is the clarification and public review of these cases, and legal proceedings against the perpetrators and those politicians and military figures responsible. Court proceeding targeting the leaders and perpetrators of the September 2015 coup must be timely, transparent and profound.
Key issues that need to be addressed include: democratic transformation; investigation of political and economic crimes and human rights violations; combating impunity and corruption; managing natural resources and economic growth in an inclusive way, so that all Burkinabé, and in particular the poor and marginalized, can benefit from the country’s potential. The latter includes rethinking whether the more or less unrestricted promotion of the extractive sector will work out as a development strategy for a country that so far features neither the institutional nor the human capacity to control the sector and benefit from it. The development effects that large-scale mining has generated in the country by no means counterbalance the negative ecological and socioeconomic impacts. The output of the agricultural sector will depend heavily on weather conditions while lack of irrigation and of reservoirs persist. The diversification of the sector, support to small-scale farmers and the expansion of irrigation systems are urgently needed. The level of support and the impact of measures envisaged by the government will influence growth in agriculture – the sector upon which the livelihoods of the majority of the population are based.
Better targeting of poverty alleviation measures remains an urgent task upon which the government has not yet fully embarked, and which also faces structural constraints. Furthermore, the country must continue improving its difficult business environment, for example by strengthening the judicial framework, consequently pursuing corruption, and investing in its most important resource: the highly motivated, young generation whose future depends on their opportunities for education. Secondary and tertiary education should be particularly developed, as well as professional training. Burkina Faso should enforce the diversification of its main sectors and increase public spending to further support agricultural sector development, and it should invest in public works to reduce high vulnerability to external shocks and provide employment opportunities. A stronger emphasis should be put on social protection and gender policies to achieve a certain level of socioeconomic development.