Burkina Faso - Politics
Instability has increased across Burkina Faso, particularly after the emergence of extremism in eastern Burkina Faso in 2018, which has since spread to other parts of the country. Prior to 2018, extremist activities were prevalent mainly in Burkina Faso’s northern Sahel region. However, 2019 saw an exponential increase in extremist activities, which has expanded to the east, west, and southern portions of the country. Terrorists target civilian and military targets alike.
In 2000, President Blaise Compaore and the ruling party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), altered Burkina Faso's constitution limiting the presidential mandate to two terms of five years. In 2005, following a petition from UNIR/MS leader Benewende Sankara, the constitutional court ruled that the 2000 amendment was not retroactive, thereby legitimizing Compaore's candidacy in 2005 and allowing him to run again in 2010 despite the fact that he had been in office since 1987. Compaore won the 2005 elections with an overwhelming majority of the votes. The remaining votes were divided between thirteen other candidates, who each received between five and less than point five percent of the votes.
On 31 October 2014, Blaise Compaore, who had served as president since 1987, resigned and fled the country. Protests, which had begun in October 2014 and culminated in the resignation of President Compaoré, were seen as a new chapter for a country whose history had been troubled by recurrent coups and impunity for serious human rights violations. With women’s rights newly on the agenda and parliament due to vote on abolition of the death penalty, Burkina Faso looked set to be making significant progress on human right. The country’s history of impunity even looked as if it would be challenged as the government promised to investigate the killing of civilians by the military a year earlier.
The Burkinabe political class was trained and nurtured by Blaise Campaoré. Compaore, who was overthrown by a popular uprising in 2014, fled to Ivory Coast. Some political actors did not hesitate to speak of the former head of state’s return to the country as part of what they call "national reconciliation". This is essentially a strategy to seduce those nostalgic for the old regime and siphon off CDP votes. This call for a return is above all symbolic – it’s part of the political game because in reality, the former president will have no choice but to face justice if he returns to Burkina Faso. This return and this "national reconciliation" therefore remain very hypothetical.
In 2007, the World Bank estimated that over 70 percent of Burkina's population was illiterate. Others estimated that this number was even higher -- closer to 90 percent. Due to literacy problems, the electorate is often manipulated, particularly in rural areas, which has led to election fraud. The general population does not even understand the purpose of voting, and those that do vote do not understand the harm of participating in fraud, such as accepting payment for their votes. The problems worsen when cultural norms permit men and local chiefs to dictate their spouses' and villages' votes.
Armed criminality and intercommunal violence driven by economic desperation, food insecurity, and competition over land and water resources have fueled violent extremism and antigovernment grievances, further exacerbating instability. Burkina Faso’s borders remain extremely porous and hard to police, factors criminal actors and terrorist groups may exploit. Natural population movement occurs between Burkina Faso and its neighbors.
By 2008 the issue of corruption had taken on an even greater importance in the public's mind in light of recent protests against the rising cost of living. Many Burkinabe increasingly saw a stark contrast between their difficult economic situations, and high-level officials enriching themselves through corruption. Burkina Faso's ranking in Transparency International's (TI) 2007 Corruption Perception Index also suggested a worsening problem: Burkina Faso's rankings tumbled from 10th in Africa and 79th worldwide in 2006, to 17th in Africa and 105th worldwide in 2007. Instead of basing their political support on candidates' political agenda, voters selected the candidate who had the resources necessary to participate in corruption.
Growing insecurity and extremist activity has led to an exponential increase in the number of internally displaced people. The Government of Burkina Faso has maintained a state of emergency in the entire East and Sahel regions, the provinces of Kossi and Sourou in the Boucle de Mouhoun region, the province of Kenedougou in the Hauts Bassins region, the province of Loroum in the North region, and the province of Koulpelogo in the Center-East region. Active military operations, curfews, and movement restrictions, including bans of motorcycles and other vehicles are ongoing or could occur in these areas. The Burkinabè military has undertaken operations to combat terrorism in the north, east, and southwest.
Ouagadougou experienced an increase in the number of armed robberies in 2019. Street crime (especially pickpocketing, purse snatching, and backpack/cell phone theft) is pervasive in major cities. Cellular telephones, jewelry, laptops, money, and other items of value are frequent targets of thieves. Most street crime occurs after dark and involves one or two individuals on motorbikes. Street crime typically increases in Ouagadougou around the holidays, the West African Movie Festival (FESPACO), and the Regional Craft Festival (SIAO).
While most streets in Ouagadougou are safe and non-threatening during daylight hours, they become less so at night, especially in isolated areas around bars/nightclubs that tend to attract unsavory individuals after dark. Crime occurs in affluent residential areas such as Ouaga 2000, Zone du Bois, and Koulouba.
Roadside banditry has been a nationwide problem in previous years. Bandits have fired warning shots and attacked vehicles that did not stop. Local police label the Eastern Region beyond Koupela (toward Fada N’gourma) as banditry-prone due to its isolated location and intermittent cell phone coverage. According to police statistics, more than half of all reported roadside banditry incidents occurred in this area.
Terrorist groups continue plotting attacks in Burkina Faso, and may conduct attacks anywhere – even in Ouagadougou – with little or no warning. Targets could include hotels, restaurants, police stations, customs offices, areas at or near mining sites, places of worship, military posts, and schools. Groups linked to Al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State group have plagued the landlocked Sahel nation since 2015. Burkina Faso is one of the world’s poorest countries and its armed forces are ill-equipped to tackle highly mobile jihadists. Attacks targeting civilians and soldiers are increasingly frequent, and the vast majority take place in the north and east, spilling in from neighboring Mali. Terrorist groups have demonstrated their intention to target Burkina Faso in retaliation for the Burkinabè government’s participation in regional stabilization and counterterrorism efforts and support of Western interests, including France’s military presence in the region.
Regional terrorist groups that could conduct activities in Burkina Faso include JNIM (“Group in Support of Islam and Muslims”), a coalition of four Mali-based terrorist groups that includes al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar al Dine, al-Murabitoun, and the Macina Liberation Front; ISIS in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS); and Ansaroul Islam, which is active in northern Burkina Faso, particularly in the Sahel region. Burkina Faso’s borders with Mali and Niger remain porous; elements terrorist groups may be able to move across the international borders easily.
Extremist groups have conducted attacks in the northern and eastern regions of Burkina Faso, as well in the west and southwest, and in Ouagadougou. Extremist groups have the capacity to conduct complex attacks utilizing vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIEDs) and large numbers of armed individuals. These groups are especially active in areas near the Mali and Niger borders. Terrorist groups have conducted high-profile attacks in Ouagadougou. On 15 January 2016 at least 30 people, including many foreigners, were killed during a raid jihad against the Splendid Hotel and Ouagadougou restaurant attack claimed by Aqmi (al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb).
There is risk from civil unrest in Ouagadougou. Demonstrations, marches, and other gatherings are common and may become violent at any time. Although most conclude peacefully, there have been outbreaks of violence, looting, roadblocks, tire burning, and destruction of property during demonstrations. Instances may arise where the best and safest course of action is to shelter in place temporarily.
Longstanding conflicts between Fulani (Peuhl) herders and sedentary farmers of other ethnic groups sometimes result in violence. Herders commonly triggered incidents by allowing their cattle to graze on farmlands or farmers attempting to cultivate land set aside by local authorities for grazing. Government efforts at dialogue and mediation contributed to a decrease in such incidents. NGOs reported that police frequently discriminated against the Fulani, stigmatizing them as terrorists. According to NGOs, police often arrested them because of their physical appearance, interrogated them on terrorism charges, and finally released them without charging them.
In the Center-East Region, self-proclaimed traditional healers performed rituals in which participants denounced relatives as witches they held responsible for their misfortune, and subsequently punished them. The latter were tied up, humiliated, beaten, and brutalized. Widows were disproportionately accused of witchcraft by male relatives, who then claimed their land and other inheritance. The law, which was seldom enforced, makes the conviction of physical or moral abuse of women or girls accused of witchcraft punishable by one to five years in prison, a fine of 300,000 to 1.5 million CFA francs ($500 to $2,500), or both. Neighbors accused elderly women, and less frequently men, without support, living primarily in rural areas, and often widowed in the case of women, of witchcraft and subsequently banned them from their villages, beat them, or killed them.
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