Burkina Faso Country Background Note


Burkina Faso Key data

Location: West Africa, Sahel region

Population: 19.75 million (World Bank, 2018)

Capital: Ouagadougou

Area: 274,200 km2 (World Bank, 2018)

Mineral wealth: Gold

Local authorities: 13 regions, 45 provinces, and 351 departments (OCHA 2019)

Official Language: French

Major ethnic groups: Mossi 52%, Fulani 8.4%, Gurma 7%, Bobo 4.9%, Gurunsi 4.6%, Senufo 4.5% and others

Major religious groups: Islam 61.5%, Catholicism 23.3%, Traditional/animist 7.8%, Protestant 6.5% and others

Constitution: Constitution of Burkina Faso, 02/07/1991 (National Assembly, 1991), revised 2015.

Political system: Presidential republic with multi-party system

GDP Growth rate: 6.5% ( World Bank, 2018)

GDP per capita: 731 USD ( World Bank, 2018)

Poverty headcount ratio at national poverty line: 46.7% (World Bank 2010)

Literacy rate adult age 15 and above: male 50.07% and female 32.69% (UNESCO, 2018)

External Debt: 3,296 million USD ( World Bank 2018)

Ibrahim Index for African Governance: 16/54( Mo Ibrahim Foundation, 2018)

FreedomHouse Index: Partly free ( Freedom House Index, 2019)

Corruption Index: 78/180 ( Transparency International, 2018)

1. Introduction and General Background
2. Historical overview
3. Current Political Context and Governance System
4. Security sector overview 
5. Security Sector Reform
6. International Community SSR Engagement
7. Learn More

Critical Issues Summary:

  • Violent attacks targeting both civilians and security forces
  • Spill-over effects from conflict in Mali and fragility in the Sahel region
  • New election in 2020 – forecasted to increase instability
  • The SSR process initiated in 2017 is halted
  • Lack of resources, capacity and equipment among security forces
  • Undistinguishable roles and area of operation between the police and gendarmerie
  • Increased ethnicization of the security landscape
  • More than half a million IDPs
  • One of the poorest countries in the world

1. Introduction & General Background

Cultural and Geographic Background

Burkina Faso, known as the "land of honest men", gained independence from France in 1960 as Upper Volta. This West African country has a population of 19 million inhabitants with an average population growing rate of 3,1%. The capital, Ouagadougou, is home to 2.74 million people. Around 55% of the national population are below 20 years old.

Burkina Faso is bordering Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo, Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire. It has unresolved border disputes with its neighbours; demarcation with Mali is currently under way, the dispute with Niger was referred to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2010 and a dispute with Benin over several villages around the town of Koualou persists.

Economic Background

Burkina Faso is a low-income and landlocked country. The urbanisation rate is 29%. The economy is dominated by agriculture, which employs nearly 80% of the working population.

The economic situation places the country among the poorest in the world, with almost 40% of the population living below the poverty line. The economic outlook remains favourable in the medium term, with GDP growth projected to stabilize around 6% over the period 2019-2021, supported by service sector and mining sectors as well as exports. Inflation is projected to remain below the 3% threshold set by the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU). The Gini coefficient was 35,3 in 2014, making it a relatively unequal country in terms of wealth distribution.

Political insecurity in neighbouring countries, unreliable energy sources and poor transport links pose long-term problems. According to the World Bank, the country’s vulnerability lies in climate shocks related to changes in rainfall and fluctuations in the global commodity prices. Moreover, its economic and social development will be dependent on political stability in the country and the region, its openness to international trade, and export diversification.

2. Historical overview

In 1896 the kingdoms that nowadays constitutes Burkina Faso became a French protectorate. It was then called Upper Volta and attached to French West Africa. Under the French rule, the territory was divided into administrative “circles”, but the chiefs were maintained in their traditional seats.  The colony was dissolved in 1932 and each of its parts was administered by the Ivory Coast, French Sudan and Niger. The colony was finally reconstituted at the end of the Second World War, but it was not until 1960 that the country gained independence from the French authorities.   

After leading the country for 6 years, the first president Maurice Yaméogo was forced to resign on 3 January 1966 following uprisings provoked by his lifestyle and austerity policy. Lieutenant-Colonel Aboubacar Sangoulé Lamizana took power, overthrew the First Republic and established an authoritarian military regime and suppressed political parties. The regime gradually relaxed and in the same year political parties were allowed again. On 14 June 1970, Lamizana approved a new Constitution by referendum and this was the beginning of the Second Republic. This attributed the President to the most senior military officer in the highest rank and granted at least one third of ministerial portfolios to the army.

In 1977, a new constitution was approved by referendum which was the beginning of the Third Republic. Lieut. Col. Sangoulé Lamizana who dominated the country was overthrown by Colonel Saye Zerbo until a military coup in 1980. Zerbo in turn was overthrown in 1982 by Jean-Baptiste Ouédraogo, who in turn, after an army uprising, was forced to hand over to his prime minister at the time, Thomas Sankara in 1983.

From 1983 to 1987, Thomas Sankara led socialist reforms and developments in Burkina Faso. He renamed the country Burkina Faso and removed the feudal powers that traditional chiefs continued to exercise. He created the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDRs), which were local cells responsible for exercising power, managing security, political trainings, sanitation, production and consumption of local products as well as budgetary control of the ministries. CDRs aimed at reducing illiteracy, malnutrition, thirst and spread of disease, but the CDRs were however guilty of abuses and imprisoning political opponents.

In 1987, at the end of 4 years of revolutionary regime, President Sankara and several of his administration was assassinated and overthrown in a coup directed towards the presidential palace. The coup was performed by a previously unknown group, Front Populaire, which was composed by well-known political figures and led by Sankara’s close colleagues Blaise Compaoré. 

Compaoré became President 31 October 1987. His first measures were to dissolve the Revolutionary Council (NRC) initially set-up by Sankara. Compaoré replaced the NRC with the new umbrella organisation Front Populaire. He also released all political prisoners. A couple of soldiers in the central Burkinabè town Koudougou, committed a mutiny which initially caused tensions but later its leader fled the country and the soldiers accepted the new government.  Compaorés new government consisted of himself as president and two leading coup-makers, Major Jean-Baptiste Lingani and Captain Henri Zongo, with responsibility for the defence and economics portfolios. Compaoré and his party struggled to gain national and regional legitimacy, and there was a lot of tensions in the capital.

A multiparty system was established in 1991 and a large part of the state-owned enterprises were privatised in 1992. Despite economic troubles and episodes of social and political unrest, Compaoré was re-elected in 1998, 2005, and 2010. Compaoré remained in power for 27 years.

In 2011, in response to the growing discontent, Compaoré dismissed the government and all military officials in key positions of leadership. Measures were quickly adopted to reduce level of discontent by reducing prices on basic food items and increased salaries for civil servants. Violent protests sparked again in 2014 when a bill was introduced in the National Assembly to amend the Constitution in order to remove the two-term limit on the presidency. Compaoré was forced to resign on 31 October 2014. The army, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Isaac Zida, has positioned himself as manager of the transition. However, by pressure from various Burkinabe actors and the international community, transitional bodies were set up. A civilian personality, Michel Kafando, was designated as president of the transition in November 2014. Civil society played a particularly active role in the insurgency movement.

In September 2015, a month before the scheduled general elections, Kafando’s transitional government was overthrown by members of the Regiment of Presidential Security (RSP), an elite military unit formed by Compaoré, before being reinstated following an ECOWAS mediation. This failed attempt of a coup led to the dissolution of this elite unit.

Elections were finally held on 29 November 2015 and led to the election of Roch Marc Christian Kabore with 53% of the votes in the first round. Kabore had served as Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament under the chairmanship of Blaise Compaoré, and belonged to the party People's Movement for Progress (MPP) . In the parliament, MPP won 55 of the 127 seats. Domestic and international observers welcomed the peaceful election and called on the authorities to maintain this course. Although the country concluded 2015 peaceful, the 13-month transition government led by Kafando highlighted persistent challenges in terms of the politicisation of the armed forces.

3. Current Political Context and Governance System  

Like other countries in the Sahel region, Burkina Faso is experiencing an increasingly challenging security environment. Since 2014, the country has entered a cycle of more frequent terrorist attacks. The northern parts of the country, bordering Mali and Niger, are particularly at risk as a result of the spill over of their conflicts. The escalation of the insecurity can be traced back to the fall of president Compaoré and the dissolvement of the Presidential Guard which created a leadership vacuum. While the violent groups’ areas of operation were concentrated in the administrative provinces of Soum and Oudalan in the northern parts bordering Mali and Niger, the attacks spread into other administrative regions notably the Est, Boucle du Mouhoun and Nord Regions targeting state institutions including defence and security forces. The attacks are also threatening the border areas with Benin and Cote d’Ivoire in the Eastern region. Between 2015 and 2017 more than 80 attacks were reported, and this number continues to grow. Attacks are targeted both towards civilians, expatriates, soldiers and other security staff. Kidnappings and assassinations of individuals have also been reported. As of January 2020, terrorist attacks will be very likely to be carried out throughout the country including the capital.

The current President Christian Roch Kaboré has been criticised by the opposition and trade unions of his handling of the security situation. In December 2018, State of Emergency was declared in several regions, granting extraordinary powers to the security forces and restricting freedom of movement and assembly in the country. A state of emergency remains in place January 2020 in the Est and Sahel regions, the western provinces of Kossi and Sourou, the central-eastern province of Koulpélogo, the western province of Kénédougou and northern province of Lorum.

New elections are expected to take place in 2020 in a context of growing insecurity and spreading influence of extremist armed groups.

4. Security sector overview

State Actors

Defence sector

The defence portfolio was attached to the presidency until 2014, before being reassigned to the prime ministry during the 2014–2015 political transition. The president of the republic is the commander-in-chief of the army. He appoints the General Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces (FAB) and chairs the National Defence Council. The President is also the head of the Defence and National Security Council (CDSN). Its responsibilities include coordinating security and defence policy; defining strategic directions and setting national defence and security priorities; and ensuring coordination of the work of the various ministries in the field of defence and security. After initial delays, the operationalisation of the CDSN started following the 2017 National Security Forum.

The Armed Forces of Burkina Faso are made of the Army (FAB), Army's Military Security Support Companies (CMAS) and the Air Force. FAB is characterised by a lack of equipment, insufficient individual and collective tactical know-how, and organizational problems of the operational chain. A new Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces was appointed in January 2019. The Mobile Gendarmerie forces as second-category forces and the National Armed Forces, other than the Gendarmerie, as third-category forces. 

Up until late 2015, the Armed Forces also included the Presidential Security Regiment (R.S.P.), which was responsible for the security of the President. Seen as problematic by other parts of the Army due to their elevated position and monopolisation of resources, this was disbanded by the Council of Ministers of the Transitional Government and the RSP members assigned to different regiments. Their dissolution, however, is considered to have created a security vacuum. The RSP has seen been replaced by the Republican Security and Protection Group (known as Groupement de Sécurité et de Protection Républicain - GSPR in French). The group's exclusive mission is the security of the President of Burkina Faso and certain high-ranking personalities.

In 2018, military expenditures represented 2.1% of the GDP. According to the latest Afrobarometer study, although the fear of armed attacks is quite high, the majority of Burkinabe seem to be satisfied with the effectiveness of the national armed forces. Seven out of ten Burkinabe people say that the armed forces "often" if not "always" protect the country from internal and external security threats (71%) and that they work professionally and respect the rights of all citizens (68%). The army, in addition to its traditional missions, carries out relief, and international peace and development missions. Their commitment outside the country is also very important, particularly in Mali, where some 1,800 soldiers and gendarmes have been deployed.

The Police and Gendarmerie

The National Police is placed under the authority of the Ministry of Security and organized around the General Directorate of the National Police. It is responsible for public security and consists of civil servants. The National Gendarmerie is technically under the authority of the Ministry of Defence, but report to the Ministry of Security. It is a military force with the rank of army.

The police and gendarmerie carry out their activities throughout the territory. The law provides that a decree shall specify the respective areas of territorial jurisdiction. However, the Police and the Gendarmerie often end up working in the same locations. The traditional role of police operating in urban areas and the Gendarmerie in the countryside has been blurred during the last years, leading to a shift of the National Police outside urban areas and the "urbanization" of Gendarmerie units. As a result, there has been several requests to open new police stations or gendarmerie brigades in neglected areas, but without rational plan to organise and restructure theterritorial grid.

This leads to inefficient use of human resources, incapability of ensuring consistent coverage of all territory in addition to unequal distribution of service to the entire population. The result is absence of security forces in 36% of the communes, and a ratio of security personnel of 1/758 when the international standard is 1/400. With a total strength of 5,219 gendarmes, the gendarmerie ratio is 1/2,685.

The country has 350 territorial departments in total. Currently, 85 have at least one Police station and one Gendarmerie unit; 109 have one Gendarmerie unit or a Police station; 156 do not have any Internal Security force unit established at all. A significant number of gendarmes are engaged in various peacekeeping operations, particularly in Mali.

The Local Community Safety Structures

Local Security Initiatives have traditionally been a core of the Burkinabe society. In light of increased insecurity these structures were institutionalised as Local Security Committees (Les comités locaux de sécurité (C.L.S. )  in 2016. The Local Security Committees (LSC), a tool for consultation and collaboration between the security services and the population, are means of raising awareness of the need to collaborate with the forces of law and order. Each LSC holds one general meeting per month in the presence of an agent of the Ministry of Security, in order to take stock of current actions and identify new security orientations for the area.

In 2010 a decree on community policing was adopted. The community police acts under the local mayor and ensure safety of persons and property, and ensure public order, tranquillity and health.

National Intelligence Agency

The National Intelligence Agency (ANR) coordinates, within the framework of the implementation of the national intelligence orientation plan, the activities of the various intelligence services of the police, gendarmerie and army or any other structure specializing in intelligence.

The fire brigade (B.N.S.P)

The fire brigade is under Ministry in charge of Territorial Administration for employment. It is a military formation divided into brigades located in the main cities. Responsible for civil protection missions in peacetime, in the event of armed conflict it aligns itself to the other components of the armed forces to defend the country.

The National Assembly

The national Assembly is Burkina’s legislative body with 127 members, 111 are elected by province and 16 elected nationally. In accordance with the Constitution, the National Assembly has oversight power over the security forces. The Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Security of the National Assembly may initiate investigations, address written questions or directly question members of the government, including the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence, on general policy issues or on specific and targeted defence and security problems. The National Assembly also sets the rules relating to the state of emergency and can exert controls over the government action in times of crisis.

However, the lack of technical knowledge on security issues is a barrier to parliamentary engagement. The role of the National Assembly therefore remains very limited. For the first time since independence, a military programming law (Law 2018 - 2022) was examined in committee without any real debate, as the committee did not have the documentation needed to analyse this project which was supposed to finance the implementation of the defence reform plan.

The Judiciary

The jurisdictions of the judicial order and of the administrative order of Burkina Faso are the Court of Cassation which is the superior jurisdiction of the judicial order. The Council of State is the superior jurisdiction of the administrative order. The Court of Accounts is the superior jurisdiction of control of the public finances. The Court of Accounts has not undertaken any audit of the accounts of defence and security institutions, although the law allows for it. New regulations require the Court to carry out audits beyond the examination of the regularity of transactions to cover the effectiveness and efficiency of implemented programmes. Lastly, The Tribunal of Conflicts is the jurisdiction of regulation of the conflicts of competence between the jurisdictions.

The constitutional Council handles constitutional and electoral matters and laws. Its members are appointed for nine years.  There have been discussions on transforming the Council into a Court with increased power and a change in the selection of its members.  

The High Court of Justice is instituted and composed of Deputies that the National Assembly elects after each general renewal, as well as the magistrates designated by the President of the Court of Cassation.

Judicial courts are available in every region. The judiciary in Burkina Faso are free according to the constitution, but judges are accountable to the President which makes their status ambivalent.  The number of magistrates in 2018 was 559, including 115 female magistrates. The ratio of magistrates per 100,000 inhabitants in 2018 was 2.5. This ratio is below the internationally recommended standard of 10 magistrates per 100,000 inhabitants. Furthermore, according to the 2019 Global Corruption Barometer for Africa, around one-third of Burkinabe perceive judges and magistrates to be corrupt.

The Prison System

The prison system consists of prisons and correctional centres located within the jurisdiction of the regional courts, and an agricultural penitentiary centre located in Baporo. The prisons and correctional centres are intended to receive persons awaiting trial and the convicted. Prisons are organised under the Directorate-General of the Prison Security Guard.

The prisons are protected by the paramilitary’ Prison Security Guard. In 2018, the total number of prison security guards was 2,404, representing an increase by 13.8% compared to 2017. In terms of the supervision of detainees in 2018, a guard on duty in a detention centre in Burkina Faso is responsible for an average of 4.6 detainees. Conditions in prisons and detention facilities are harsh and at times life threatening due to overcrowding and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

The Office of the Ombudsman and the Human Rights Commission

The Office of the Ombudsman is an independent authority addressing citizens’ complaints regarding government entities and other bodies entrusted with a public service mission, to make recommendations to the authorities. The ombudsman is appointed by the President for a non-renewable five-year term and cannot be removed during the term.

The government-funded National Human Rights Commission provides a permanent framework for dialogue on human rights concerns.Although the Commission is inadequately funded and has been subjected to government influence, its efficiency and visibility in the promotion of human rights has improved compared to previous years.

The High Authority for State Control and the Fight against Corruption

The High Authority for State Control and the Fight against Corruption (ASCE-LC) serves as Burkina Faso's supreme internal administrative control and anti-corruption body within the institutional system.

Non-state actors

Many non-state actors play a role in the security sector in Burkina Faso, and some non-state groups have had close ties to the government. The groups have been in place for decades and recently increased in numbers and activities as a result of security and governance shortcomings. The groups’ role as security providers are recognized by the population, but their accountability often remains deficient. Increased terror attacks from violent and jihadist groups and organized crime is one of the main challenges Burkina Faso face today.

The Koglweogo and other traditional actors

The Koglweogo defence groups were formed by farmers in early 2015 to respond to rising insecurity in the northern regions but have since evolved into more organised armed groups implementing their own sets of rules and passing sentences. Other informal groups are also present, such as the traditional Dozo hunters in the western part of the country, playing a similar security role, and sometimes clashing with Koglweogo defence groups. Although there are no ethnic tensions per se, there is some discrimination against the Fulani population, which is often associated with the terrorist acts that have shaken Burkina Faso.

Those groups have established semi-formal relations with the security forces. Recently, the government has launched several initiatives to strengthen the dialogue with the Koglweogo and has adopted a decree formally allowing them to participate in the fight against insecurity alongside the State forces. Human rights organisations have expressed concerns regarding the use of torture and other human rights violations by those groups. The ongoing SSR process is considering, among other topics, the supervision, control and establishment of interfaces between state and traditional/informal security and justice actors.

According to the last Afrobarometer report, the vast majority of Burkinabe are in favour of the role of non-state security actors. More than three-quarters (77%) of citizens consider that local security associations created by the population are a good thing for the security of the country.

Jihadist Armed Groups

A patchwork of groups with shifting and overlapping allegiances are involved in and have claimed responsibility for many of the attacks since 2016 including Ansaroul Islam , Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), The Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS). Ansaroul Islam was founded in 2016 by a local Fulani preacher inspired by the Macina Liberation Front, a Malian armed group. The group’s first attack against Burkinabe forces was in December 2016, when they killed 12 gendarmes in Nassoumbou. The group then quickly expanded and became a major source of instability for the northern regions of Burkina Faso. In 2019 however, its influence seemed to have decreased and most of its activities are carried out with the Support Group to Islam and Muslims (JNIM). The JNIM was formed in March 2017 in Mali when several Islamist groups in the area joined under this unified banner. The Islamic State in the Great Sahara (EIGS) is also present in the country. On regional level, insecurity in Mali, where Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups and Tuareg insurgents took control of the north-eastern part of the country and continues to carry out terrorist actions, is the main factor of instability.

5. Security Sector Reform

Given the increased insecurity, violent attacks and corruption, the SSR process faces several obstacles. Violent attacks along the border with Mali constitutes the biggest threat today. Despite a state of emergency declared in 14 of 45 regions, attacks are still occurring and, in some parts, almost on daily basis. Some points to the facts that the state of emergency does not deter violent groups from attacks, rather it legitimizes the security forces to use more violent means as they have been accused of killings and use of violence. As a result of the situation, in 2019 President Kaboré dismissed his Prime Minister and national security team and named a new Minister of Defence and new leadership at the head of the national military. In February 2019 the government declared 146 terrorists “neutralized” and zero tolerance for engaging in terrorist activities.

Despite the SSR process ongoing, lack of results worsens due to lack of effective security policies, resources and personnel, social grievances and local politics in the regions most affected by attacks, and the persistence of violent groups taking advantage of these dynamics. Recent attacks in southern parts of the country as well as in Ouagadougou are especially worrying as it manifests community violence. This contains ethnic dimensions as especially the Fulani groups are blamed for being terrorists. It also manifests the incapability of the national security forces to prevent violence as vulnerable communities has become a concern for the entire country and region.

SSR Strategic Frameworks

From 24 to 26 October 2017, the National Security Forum was organised by the Ministry with participation of over 600 representatives from various state institutions, civil society and academia. The aim was to reflect on the security situation and make recommendations on how to progress. This is seen as the official launch of the security sector reform (SSR) process in the country.  Its political steering and implementation have been assigned to the National Defence and Security Council (CSDN), who facilitate the formulation of a national security policy that considers internal security and defence aspects. As a result of the Security Forum, the country prioritizes: 

  • Elaborate a National Security Policy (NSP), a national security strategy and sectoral strategies and implementation plans
  • Elaborate the anti-corruption strategy
  • Consolidate the governance of the security sector
  • Elaborate the strategy to combat extremism and radicalization
  • Intensify the security aspects of programmes for the Sahel
  • Improve the operational level of the security and defence forces
  • Consolidate trust between the security and defence forces and the population

CSO’s plays an important role in Burkina Faso’s SSR process to effectively combat insecurity through information, education and communication, including strengthen necessary set of skills. Consultations are made with the government in a specialized informal body. 

Governance of Security Sector Reform

In accordance with the Constitution and the Code of Criminal Procedure, oversight of the security forces is exercised by the National Assembly and the Judiciary. The executive branch appears to be the governing body of the defence and security sector and the legislative branch is the oversight function of the governing body.  

In practice, judicial reviews are only carried out when judicial procedures are established, which means that police or gendarmerie need to report. It is rare that prosecutors carry out spontaneous checks of security services. Raids by prosecutors and judges in the field hardly ever occur. The same applies to visits to prisons and places of custody in gendarmerie brigades or police stations. The Internal Security Inspectorate lacks resources for its operational responsibilities.

Main Security Sector Reform Achievements

Given insecurity, violent attacks and corruption, the SSR process faces several obstacles in its way for success. Violent attacks along the border with Mali constitutes the biggest threat today, and despite state of emergency declared in 14 of 45 regions, attacks are still continuing.

The security forum in October 2017 made it possible to apprise expectations, challenges and needs from the population as well as the internal security forces regarding internal security. The establishment of CSDN in charge of defining a national security policy shows the continuation of the process to modernise Burkina Faso's defence and security system, for example through a national network to establish of Gendarmerie and Police units across the territory. Despite challenges in the border areas and current state of emergency, the government maintains relative control over the entire territory.

In terms of support for institutional capacities in the justice area, several specific initiatives have been launched by the Burkina Faso authorities. For example, "Etats généraux de la justice " was held in March 2015 in Ouagadougou and led to the adoption of measures to suppress corruption and a process to combat extremism. Community policing is another initiative which aims to reduce the distance between the government and population through increased collaboration and integration of the population in security dialogues. Through decentralised services it also reduces the distance between police units throughout the country.

Defence reform

The government has four overarching priorities in the area of defence: i) continuing the reform of the army ii) fight against terrorism iii) securing the national territory and iv) establish peace and security.

The Burkinabe authorities have undertaken efforts to reform the functioning of the National Armed Forces since 2015 through a military programming law and a new strategic plan 2018-2022. This plan lays out the reform of the armed forces and the five-year military programming law providing for an investment of more than 1,2 billion USD. This strategic plan was drawn up with the aim to create a well-functioning army in line with the country’s ambitions and the requirements of democracy and the rule of law. It should gradually enable the Defence department to strengthen military ethics, governance and accountability. 

In addition to strengthening the security apparatus, the government launched the Emergency Programme for the Sahel (PUS) to improve security, education, health and drinking water in the Sahel region in June 2017. At the strategic level, the President of Burkina Faso has committed to provide the army with substantial resources that should enable it to have enough material and equipment.

Burkina Faso remains dependent on external support. Bilateral aid is targeting training for specialised units, training for missions under United Nations flag, intelligence, and equipment for units deployed as part of the joint G5 Sahel force.

Justice and prison reform

The general framework for justice reform in Burkina Faso is guided by the national justice policy for 2010-2019, which is operationalised through three-year sectoral action plans. In 2015, the National Pact for the Renewal of Justice was adopted that led to the modernisation of justice sector. It was agreed that the General Assembly should focus on the independence of the judiciary, the efficiency of the public service, the ethical behaviour of the judiciary, access to justice, the spirit of citizenship, the consideration of human rights in judicial procedures and monitoring, follow-up and interpellation mechanisms.

In recent years, the authorities have made several efforts to create new courts throughout the country. One example is the creation of departmental courts, which have brought the courts closer to the people.

Regarding prison reform, the main challenges concerns fragmented infrastructure and overcrowding. In 2017, the government adopted a strategic plan for the Prison Security 2018-2022, which aims to establish a "modern and efficient prison administration that enshrines the humanization of prison conditions to ensure respect for the rights of inmates and their social reintegration for a secure society ".

Countering Violent extremism

Terrorist attacks, organized crime and vigilante groups has dramatically increased insecurity in the country. Some members of violent extremist groups are also staff in the national security forces which undermines legitimacy, efficiency and accountability of the national security forces.

Two forums have been held targeting the challenges of violent extremisms. In 2013, the National Forum for the Promotion of Civism took place and its recommendations were incorporated in the 2015-2017 Action Plan. The other forum covering extremism was the National Forum between the Defence and Security Forces and Citizens.

Since 2013, the government has launched a series of reforms and initiatives to respond to the threat of violent extremism, for example Operation Northern Security Mission which has been ongoing since 2013. In addition to the deployment of security forces along the most vulnerable borders, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), attached to the President was founded in 2015. Based on its work, the authorities monitor activities of preachers by following up on their preaching, which can lead to the arrest of certain individuals found guilty of making extremist statements. The Government has published a list of approximately 250 individuals "actively sought" by the army. Some are suspected of belonging to a jihadist group, others of having harboured or supplied militants. More than 700 suspected terrorists are in detention. State of emergency in 14 of 45 regions allows the government to use extraordinary measures in the search of extremists and curfews are in place in the Eastern regions since March 2019. The government has increased the army’s strength in the north and conducted at least two major offensives against jihadist camps in the east, in October 2018 and March 2019.

The government launched several platforms for dialogue with the Koglweogo committees in order to include them to the judicial procedures and prohibit them to transform to a militia group beyond the control of the state. Hence, their existence in national judicial and security processes are official, but with limited access to intelligence activities.

Public Expenditure Review

The performance of Burkina Faso's financial system is still insufficient to ensure the achievement of its three budgetary objectives i) budgetary discipline ii) strategic resource allocation, and iii) effective and efficient delivery of public services. There are variations between the composition of initial expenditure forecasts and actual expenditure as well as between the initial revenue forecasts and actual revenue on the other.

The public are usually unable to access budgetary information. Annual performance plans are not drawn according to public policy objectives and the budgetary of public establishments are not reported in the governments annual accounts. Additionally, governmental financial assets are not recorded, and their performance is not adequately monitored. 

Human rights

Significant changes took place during the transition period in 2014 in regard to human rights, resulting in the law establishing a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). However, the actual establishment of the NHRC did not take place until 26 April 2018, when the new members of the Commission were sworn in.

The armed forces are accused of conducting extrajudicial killings and increased use of violence towards civilians. Non-state actors and terror groups are accused of killings of government officials. The situation forces people to flee and more than a half million are internally displaced.

Gender equality

Gender equality within internal security forces is low, with 3% of female militaries while the target is 5%. Each recruitment process provides several places for women, which however remains congruent.  Women's civil society organizations in Burkina Faso seems to be well developed, as evidenced by their massive participation in the 2014 revolt.

6. International Community SSR Engagement

The constitution states that “under no circumstances may foreign armed forces be called upon to intervene in an internal conflict ”. However, according to the last Afrobarometer Report, almost six out of ten Burkinabe (57%) think that the presence of foreign troops on national soil is a good thing for the security of the country.

Consisting of 4,500 French soldiers with operational headquarters in N’Djamena (Chad), Barkhane is operating in Burkina Faso. A joint operation was organised with the Burkinabe armed forces in May/June 2019, and in November 2019, the French minister of armed forces announced the deployment of ground troops to the "three borders " area of Burkina Faso.

On 9 July, in Burkina Faso, the G5 Sahel and the European Union held their fifth meeting of ministers for foreign affairs, during which the European Union announced a pledge of an additional €120 million for the Joint Force and €18 million for the establishment of the police component of the Force. The US provided equipment and training to troops operating under the Joint Force. The Joint Force continues to face significant training, capability and equipment shortfalls, which hamper its full operationalization. The lack of air assets, armoured vehicles and transport capabilities and individual protection equipment compounds the threat posed using improvised explosive devices. The G5 Sahel member countries’ heads of state and the French President met in Pau, France, on 13 January 2020, to discuss the situation in the G5 Sahel region. The heads of state decided to establish a new political, strategic and operational framework that will represent a new step in the fight against terrorist groups in the Sahel and in the collective shouldering of responsibility.

European Union are also supporting the country within the IcSP program Programme d'appui à la réforme du secteur de la sécurité au Burkina Faso , to strengthen the internal security services capacity to assess and counter terrorist threats, but also promoting human rights and SSR. EU are also initiating a programme to support the defence and security forces to operate in areas in support of light aviation. Two experts on CSDP are working in the EU-delegation in Ouagadougou, advising the delegation but also its local counterparts and authorities. Moreover, they are collaborating with EUCAP Sahel Niger and EUCAP Sahel Mali. The work by the European Union further builds on the support from the French military cooperation which has been active in the country for a longer term.

Burkina Faso is also part of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP). Established in 2005, the TSCTP is a multi-year strategy implemented jointly by the US Department of State, the US Agency for International Development, and the Department of Defence to assist partners in West and North Africa increase their immediate and long-term capabilities to address terrorist threats and prevent the spread of violent extremism.

World Bank, EU institutions, France, USA and AfDf are the top five donors to Burkina Faso in 2017. The French Development Agency focuses mainly on rural development, while Expertise France provides support to the public and private sectors as well as to civil society. Denmark supports poverty reduction, the establishment of an inclusive governance framework based on the rule of law, and the contribution to economic growth through the creation of employment opportunities for women and young people.

7. Learn More

ISSAT Resources

Burkina Faso - Current Critical Security Issues - 2020

Key Readings

Constitution – 2015 (last revision)

Law N° 032-2003/AN on internal security – 2003

National Defence Policy[1] – 2004

World Bank Country partnership framework with Burkina Faso for the period 2018 – 2023.

European Union strategy for Burkina Faso 2014-2020

France cooperation with Burkina Faso

USA Development Cooperation Strategy in Burkina Faso

AfD Development Cooperation in Burkina Faso

Confédération Suisse Focus Burkina Faso Situation sécuritaire 

UNDP Country programme document for Burkina Faso (2018-2020)

Additional readings

The Social Roots of Jihadist Violence in Burkina Faso’s North – Crisis Group, 2017

Burkina Faso at Crossroads - Swisspeace, 2019

G5 Sahel – Pau Summit – Statement by the Heads of State - France Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2020

Preventing Violent Extremism in Burkina Faso – MFA Denmark

Amid Rising Sahel Violence, Burkina Faso Builds a Response – United States Institute for Peace, 2019

National Security Strategy Development – African Centre for Strategic Studies, 2018

Self-Defence Movements in Burkina Faso: Diffusion and Structuration of Koglweogo Groups – NORIA, 2018

Vers une réforme du système de sécurité burkinabé ? – FRSTRATEGIE, 2017

The Current State of Insecurity in Burkina Faso – Italian Institute for International Political Studies, 2019

Politics at the Heart of the Crisis in the Sahel – Center for Strategic & International Studies, 2019

Extrémisme violent, criminalité organisée et conflits locaux dans le Liptako-Gourma – Institut d´Études de Sécurite, 2019

Burkina Faso at a glance - World Bank, 2019.

Burkina Faso Foreign travel Advice, United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office – UK FCO 2019.

Uppsala Conflict Data Base, Burkina Faso – UCDP, 2019

Burkina Faso country profile, BBC

Burkina Faso at Crossroads - Swisspeace, 2019

Political Leadership and National Ownership of Security Sector Reform Processes, DCAF 2015.

SIPRI Military Expenditure Database, Burkina Faso 2018 – SIPRI, 2018

Burkina Faso – ODA by donor and sector, USD Million - OECD 2017

[1] Adopted in 2004, the National Defence Policy has never been implemented. The document was drafted by the Ministry of Defence. Other ministries, the civil society and academic specialists were excluded from the process and the document was only approved by the Government without passing through the Parliament .

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