Freedom in the World 2021 - Burkina Faso

Partly Free
/ 100
Political Rights 23 / 40
Civil Liberties 31 / 60
Last Year's Score & Status
56 / 100 Partly Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.


Presidential and legislative elections held in 2015 and 2020 have laid a foundation for the continued development of democratic institutions in Burkina Faso. While civil society and organized labor remain strong forces for democracy, Burkinabè also face continued insecurity and violence at the hands of armed militant groups, militia groups, and government forces.

Key Developments in 2020

  • In November, President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré of the People’s Movement for Progress (MPP) won a second term in office, while the MPP won a plurality of National Assembly seats in concurrent legislative elections. The polls were considered fair but were marred by ongoing insecurity.
  • Armed groups attacked security forces and civilians during the year, causing numerous casualties and internal displacement. In January, 39 people were killed by armed assailants in Soum Province, while 15 were killed when a traders’ convoy was attacked in Loroum in May. Over 1 million people were internally displaced as of August.
  • Security forces and an affiliated militia group engaged in extrajudicial killings during the year. In April, 31 people were executed after being detained during a counterterrorism operation, while gendarmes and militia members were accused of killing 12 detainees in May.
  • Authorities banned demonstrations and public gatherings to lessen the spread of COVID-19 in March and restricted freedom of movement, issuing strict quarantines in areas with confirmed COVID-19 cases. Burkinabè accused of violating curfews faced ill-treatment while in custody. The government reported 6,537 cases and 82 deaths to the World Health Organization (WHO) by year’s end.

Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 2 / 4

The president is head of state and is directly elected to no more than two five-year terms. Roch Marc Christian Kaboré of the MPP was reelected in November 2020, winning 57.7 percent of the vote in the first round. Insecurity impeded electoral organization in some areas, particularly in the north and east. Voting did not occur in 15 communes as a result. Islamist militants also threatened violence against voters. Opposition figures initially alleged fraud, but observers considered the election fair; no formal objections were received by the time the results were certified in December.

The prime minister is head of government and is appointed by the president with the approval of the National Assembly. The prime minister recommends a cabinet that is formally appointed by the president. Christophe Dabiré was appointed in January 2019.

A2 0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 2 / 4

The 127 members of the National Assembly are directly elected to five-year terms via proportional representation. The November 2020 legislative elections, held concurrently with the presidential election, were generally viewed as open and fair, despite ongoing insecurity. Voter turnout was reportedly low in some areas due to insecurity and a lack of polling stations. The MPP won 56 seats, while the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) won 20.

Municipal elections were last held in 2016 and showed an erosion of support for the then ruling CDP in favor of the MPP. Observers from local civil society groups and international missions noted minor irregularities in those polls. However, election-related violence prevented polling in some districts which reportedly contributed to low turnout. Makeup elections for several constituencies were held peacefully in 2017, though some candidates were reportedly excluded.

A3 0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 3 / 4

The Independent National Electoral Commission is responsible for organizing elections, and the November 2020 polls were generally well administered. Local observers noted irregularities, such as a lack of ballot papers at some precincts, but reported that these issues did not affect the contests’ integrity.

In August 2020, the National Assembly adopted a revised electoral code that drew criticism from opposition politicians. Under the code, the president can refer cases of “force majeure or exceptional circumstances” that impede electoral organization to the Constitutional Council. The code allows the validation of results on the basis of polling stations that operate on election day, with the court’s agreement. In December, the Constitutional Council annulled votes from 200 polling places due to irregularities including discrepancies in reported vote totals.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 2 / 4

The constitution guarantees the right to form political parties, but their ability to participate in political life is sometimes restricted by the government. The government authorized 146 political groups to participate in the November 2020 elections.

Major parties, such as the MPP, CDP, and Union for Progress and Change, have extensive patronage networks and disproportionate access to media coverage, making it difficult for other parties to build their support bases. Presidential candidates must also provide a 25 million CFA franc ($42,800) deposit.

B2 0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 3 / 4

The end of former president Blaise Compaoré’s 27-year regime in 2014 gave way to a freer environment in which opposition parties can consolidate popular support and gain power through elections. However, a history of rotation of power between parties has yet to be firmly established.

B3 0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 2 / 4

The Burkinabè military maintains a significant presence in the political sphere, and the history of military intervention poses a threat to democratic stability. In 2015, the presidential guard, which was loyal to Compaoré, attempted to stage a coup d’état. The maneuver sparked widespread protests and failed after the army’s chief of staff moved to support the transitional government.

B4 0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 3 / 4

The constitution enshrines full political rights and electoral opportunities for all segments of the population. However, a small educated elite, the military, and labor unions have historically dominated political life.

Women are underrepresented in political leadership positions; while they held 13.4 percent of seats in the previous parliament, they only won 6.3 percent in November 2020. Within parties, women are frequently relegated to women’s secretariats that have little influence. In January 2020, the National Assembly adopted a 30 percent gender quota for party lists and introduced an alternating system meant to improve the position of female candidates on those lists.

C Functioning of Government

C1 0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 2 / 4

Laws are promulgated and debated by the National Assembly. While democratic institutions continue to develop, they are not yet strong enough to withstand the influence of the military and other elite groups. Attacks by Islamic militants, which have increased in frequency in recent years, severely impede the government’s ability to implement its policies in the insecure north and east.

C2 0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 2 / 4

Corruption is widespread, particularly among customs officials and municipal police. Anticorruption laws and bodies are generally ineffective, though local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) provide some accountability by publicizing official corruption and its effects.

In May 2020, following allegations made by the National Anti-Corruption Network, former defense minister Jean-Claude Bouda was taken into custody over corruption charges. Proceedings against Bouda were ongoing at year’s end. In July, a former National Social Security Fund human-resources director and chief of staff were convicted of charges including nepotism over their management of an employee-recruitment process in 2018. Both defendants received three-year prison terms.

C3 0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 2 / 4

The successful 2015 elections and installation of a civilian government signified a marked improvement in government accountability and transparency. However, government procurement processes are opaque, and procedures meant to increase transparency are often not followed. Government officials are required to make financial disclosures, but the information is rarely made public, and penalties for noncompliance do not appear to be enforced.

Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 2 / 4

The media environment has improved since the end of Compaoré’s rule. Since then, defamation has been decriminalized, reporters at the public broadcaster have experienced less political interference, and private outlets operate with relative freedom. However, a 2019 penal-code revision made disseminating information about terrorist attacks and security-force activity, along with the “demoralization” of defense and security forces, criminal offenses punishable by prison terms of up to 10 years.

In January 2020, an unknown assailant attempted to use an incendiary device to damage a vehicle belonging to investigative journalist Yacouba Ladji Bama. The government later ruled the incident an accident. In June, five people—including the editor of social-media news outlet Proximité.info—were arrested for defaming a public official. All five were convicted on charges including public insult and incitement to violence in July and received 12– to 36-month sentences.

D2 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 3 / 4

Burkina Faso is a secular state, and freedom of religion is generally respected. The population is predominately Muslim with a large Christian minority. Followers of both religions often engage in syncretic practices.

However, Muslims and Christians faced violent attacks from armed groups and assailants during 2020. In February, Islamist militants kidnapped seven people who visited a pastor’s home in the town of Sebba; five of them, including the pastor, were subsequently found dead. That same month, assailants attacked a church in the northern village of Pansi, killing at least 24 people. In August, Djibo imam Souaibou Cissé was found dead several days after he was abducted from a bus. President Kaboré condemned the killing of Cissé, calling it an attack on the country’s “model of religious tolerance.” In November, unidentified assailants threw an incendiary device into a Kossodo mosque during a religious service.

D3 0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 3 / 4

Academic freedom is unrestricted, though due to the former regime’s repressive tactics against student-led protests, a legacy of tension between the government and academic organizations persists.

Islamic militant groups in the north have threatened teachers in an effort to force them to adopt Islamic teachings, resulting in the closure of schools. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that militant groups launched at least 45 attacks on educational targets in 2020.

D4 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3 / 4

Private discussion is unrestricted in much of the country. However, attacks and intimidation by militant Islamic groups in the north and east, an increased security presence in response to their activities, and 2019 penal-code revisions have dissuaded people from speaking about local news, politics, and other sensitive topics.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 3 / 4

The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, which is sometimes upheld in practice. Under the new government, space for demonstrations and protests has opened. In March 2020, the government suspended all demonstrations and public gatherings to lessen the spread of COVID-19. The suspension was used to ban a planned trade-union demonstration that month. Some demonstrations were nevertheless held; in late April, Ouagadougou traders calling for a reopening of a local market blocked a road.

In December 2019, government extended a state of emergency that was originally declared in 14 provinces in 2018. The state of emergency, which will remain in force through mid-January 2021, allows the government to restrict the freedom of assembly.

E2 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 2 / 4

While many NGOs operate openly and freely, human rights groups have reported abuses by security forces in the past. NGOs still face harassment in carrying out their work, and NGO leaders argue that some legal provisions, including vaguely worded terrorism laws, are vulnerable to being misused to silence human rights defenders. NGO members and activists also risk punishment under the 2019 penal-code revisions.

NGO workers also face the risk of violence; in 2019, two Democratic Youth Organization (ODJ) activists were killed while traveling to meet a government official in Yagha Province. In May 2020, the ODJ denounced the government over its handling of the case, noting that autopsies had not been performed.

E3 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 3 / 4

The constitution guarantees the right to strike. Unions frequently and freely engage in strikes and collective bargaining, and coordinate with civil society to organize demonstrations on social issues. However, the government has used legal means to suppress union activity, including the denial of permits for planned demonstrations.

F Rule of Law

F1 0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 2 / 4

The judiciary is formally independent but has historically been subject to executive influence and corruption.

A military trial against 84 people accused of involvement in the 2015 coup commenced in 2018. While analysts expressed concerns that the defendants would not receive a fair trial, at least 10 were convicted in 2019; one defendant received a 30-year sentence in absentia, while others received 15– to 20-year sentences.

F2 0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 1 / 4

Constitutional due-process guarantees are undermined by corruption and inefficacy of the judiciary and police force. The judicial system is also affected by ongoing insecurity. As of July 2020, no terrorism-related trial proceeded since the outbreak of militant violence in 2016. Some detainees accused of terrorist activities have remained in pretrial detention for several years. The High Court of Djibo was closed due to insecurity in 2019.

In April 2020, HRW reported that 31 people who had been detained during a counterterrorism operation in Djibo were executed by security forces. Witnesses reported that the unarmed victims were members of the Fulani ethnic group. In May, gendarmes were accused of extrajudicially killing 12 detainees in Est Region. Witnesses reported that the gendarmes were assisted by members of the Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland (VDP) militia, and that the victims were also Fulani. In July, HRW reported that Djibo residents discovered the bodies of at least 180 people between November 2019 and June 2020, and that government forces were likely responsible for their deaths. According to the residents, most of the victims, who were restrained before they were killed, were Fulani.

Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because Burkinabè security forces and an affiliated militia engaged in extrajudicial killings of civilians, many of them members of the Fulani ethnic group, in several incidents during the year.

F3 0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 0 / 4

The security environment has declined in recent years due to activity by Islamic militant groups, bandits, and militias. Traditional leaders, government officials, lawmakers, and civilians are regularly targeted for kidnapping or assassination by assailants, including Islamic militants. In January 2020, an official in the eastern town of Pama was kidnapped by unknown assailants before being released. Five soldiers and the mayor of Pensa were among eight people killed in a July attack.

Security forces and civilians also faced attacks from armed groups, causing numerous casualties. The government blamed armed assailants for killing 39 people in Soum Province in January. In late May, 15 people were killed when a guarded convoy of traders was attacked in Loroum Province. Over 1 million Burkinabè were internally displaced as of August.

Militia groups also engaged in violence in 2020. In January, the National Assembly adopted legislation creating the VDP, which was implicated in the extrajudicial killings of 12 Fulani men in May. Members of the Koglwéogo militia, meanwhile, were accused of raiding three villages in Yatenga Province in March, killing at least 43 people. In September, video of a Koglwéogo member mistreating a child accused of theft was disseminated online.

Security forces engaged in violent operations in 2020, with targets including refugees and members of the Fulani ethnic group. Security forces executed 23 people in the village of Sissé in March, while HRW reported on the discovery of at least 180 deceased Fulani in Djibo in July. In May, security forces physically abused Malian refugees living in the Mentao camp.

Allegations of torture and abuse of suspects in custody by police are common, and prison conditions are poor. In March 2020, the Burkinabè Movement for Human and Peoples’ Rights condemned reports of torture and ill-treatment against individuals arrested for violating COVID-19-related curfews.

F4 0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 2 / 4

Discrimination against ethnic minorities occurs, but is not widespread. LGBT+ people, as well as those living with HIV, routinely experience discrimination. While illegal, gender discrimination remains common in employment and education.

Members of the Fulani ethnic group have historically expressed dissatisfaction over government neglect.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 1 / 4

Due to insecurity, the government has established heavily guarded checkpoints on roads and has instituted curfews and states of emergency in some provinces. Travelers are sometimes subjected to bribery or harassment by security forces at checkpoints. Armed groups are also known to erect roadblocks, notably blockading Djibo for much of 2020.

Schools are a common target of armed groups, with Islamist militants targeting schools that operate in French instead of Arabic.

In late March 2020, the government restricted freedom of movement in towns with more than one confirmed case of COVID-19 under a wide-ranging quarantine policy. These measures were lifted in early May.

Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because freedom of movement for Burkinabè was impeded by reported bribery at checkpoints, ongoing insecurity, and COVID-19-related restrictions.

G2 0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 2 / 4

In recent years, the government has implemented reforms to reduce the amount of capital necessary to start a business, facilitating the ability to obtain credit information, and improving the insolvency resolution process. However, the business environment is hampered by corruption.

G3 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 2 / 4

Women face discrimination in cases involving family rights and inheritance. Early marriage remains an issue, especially in the north. The practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) is less common than in the past, but still occurs. Domestic violence remains a problem despite government efforts to combat it.

G4 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2 / 4

Burkina Faso is a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking. Child labor is present in agriculture and mining, with 20,000 children working in gold mines. Women from neighboring countries are recruited by traffickers and transported to Burkina Faso, where they are forced into prostitution.

According to the 2020 edition of the US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report, the Burkinabè government has worked to assist forced-begging victims and has adopted a strategy to combat the trafficking of children. However, no investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of suspected traffickers were reported, as the justice system has been overwhelmed by terrorism-related cases.