Freedom in the World
You are here
Freedom in the World Scores
Multiparty presidential and legislative elections held in late 2015 ushered in a new government and laid a foundation for the continued development of democratic institutions. Despite extreme poverty, terrorism, and corruption, civil society and the media remain strong forces for democracy and for the respect of civil liberties.
Key Developments in 2017:
- An August terrorist attack in downtown Ouagadougou resulted in the deaths of 18 people. The strike was the second such attack in the capital in as many years. Other militant attacks in the north also reflected growing insecurity in the country.
- Roadblocks and curfews instituted in response to a worsening security situation posed obstacles to free movement.
- In June, the trial of former president Blaise Compaoré on charges of authorizing the use of force against unarmed demonstrators was delayed.
- In April, soldiers on trial for attacking a weapons depot in 2016 accused gendarmeries of engaging in torture to obtain confessions from them, contributing to concerns about whether security reforms under the new administration had resulted in improvements.
POLITICAL RIGHTS: 23 / 40
A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 7 / 12
A1. Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 2 / 4
The president is chief of state and is directly elected to up to two five-year terms. Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, of the People’s Movement for Progress (MPP), won the 2015 presidential election with just over 53 percent of the vote. Observers described the elections as the freest, fairest, and most competitive ever to be held in the country. However, a number of politicians who had supported an ultimately unsuccessful attempt by former president Blaise Compaoré to amend the constitution to allow himself a third presidential term were barred from contesting the election. (Compaoré’s 2014 move to amend the constitution had prompted profound political instability and violent protests, prompting the dissolution of the National Assembly by the military; Compaoré subsequently stepped down from office. Following a brief period of military rule, a transitional government was established in late 2014, and administered presidential and parliamentary elections in 2015.)
The prime minister is head of government and is appointed by the president with the approval of the National Assembly, and is responsible for recommending a cabinet that is formally appointed by the president. Kaboré appointed economist Paul Kaba Thieba to the post in early 2016.
A2. 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 under a proportional representation system. The transitional government successfully organized and administered the 2015 legislative elections, which were held concurrently with the presidential election and were also viewed as generally credible, despite the exclusion of a number of candidates who had supported Compaoré’s term-limit changes. The MPP won a plurality, but not a majority, in the National Assembly, with 55 of the 127 seats, and the newly elected members of parliament were inaugurated in late December.
Municipal elections held in 2016 reflected continuing erosion of support for the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), the former ruling party, and increasing support for the MPP. Election observers from local civil society groups and international missions noted only minor irregularities in the polls. However, election-related violence prevented polling in some districts. Makeup elections for several constituencies were held peacefully in 2017, though once again some candidates were reportedly excluded.
A3. 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 (CENI) is responsible for organizing elections, and the 2015 and 2016 polls were generally well administered. In July, new CENI members were appointed after previous commissioners’ terms expired, reflecting the functionality of the country’s electoral framework.
B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 10 / 16
B1. 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. Following the 2015 legislative elections, 14 parties held seats in the National Assembly, though 99 parties had participated in the elections. The 2015 Election Code prohibits some former ruling party members from participating in elections.
In 2016, at least three party activists were killed amid clashes that accompanied municipal councils’ processes of electing new mayors.
B2. Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 3 / 4
The end of former president Compaoré’s 27-year regime in 2014 has given way to a freer environment, in which opposition parties were able to consolidate popular support and gain power through recent elections. However, a history of rotation of power between parties has yet to be firmly established.
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 2 / 4
Burkina Faso’s military is powerful, and maintains a significant presence the political sphere. In 2015, the presidential guard, which was loyal to former president Compaoré, attempted to stage a military coup. The maneuver sparked widespread protests, and failed after the national military’s chief of staff moved to support the transitional government.
B4. Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, 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, and within parties are frequently relegated to women’s secretariats that have little influence. However, there have been some initiatives aimed at establishing greater legal protections for women and encouraging women’s political participation, including proposed revisions to an unevenly enforced quota law. Women’s groups are vocal in civil society.
C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 6 / 12
C1. 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 elected National Assembly members. However, while democratic institutions continue to develop, they are not yet strong enough to fully balance the military’s power in Burkina Faso.
C2. Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 2 / 4
Corruption is widespread, and particularly affects the police force. Anticorruption laws and bodies are generally ineffective, though local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) provide some accountability by publicizing official corruption and its effects.
C3. Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 2 / 4
The successful elections and installation of a civilian government at the end of 2015 signified a marked improvement in government representation, accountability, and transparency. However, government procurement processes are opaque. Government officials are required to make financial disclosures, but the information is not made public and penalties for noncompliance do not appear to be enforced.
The president has promoted dialogue on newly proposed constitutional reforms to ensure their adoption will have broad support.
CIVIL LIBERTIES: 37 / 60 (–3)
D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 13 / 16 (–1)
D1. Are there free and independent media? 3 / 4
The environment for media 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, self-censorship among journalists has eased, and journalists are generally able to report freely and critically on the government and its activities. There are several private television stations and dozens of private radio stations and newspapers.
Nevertheless, libel convictions still carry onerous financial penalties, journalists at times have experienced pressure from government officials, and the economic environment for media workers remains difficult.
D2. Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4 / 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.
D3. 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 militants groups in the north have threatened teachers in an effort to force them to adopt Islamic teachings, resulting in the closure of schools.
D4. Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3 / 4 (–1)
Private discussion is unrestricted in much of the country. However, activity by militant Islamic groups in the north, who have attacked and intimidated civilians, and the increased security presence that has come in response to their presence, has discouraged people from speaking freely about local news and politics and other sensitive topics.
Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 because militant activity and a heightened security presence in the north have discouraged free private discussion among civilians.
E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 9 / 12
E1. Is there freedom of assembly? 3 / 4
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, which is largely upheld in practice. Under the new government, space for demonstrations and protests has opened. Peaceful protests took place throughout 2017, including in October against the pretrial release to house arrest of Djibril Bassolé, who is accused of involvement in the 2015 attempted coup. A demonstration against terrorism was held in August. However, past government repression of peaceful demonstrations can still discourage such events, and the ability to demonstrate is restricted in areas affected by militant activity.
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 3 / 4
While many NGOs operate openly and freely, human rights groups have reported abuses by security forces in the past.
E3. Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 3 / 4
The constitution guarantees the right to strike, and unions frequently and freely engage in strikes and collective bargaining, despite that a minority of workers are unionized. Labor organizers can face fines or prison time if a labor action results in property damage.
F. RULE OF LAW: 7 / 16 (–1)
F1. Is there an independent judiciary? 2 / 4
The judiciary is formally independent but has historically been subject to executive influence and corruption.
F2. Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 2 / 4
Constitutional guarantees of due process are undermined by corruption and inefficacy of the judiciary and police force. A 2017 report by the Anticorruption National Network (REN-LAC) identified the municipal police as the government office perceived to be the most corrupt. Police often use excessive force and disregard pretrial detention limits. In April 2017, police officers held demonstrations across the country to protest corrupt within the force.
In May 2017, the trial against Compaoré and other former government officials began, but stalled in June; he is accused of authorizing the use of force against unarmed demonstrators during the 2014 uprising that led to his ouster.
F3. Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 1 / 4 (–1)
The security environment has declined in recent years due to activity by Islamic militant groups and bandits. In August 2017, an attack in downtown Ouagadougou claimed the lives of at least 18 people, marking the second major attack in the city in as many years. Dozens have been killed in attacks by militant groups and bandits in the north, mainly along the borders with Mali and Niger. A self-defense militia known as Kogleweogo, which mainly counts farmers and cattle breeders among its members, continues to commit abuses, and government pledges to regulate it remain unfulfilled.
Accusations of torture against police and security authorities cast doubts on whether security reforms under the new administration have resulted in improvements. Under the former regime, police abuses were routine and at times resulted in the deaths of detained individuals. Renewed accusations of torture under Kaboré’s leadership suggest these practices continue. Among other claims, in April 2017, soldiers on trial for attacking a weapons depot in 2016 accused gendarmeries of engaging in torture to obtain confessions from them.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 due to continued activity by militant Islamic groups and bandits in the north, and the second large-scale terrorist attack in Ouagadougou in as many years.
F4. 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 (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people, as well as those infected with HIV, routinely experience discrimination. While illegal, gender discrimination remains common in employment and education.
Reports of growing racial, ethnic, and religious stigmatization within historically tolerant Burkinabè society emerged in the wake of continuing terrorist activities in the north. These reports suggested that the targeting of teachers by violent extremist organizations in the north led many people in other parts of the country to be suspicious of and prejudiced against those appearing to be of Tuareg, Fulani, or Arab descent.
G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 8 / 16 (–1)
G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 2 / 4 (–1)
Due to increasing insecurity, the government has established a number of heavily guarded checkpoints on roads near the northern border and the capital, and has instituted curfews in some places. Since November 2017, schools have been targeted by armed groups in the north of the country, and the number of people that have fled their homes has increased.
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because free movement has been impeded by terrorist threats and security measures instituted by the state in response to them, including checkpoints and curfews.
G2. 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 in the business sector by reducing 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. Laws and practices involving inheritance discriminate against women.
G3. 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. Early marriage remains an issue, especially in the north of the country. The practice of female genital mutilation is less common than in the past, but still takes place. Domestic violence remains a problem despite government efforts to combat it.
G4. Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2 / 4
Burkina Faso is a source, transit, and destination country for trafficking in women and children. Child labor is present in the agricultural and mining sectors, among other industries. Women from neighboring countries are recruited by traffickers and transported to Burkina Faso, where they are forced into prostitution. In the U.S. Department of State’s 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report, Burkina Faso was downgraded to a Tier 2 Watch List country for failing to accelerate its efforts to combat human trafficking.