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Key challenges, opportunities and risks in Burkina Faso

In spite of growth rates averaging about 6 pct. over the past 10 years, it is estimated that 44 pct. (population of 16 million) live below the poverty line. Poverty in Burkina Faso has a rural face with rural poverty of 51 pct. compared to 20 pct. in urban areas. Especially the regions in the North and East of the country are struggling with poverty rates of respectively 68 pct. and 62 pct. During 2003–2010 poverty levels have improved by 2.5 pct.; but remains significant due to a low point of departure and a population growth rate of 3.1 pct. In 2012, the United Nations Human Development Index ranked Burkina Faso as number 183 out of 187 countries.

Regardless of relatively sound macroeconomic policies in Burkina Faso, the economy remains fragile due to the country’s narrow export base (mainly cotton and gold) and the economy’s vulnerability to external shocks, including climate change, trade, and other regional and global developments. The geographical position entails high costs of energy, which is a major bottleneck for development. Burkina Faso has made important progress in improving the business climate, including improving business registration, strengthening land property laws, and establishing commercial courts. Despite the progress made, Burkina Faso still only ranks as number 151 out of 183 countries on the World Bank’s Doing Business Index (2011).

Public sector reforms are on-going and are showing progress in a number of areas. General budget support has proven to be an effective tool for achieving results and reforms especially within public financial management. The general budget support instrument is coordinated under a joint protocol between the government and the development partners engaged in general budget support. A social safety net policy was approved by the Government in September 2012 and the World Bank has agreed to support the implementation. Burkina Faso’s score on the Transparency International’s corruption league worsened slightly from 2010 to 2011. The score places Burkina Faso as the 14th least corrupt of the total of 47 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Other measures such as the World Bank’s CPIA are a bit more optimistic. However in Burkina Faso, the issue of corruption is closely linked to the need for a fundamental reinforcement of the justice sector where certain groups are perceived to enjoy impunity from legal sanctions. Opportunities exist to improve access to justice, especially for women, to ensure judicial impartiality and to accelerate the handling of legal cases, including corruption cases.

According to Article 37 of the constitution of Burkina Faso, 2015 will mark the year for the next presidential elections. A strengthening of the democratic institutions in the years leading up to 2015 is thus crucial for the democratic development of the country. A key democratic concern is related to citizens’ confidence in the electoral process and their corresponding motivation for casting their vote. A number of governance challenges remain, especially in terms of strengthening the balance between the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. External actors are exploiting and fuelling existing tensions and latent conflicts between ethnic and economic groups. Poverty, competition for scarce natural resources, income inequalities, poor service coverage as well as strong perceptions of discrimination and unequal access to resources constitute a fertile ground for conflict and instability. Addressing these grievances and supporting local conflict resolution mechanisms can leave societies less susceptible to radical influence. The fear of AQIM (Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb) penetration into Burkina Faso from Mali and Niger, where it already operates, is a potential source of instability and insecurity for Burkina Faso. There are widespread arms and drugs trafficking in the region conducted by transnational criminal and terrorist networks. As a result of the 2011 conflict in Libya, including the looting of stockpiles of weapons, there is a risk that not only small arms but also heavier and specialised weapons have reached terrorist organisations like AQIM and different rebel groups, which have already further destabilized the Sahel-region.

Being located in the heart of West Africa at the doorstep to the Sahara desert, Burkina Faso is a country with limited access to natural resources in general and water resources in particular. Agriculture, which is dependent on fertile soil and availability of water, provides a key element of the basic daily living for more than 80 pct. of the population. The available data does not support evidence of increased water scarcity because of climate change, but  more climate variability with floods and droughts seems to be a reality as is increased water scarcity due to the rapid population growth. Strong and innovative strategies to achieve not only growth, but green and sustainable growth, are therefore crucial challenges for Burkina Faso.

Gender equality in general – and violence against women and children in particular – represent major concerns in Burkina Faso. As a consequence, gender equality is high on the agenda of the national strategy for accelerated growth and sustainable development (SCADD, 2011–2015). Inequality between women and men are manifest in terms of unequal rights, duties (e.g. girls have to make more household tasks than boys), opportunities, and privileges. Women’s access to sexual and reproductive services particularly contraceptives is limited by poor coverage of health facilities, adverse reactions from families and cost issues. This leads to high maternal mortality, illegal abortions and high birth rates. Female genital mutilation, beatings, early and forced marriages, rape and sexual harassment constitute some of the most serious violations of the basic rights of girls and women. The national gender policy of Burkina Faso, adopted in 2009, aims to reduce gender inequality at all levels of society.
Even though Burkina Faso in general is on an encouraging development path, it would be unwise to ignore a number of economic, social, political and environmental risks, which could potentially jeopardize continued democratisation, growth and development or could hamper Danish co-operation with the country. Among these the following are essential to monitor: Severe income disparity between rural and urban areas, widespread youth unemployment, unsustainable management of water resources, continued food insecurity, high volatility in prices of energy and agricultural products, a further worsening of the crisis in Mali and failure of diplomatic conflict resolution in the Sahel at large. Government risk management to be monitored by Denmark would need to address the following elements:

i. Reduction of poverty by ensuring an inclusive growth and remaining focused on reaching the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.
ii. Consolidation of the management of the public sector with a clear focus on strengthening the principles of human rights, good democratic, political and economic management, and a continued fight against corruption and fraud.
iii. Diversification of the drivers of growth and increased agricultural production of stable food products.
iv. Development of strong and green strategies for sustainable management of land and water resources.
v. Initiatives targeting the problems of the youth (including unemployment) and gender inequality.
vi. Engagement in a two-pronged strategy of creating both development and stability in the West African region.
Although there are significant risks facing Burkina Faso, the situation also presents a time of great opportunity for Denmark to support the country in a number of areas that are critical to the future development of Burkina Faso and the Sahel region and where there is presently a momentum for change.