Political Rights: 5
Civil Liberties: 4
Status: Partly Free
Population: 13,600,000
GNI/Capita: $250
Life Expectancy: 45
Religious Groups: Indigenous beliefs (40 percent), Muslim (50 percent), Christian (10 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Mossi (over 40 percent), other [including Gurunsi, Senufo, Lobi, Bobo, Mande, and Fulani] (60 percent)
Capital: Ouagadougou

Ratings Change
Burkina Faso's political rights rating declined from 4 to 5 due to an increase in corruption and reports of arms trafficking.


Burkina Faso's political opposition feared that President Blaise Compaore would run for a third term as the country geared up for presidential elections to be held in 2005. Changes to the electoral code in 2004 essentially return the country to a proportional representation system of voting. Meanwhile, Burkina Faso had strained relations with its neighbors and was dealing with internal dissent as well.

After gaining independence from France in 1960 as Upper Volta, Burkina Faso suffered a succession of army coups. In 1983, Compaore installed himself as president in a violent coup against members of a junta that had seized power four years earlier and had pursued a watered-down Marxist-Leninist ideology. The populist, charismatic President Thomas Sankara and 13 of his closest associates were murdered. More Sankara supporters were executed two years later.

The presidential poll of December 1991, in which Compaore was reelected by default, was marred by widespread violence and an opposition boycott by all five candidates challenging the incumbent. Compaore was returned to office for a second 7-year term in November 1998 with nearly 88 percent of the vote.

The 2002 National Assembly elections were overseen by the reconstituted Independent National Electoral Commission and were considered among the most free and fair polls in Burkina Faso to date. The commission includes representatives from the government, civil society, and the opposition. The 2002 polls marked the first time that a simple ballot was used in voting, a measure that opposition parties had urged for several years. The ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress party won 57 of the 111 National Assembly seats, compared with 101 during the 1997 polls. Opposition parties fared better than they had during any time previously.

Although Compaore has served two consecutive, elected seven-year terms, his supporters say that he is eligible to contest the presidency in 2005. They base their argument on a 2001 constitutional amendment that stipulated that the presidential term of office be five years, renewable once, starting in 2005. This term limit cannot be enforced retroactively. However, although the constitution allows Compaore to run for another term, the opposition would view a choice to do so as an attempt to cling to power, and his candidacy could set off protests or trigger an opposition boycott.

Changes to Burkina Faso's electoral code in 2004 designated the country's 45 provinces, instead of its 15 regions, as electoral units. Opposition members insisted that this gives the government an unfair advantage because they claim it will be impossible for them to field candidates and polling observers in all 45 electoral units. The changes are in effect a return to the proportional representation system that existed prior to 2002.

The government tackled internal dissent in 2004 when it sacked the defense minister, who had been questioned in connection with an alleged coup plot. A military court sent several officers to prison for their role in the alleged plot. However, Compaore appears to retain the loyalty of the military. The prosecutor in the case accused Cote d'Ivoire and Togo of backing the plot, which they deny.

The Burkinabe government in August denied being behind a plot to topple Mauritania's president. Mauritania accused Burkina Faso of conspiring with Libya to destabilize the region; Burkina Faso denied the charges.

Relations between Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire have been strained since civil war broke out in Cote d'Ivoire in 2002. Burkinabe, Muslims, and members of northern Ivorian ethnic groups were among those targeted after Cote d'Ivoire accused Burkina Faso of supporting mutinous Ivorian soldiers in a coup attempt that triggered the civil war. Many families in Burkina Faso depend on remittances from relatives working in Cote d'Ivoire; about 350,000 Burkinabe have returned home. However, peace is not assured in Cote d'Ivoire, and Burkina Faso could experience further economic and political turbulence.

Burkina Faso has been cited in reports by New York – based Human Rights Watch as a transshipment point for arms from Eastern Europe destined for Liberia and Sierra Leone. Burkina Faso has denied this, as well as reports that it has supported Ivorian rebels fighting against the government in Ivory Coast.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Although the 1991 constitution guarantees citizens of Burkina Faso the right to elect their government freely through periodic multiparty elections, this right has not been fully realized in practice. The 1998 presidential election was marked by heavy use of state patronage, resources, and media by the ruling party. The 2002 legislative elections were considered among the most free and fair polls in Burkina Faso to date, and opposition parties in 2002 fared better than they had any time previously. However, the opposition maintains that changes to the country's electoral code made in 2004 will provide the government with an unfair advantage in future polls.

Corruption is a problem in Burkina Faso. Despite the creation of two anticorruption bodies in 2001, such efforts to reduce graft have been largely cosmetic. A nongovernmental organization (NGO) in the country that focuses on corruption says that public perception is that graft is getting worse because of low salaries, poverty, and the low risk of detection. Burkina Faso was not ranked by Transparency International in its 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Burkina Faso has a vibrant free press, and freedom of speech is protected by the constitution and generally respected in practice. At least 50 private radio stations, a private television station, and numerous independent newspapers and magazines function with little governmental interference. The media, which are often highly critical of the government, play an important role in public debate. There is liberal Internet access.

Burkina Faso is a secular state, and religious freedom is respected. The government does not restrict academic freedom.

Freedom of assembly is constitutionally protected and generally respected, with required permits usually issued routinely. However, demonstrations are sometimes violently suppressed or banned. Many NGOs, including human rights groups, which have reported detailed accounts of abuses by security forces, operate openly and freely. Labor union rights are provided for in the constitution. Unions are a strong force in society and routinely stage strikes over wages, human rights abuses, and the impunity of security forces.

The judiciary is subject to executive interference in political cases and is hampered by a lack of resources and lengthy delays. A military court in April sentenced an army captain to 10 years in prison for leading a plot to overthrow President Blaise Compaore; other military officers received lighter sentences.

National security laws permit surveillance and arrest without warrants. Police routinely ignore prescribed limits on detention, search, and seizure. Security forces commit abuses with impunity, including torture and occasional extrajudicial killing. Harsh prison conditions are characterized by overcrowding, poor diet, and minimal medical attention.

Various ethnic groups are represented in Burkina Faso's government and official decisions do not favor one group over another.

Burkina Faso is one of the world's poorest countries, with more than 80 percent of the population relying on subsistence agriculture. Burkina Faso's economy has suffered as a result of the war in neighboring Cote d'Ivoire, and there has been an increased cost of routing trade via the ports of Ghana, Togo, and Benin.

Constitutional and legal protections for women's rights are nonexistent or poorly enforced. Customary law sanctions discrimination against women. Female genital mutilation is still widely practiced, even though it is illegal and a government campaign has been mounted against it. Burkina Faso is used as a transit point for the trafficking of women and children for purposes of forced labor and prostitution, but the government has made an effort to stop this criminal activity.

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