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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Burkina Faso 2019 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Burkina Faso at Level 3, indicating travelers should reconsider travel to the country due to terrorism, crime, and kidnapping. Do not travel to The Boucle du Mouhoun, Cascades, Centre-Est, Centre-Nord, Centre-Ouest (except Boulkiemde Province), Centre-Sud, Est, Hauts-Bassins, Nord, Sahel, or Sud-Ouest Regions due to terrorism, crime, and kidnapping. Do not travel to the 11th Arrondissement of Ouagadougou (Karpala, Balkiui, and Rayongo/Dayongo neighborhoods) due to terrorism and crime.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Review OSAC’s Burkina Faso-specific page for analytical reporting, Consular alerts, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

There is considerable risk from crime in Ouagadougou. Street crime (especially pickpocketing, purse snatching, and backpack/cell phone theft) is pervasive in major cities. Cellular telephones, jewelry, laptops, money, and other items of value are frequent targets of thieves. The majority of street crime is committed after dark and involves one or two individuals on motorbikes. Street crime typically increases in Ouagadougou around the holidays, the West African Movie Festival (FESPACO), and the Regional Craft Festival (SIAO).

While most streets in Ouagadougou are safe and non-threatening during daylight hours, they become less so at night, especially in isolated areas around bars/nightclubs that tend to attract unsavory individuals after dark. Crime occurs in affluent residential areas such as Ouaga 2000, Zone du Bois, and Koulouba. United Nations Circle and Avenue Kwame Nkrumah are also high-crime areas. Criminals often attempt to establish rapport with Westerners in order to later rob or defraud them, or intimidate them into paying money. Bribery and fraud are prevalent.

Ordinarily, thieves do not threaten victims with weapons, although there have been cases of theft and attempted theft involving firearms and knives. Criminals in urban areas may carry an edged weapon to cut straps on bags, purses, or backpacks. Criminals can become violent if the victim is noncompliant.

Rape and sexual assault occur periodically in smaller towns and in Ouagadougou.

Hotel security is generally adequate against petty crime, but residential thefts/home invasions occur occasionally in expatriate residential areas (e.g. Ouaga 2000, Koulouba, and Zone du Bois) and in other parts of Ouagadougou. Thieves have entered residences at night surreptitiously, and avoided direct confrontation with the occupants. Most perpetrators exploited an unlocked door or window.

Roadside banditry has been a nationwide problem in previous years. Bandits have fired warning shots and attacked vehicles that did not stop. Local police label the Eastern Region beyond Koupela (toward Fada N’gourma) as banditry-prone due to its isolated location and intermittent cell phone coverage. According to police statistics, more than half of all reported roadside banditry incidents occurred in this area.

Other Areas of Concern

Due to credible threat information and terrorist activity, the U.S. Embassy and many other diplomatic missions restrict employees from traveling to the Sahel Region, East Region, and provinces along the border with Mali. The U.S. Government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in remote and rural areas of the country.

Instability has increased across large portions of the country, particularly after the emergence of extremism in eastern Burkina Faso in 2018, which has since spread to other parts of the country. Prior to 2018, extremist activities were prevalent mainly in Burkina Faso’s northern Sahel region. Armed criminality and intercommunal violence driven by economic desperation, food insecurity, and competition over land and water resources have fueled violent extremism and antigovernment grievances, further exacerbating instability. Burkina Faso’s borders remain extremely porous and hard to police, factors criminal actors and terrorist groups may exploit. Natural population movement occurs between Burkina Faso and its neighbors. Growing insecurity has increased internal displacement and emigration.

The Government of Burkina Faso has declared a state of emergency in Est and Sahel regions, Kossi and Sourou provinces in Boucle de Mouhoun region, Kénédougou province in Hauts-Bassins region, Loroum province in North region, and Koulpélogo province in Centre-Est region. Active military operations, curfews, and movement restrictions, including bans of motorcycles and other vehicles are ongoing or could occur in these areas. The Burkinabè military has undertaken operations in northern and eastern Burkina Faso to combat terrorism.

The U.S. Embassy prohibits U.S. Government personnel from personal travel to the Karpala, Balkiui, and Rayongo (also known as Dayongo) neighborhoods of Ouagadougou’s 11th Arrondissement for security reasons.

Limit road travel outside of Ouagadougou and other urban areas due to risk of armed criminality and kidnapping. Traveling at night may increase these risks, as well as likelihood of vehicular accidents. Terrorists or their proxies have routinely ambushed security forces and increasingly kidnapped road travelers – particularly foreigners – along transit arteries, including those connecting major cities. There have been multiple incidents in which roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs) targeting security forces detonated, including an August 2018 incident involving a mining convoy with escort that killed a civilian employee and four gendarmes.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Traffic and road conditions in Ouagadougou make driving difficult and hazardous. In addition to regular car/truck traffic, there are large numbers of mopeds, pedestrians, bicycles, donkey carts, hand-cranked wheelchairs, and hand-pulled wagons on main thoroughfares. Commercial areas are overcrowded with pedestrians, taxis, trucks, handcarts, innumerable vendors, and beggars. Most of the country's roads are gravel surfaces or dirt tracks. Hazards on side roads can be worse than those on main thoroughfares. Drivers may encounter young children at play, dogs scavenging in trash piles, and grazing livestock. Exposed rocks, loose gravel, potholes, broken concrete/tile, and scattered pieces of wood often litter deeply rutted dirt roads. The streets in the neighborhoods where many Embassy staff live may be paved, but the asphalt may be crumbling, especially at the edges.

Pedestrians and mopeds dash in/out of traffic, often directly in front of oncoming vehicles. Drivers of every type of vehicle obey traffic laws only selectively, and often engage in unsafe driving practices. Mopeds have the right of way; operators seem to believe this permits them to drive with complete disregard for their own or others’ safety. The law requires moped operators to carry driver’s licenses and wear helmets, but the police do not enforce this law. As a result, it is quite common to see accidents involving mopeds with serious injuries/fatalities.

Drivers must go well beyond the norms of defensive driving. Burkina Faso theoretically follows European rules of the road. Yield to aggressive drivers and maintain a cool head in traffic – even if you have the right of way. All personal vehicles driven in Burkina Faso must carry local third-party liability insurance.

Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorbikes, livestock, donkey carts, cars, buses, and trucks shared paved roads between major cities. Any vehicle on the road may be overloaded or in a state of disrepair. There may be long stretches between major cities where one must detour to an unimproved road.

The same carelessness and general lack of safety awareness among drivers presents even greater dangers at night. Many cars and motorbikes do not have or use headlights, and most areas do not have streetlights. Bicyclists and pedestrians in dark clothing are practically invisible in the dark. In some neighborhoods, packs of domesticated dogs roam the dark streets. All these factors combine to create a very taxing, perilous nighttime driving experience.

There is no roadside assistance; in the event of a mechanical breakdown, it could be hours before help arrives. Travelers must carry plenty of food/water when traveling outside the cities, and should have a well-maintained vehicle and two good spare tires. Many drivers have had to purchase new car batteries, because the country’s intense heat significantly drains battery life.

If you have an accident and are not in immediate danger, do not move your vehicle until a police officer instructs you to do so.

For more information on driving, review OSAC’s reports on Driving Overseas: Best Practices and Road Safety in Africa.

Public Transportation Conditions

The Embassy prohibits the use of all public transportation.

Buses on the highways have been involved in catastrophic accidents, and are commonly the target of roadside bandits.

Green taxis are often mechanically unsafe, and may stop to pick up additional passengers during one trip. These taxis do not have meters, are not subject to regulation, and are generally not roadworthy. Tourists have been victims of crime and involved in accidents when using local green taxis.

Some yellow taxi services may be acceptable. Such services use centralized dispatchers and have relatively well-maintained automobiles with fare meters and seatbelts.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

As there is no direct commercial air service to the U.S. by carriers registered in Burkina Faso, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the government’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.

Other Travel Conditions

Few streets have names. Some street names have changed in recent years, sometimes repeatedly. When navigating the city, note landmarks rather than street names. The majority of paved roads do not have adequate markings; the lack of signage and consistent naming leads to confusion among drivers.

Terrorism Threat

There is serious risk from terrorism in Ouagadougou. Terrorist groups continue plotting attacks in Burkina Faso, and may conduct attacks anywhere – even in Ouagadougou – with little or no warning. Targets could include hotels, restaurants, police stations, customs offices, areas at or near mining sites, places of worship, military posts, and schools.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

Extremist groups have conducted numerous attacks in the northern and eastern regions of Burkina Faso, as well in the west and southwest, and in Ouagadougou. These groups are especially active in areas near the Mali and Niger borders. Terrorist groups have conducted several high-profile attacks in Ouagadougou:

·         March 2018: Two groups of armed men attacked the Burkinabè military headquarters and French Embassy nearly simultaneously, attacking the former with a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED). (See OSAC report, Ouagadougou Attack: The Sahel Terrorist Threat Evolves.)

·         August 2017: A small group of armed men attacked the Aziz Istanbul restaurant in downtown Ouagadougou. (See OSAC report, Ouagadougou Attack: Terrorist Targeting of Sahel Capitals Continues.

·         January 2016: Terrorists attacked the Hotel Splendid and Cappuccino Café. (See OSAC report, Ouagadougou Terrorist Attack.

These events are a stark reminder of the need to remain vigilant of one’s surroundings and immediately report all suspicious activity to the local police or security forces. Terrorist groups continue plotting attacks in Burkina Faso. Terrorists may conduct attacks anywhere with little or no warning. Terrorist groups have demonstrated their intention to target Burkina Faso in retaliation for the Burkinabè government’s participation in regional stabilization and counterterrorism efforts and support of Western interests, including France’s military presence in the region. Burkina Faso actively participates in the recently deployed G-5 Sahel regional counterterrorism force and the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

Regional terrorist groups that could conduct activities in Burkina Faso include JNIM (“Group in Support of Islam and Muslims”), a coalition of four Mali-based terrorist groups that includes al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar al Dine, al-Murabitoun, and the Macina Liberation Front; ISIS in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS); and Ansaroul Islam, which is active in northern Burkina Faso, particularly in the Sahel region.

Burkina Faso’s borders with Mali and Niger remain porous; elements terrorist groups may be able to move across the international borders easily.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

There is minimal risk from civil unrest in Ouagadougou. Demonstrations, marches, and other gatherings are common. Although most conclude peacefully, there have been outbreaks of violence, looting, roadblocks, tire burning, and destruction of property during demonstrations. Instances may arise where the best and safest course of action is to shelter in place temporarily.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Flooding has been a major problem during the rainy season (June-September), damaging some roads and buildings severely.

Ouagadougou experienced its last major and destructive flood in 2009, with extensive damage to roads, levees, and residential areas. The floods destroyed a number of small villages on the outskirts of Ouagadougou, and displaced more than 10,000 people. The central hospital sustained significant damage, and the U.S. Embassy evacuated several residences.

Critical Infrastructure

Occupational hazards do exist, including buildings not constructed to code, and insufficient enforcement of safety standards.

Personal Identity Concerns

Members of the LGBT community find life in Burkina Faso extremely difficult and, at worst, dangerous. Societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity remains an issue; religious/traditional beliefs do not tolerate homosexuality. There are regular reports of verbal and physical abuse against members of the LGBT community. LGBT employees have passed partners off as relatives, even within the Embassy community, to avoid the possibility of intolerant behavior.

Women should dress conservatively to avoid harassment. At some local social occasions (e.g. weddings, dinners, religious ceremonies) and at some events, women and men sit separately. Such gender-based separation sometimes negatively affects the ability of diplomats to conduct business.

Physically disabled individuals would have a very difficult time in Burkina Faso, as facilities are generally not accessible.

Drug-related Crimes

Illegal drugs are available; however, Burkina Faso is mostly a transit country for the illegal drug trade. There are no indications that illegal drugs in Burkina Faso connected to narco-terrorism. The Gendarmerie report 52% fewer drug seizures in 2017 than the year before.

Kidnapping Threat

The threat of kidnapping remains persistent throughout Burkina Faso, and especially in the Sahel and Est regions.

Burkina Faso had its first kidnapping incident involving a Westerner in 2015. Since then, there have been multiple high-profile kidnappings of Westerners – many of which coincided with the escalation of terrorist activity throughout more areas of the country over the last year.

•   In January 2019, kidnappers took and later killed a Canadian geologist working in the mining sector in Sahel region.

•   In December 2018, kidnappers took two tourists (Canadian and Italian) from an unknown location in Burkina Faso – possibly while en route to Togo from Bobo-Dioulasso.

•   In September 2018, kidnappers took two mining employees (Indian and South African) traveling from the Inata mine to Ouagadougou while in Sahel Region.

·      In January 2016, kidnappers took two Australian aid workers around Djibo in Sahel region; they released one shortly after the abduction, but the other remains in captivity.

In addition, in September 2018, kidnappers took an Italian priest from a location just over the border in Niger, reportedly transporting him across the border into eastern Burkina Faso via suspected extremists.

For more information, review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Police Response

Local security and emergency response capabilities can be limited, especially in areas outside of Ouagadougou and other urban areas. Terrorists have ambushed security forces, including escorts and reinforcements, along major roads. U.S. government response outside Ouagadougou is limited due to security concerns, even in emergencies and evacuations.

The Burkinabè law enforcement authorities take extra measures to protect Westerners and international business interests. However, local law enforcement practices, procedures, and expertise often fall below the standards expected in developed countries.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Detained or harassed U.S. citizens should call the U.S. Embassy immediately to speak with the Consular Officer or Duty Officer.

Crime Victim Assistance

Within Ouagadougou, emergency services numbers are as follows:

Fire Department: Dial 18 for emergencies, or 25-30-69-47 or 25-30-69-48 for administrative issues.

Ambulance Service: Dial 18 for emergencies, or 25-30-66-44 or 25-30-66-45 for administrative issues.

Police: Dial 17 or 25-30-63-83, or 25-30-71-00 for emergencies, or 25-36-44-42 or 25-32-60-69 for administrative issues.

Gendarmerie (Military Police): Dial 16 or 25-30-62-71 for emergencies, or 25-30-32-71 or 25-31-33-40 for administrative issues.

Ministry of Security: 10-10 dispatches the appropriate law enforcement entity, but English-language comprehension may be limited.

Medical Emergencies

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance pages for Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso.

Available Air Ambulance Services

SOS Medecins Senegal

Contact Person: Dr. Massamba Diop

Address: Baie de Soumbedioune

Rue 62 x64, BP 731, Dakar

Emergency/Office Phone: +221-33-889-15-15

Probable Response time: 6 hours

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Burkina Faso is a malaria-endemic country; ensure you have adequate chemoprophylaxis. There is a risk of Zika infection in Burkina Faso. HIV infection is common throughout the country. Yellow Fever is a risk in Burkina Faso; CDC recommends this vaccine for travelers who are 9 months of age or older. You can get hepatitis A and typhoid through contaminated food or water in Burkina Faso. The following diseases are also prevalent: Dengue, Meningococcal meningitis, Schistosomiasis, and Tuberculosis. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Burkina Faso.

For more information, refer to OSAC’s Reports Traveling with Medications and I’m Drinking What in My Water?

OSAC Country Council Information

The Regional Security Office (RSO) re-launched the OSAC Country Council program in Ouagadougou in 2017. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

The U.S. Embassy Ouagadougou is located at Secteur 15, Ouaga 2000, Avenue Sembène Ousmane, rue 15.873, southeast of the Monument aux Héros Nationaux.

Monday-Thursday 0730-1700, and Friday 0730-1230, excluding U.S. and local holidays.

Embassy Contact Information

 

Switchboard: +226-2549-5300

After-Hours Duty Officer: +226-7720-2414

Website: https://bf.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Guidance

Enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which gives you the latest security updates, and makes it easier for the U.S. Embassy or nearest U.S. consulate to contact you in an emergency. Enrollees should remember to keep all information in STEP up-to-date, particularly their current phone number and e-mail address.

Additional Resources: Burkina Faso Country Information, Travel to High-Risk Areas

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