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Burkina Faso 2018 Crime & Safety Report

Africa > Burkina Faso

 

According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Burkina Faso has been assessed as Level 3 (Reconsider Travel). Do not travel to the northern Sahel border region shared with Mali and Niger due to crime and terrorism.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy 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.

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Ouagadougou as being a HIGH-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

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

Burkina Faso is a land-locked country in the center of West Africa with one of the highest poverty rates in the world. The Government of Burkina Faso maintains friendly relations with the U.S. and receives aid/development assistance from several U.S. government agencies, NGOs, corporations, and private charities.

Crime Threats

Street crime (pickpocketing, purse snatching, 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 is often perpetrated by one or two individuals on motorbikes. Street crime typically increases in Ouagadougou around the holidays, the bi-annual West African Movie Festival (FESPACO), and the bi-annual Regional Craft Festival (SIAO).

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

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. Ordinarily, thieves do not threaten victims with weapons, although there have been cases of theft and attempted theft involving firearms and knives. According to the Gendarmarie, reported armed attacks have decreased by 10% from 2016 to 2017.

Although reports of rape decreased by 12.8% from 2016 to 2017 per Gendarmarie statistics, rape and sexual assault continue to occur periodically in smaller towns and in Ouagadougou.

Hotel security is generally adequate against petty crime, but residential thefts/home invasions occur occasionally in the expatriate community (Ouaga 2000, Koulouba, Zone du Bois) and in other parts of Ouagadougou. Thieves surreptitiously entered residences at night and avoided direct confrontation with the occupants. Most perpetrators exploited an unlocked door or window. Reported burglary and thefts have increased by 14% in 2017, according to Gendarmarie.

Roadside banditry has been a problem in previous years, and banditry can take place anywhere along the country’s roads. Bandits generally do not harm victims who comply, but they have fired warning shots or even attacked vehicles that do not stop. Local police cite 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 their employees from traveling to the northern Sahel region, which is marked by the area to the north of Djibo, Dori, and the connecting east-west road, inclusive of these locations. Embassy personnel traveling to or staying at Parc National du W (Parc W) must arrange armed escort with Burkina Faso security forces. The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in remote and rural areas of the country.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, please 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 a large numbers of mopeds, pedestrians, bicycles, donkey carts, hand-cranked wheel chairs, and hand-pulled wagons on main thoroughfares. Commercial areas are overcrowded with pedestrians, taxis, trucks, hand carts, innumerable vendors, and even beggar children. 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 livestock grazing. 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 of the 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 selectively obey traffic laws and often engage in unsafe driving practices. Mopeds have the right-of-way, and 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, often with serious injuries/fatalities.

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

Paved roads between major cities are used by pedestrians, bicyclists, motorbikes, livestock, donkey carts, cars, buses, and trucks. 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. Personnel are instructed to carry plenty of food/water when traveling outside the cities. Embassy personnel are advised to have a well-maintained vehicle and two good spare tires. Many drivers have had to purchase new car batteries because Burkina Faso’s intense heat significantly drains battery life.

If you have an accident, do not move your vehicle until instructed to do so by a police officer.

For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report, Driving Overseas: Best Practices or Road Safety in Africa.

Public Transportation Conditions

The Embassy discourages the use of public transportation (buses, green-colored taxis) as much as possible.

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

The green taxis are often mechanically unsafe and may stop to pick up additional passengers during one trip. These taxis are not normally regulated or metered in any way and are not kept in road-worthy condition. Tourists have been victims of crime and involved in accidents when using local green taxis. 

There are a handful of yellow taxi cab services that are acceptable. These taxi companies include: Allo Taxi, Chic Taxi, City Cab, and Taxi Jaune. All of these services utilize 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 are named, and 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

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Ouagadougou as being a HIGH-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

Mali-based extremist groups have conducted numerous cross-border attacks in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso and are especially likely to be active in areas near the Malian and Niger borders. Mali-based terrorist groups have claimed or been implicated in attacks in Ouagadougou:

  • August 2017: A small group of armed men attacked the Aziz Istanbul restaurant in downtown Ouagadougou.

  • January 2016: Terrorists attacked the Hotel Splendid and Cappuccino Café.

These events are a stark reminder of the need to remain vigilant of one’s surroundings and immediately report all suspicious activity to the Regional Security Office. Terrorist groups continue plotting attacks in Burkina Faso. Terrorists may conduct attacks anywhere with little/no warning. Mali-based terrorist groups have demonstrated their intention to target Burkina Faso in retaliation for the Burkinabe 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 impact 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; Islamic State 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 of Mali- and Niger-based terrorist groups may be able to gain access into Burkina Faso easily.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Ouagadougou as being a LOW-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Civil Unrest

Demonstrations, marches, and other gatherings are common in Ouagadougou. Although most are generally peaceful, there have been outbreaks of violence, looting, road blockages, tire burning, and destruction of property during demonstrations. Instances may arise where the best and safest course of action is to temporarily shelter-in-place.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

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

Ouagadougou experienced its last major and destructive flood in September 2009 that caused extensive damage to roads, levies, and residential areas. A number of small villages on the outskirts of Ouagadougou were completely destroyed, and more than 10,000 people became homeless and were temporarily displaced. The central hospital sustained significant damage, and several Embassy residences were evacuated.

Critical Infrastructure

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

Personal Identity Concerns

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

Women should dress conservatively to avoid harassment. At some local social occasions (weddings, dinners, church, ceremonies) and at many official events, women and men are seated separately. Such gender-based separation sometimes negatively impacts the ability of diplomats to conduct business.

Physically disabled individuals would have a very difficult time in Burkina Faso, as facilities generally do not attempt to be accessible.

Drug-related Crimes

Illegal drugs are available; however, Burkina Faso is mostly known as a transit country for the illegal drug trade. There are no indications that illegal drugs are connected to narco-terrorism. Per Gendarmarie, the amount of drugs seized decreased by 52% in 2017.

Kidnapping Threat

There continues to be a persistent threat of kidnapping in the Sahel region.

Burkina Faso had its first kidnapping incident of a Westerner in April 2015.

In January 2016, a Western couple was kidnapped in Djibo (southwest Sahel).

The threat remains persistent as the regional instability in Mali and Niger contribute to increased vulnerabilities in Burkina Faso.

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Kidnapping: The Basics.”

Police Response

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

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

U.S. citizens are advised to call the U.S. Embassy immediately and speak with the Consular Officer or Duty Officer if they have been detained or harassed by local police. Consular officers can help Americans understand the local criminal justice process and find an attorney if needed.

Crime Victim Assistance

National Police, 2530-6383, 2530-7100, or 17

Gendarmerie, 2530-6271 or 16

You may also dial 10-10, which will connect to the Ministry of Security. They will dispatch the appropriate law enforcement entity, but English comprehension may be limited.

Fire Department: 18

Ambulance Service: 18, 2530-6644, or 2530-6645

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: 00221-33889-15-15

Probable Response time: 6 hours

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

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

Burkina Faso is a malaria-endemic country. Travelers should ensure they have adequate chemoprophylaxis.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Burkina Faso.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Regional Security Office (RSO) re-launched the OSAC program in Ouagadougou in December 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.

Hours of operation: Mon-Thurs, 0730-1700 and Fri, 0730-1230, excluding U.S. and local holidays.

Embassy Contact Information

Switchboard: (226) 25-49-53-00

After-Hours Duty Officer: (226) 7720-2414

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

Embassy Guidance

The Embassy strongly recommends that U.S. citizens enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP enrollment 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 Sheet