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Burkina Faso 2015 Crime and Safety Report

Africa > Burkina Faso; Africa > Burkina Faso > Ouagadougou

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

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 maintains friendly relations with the U.S. and receives aid and development assistance from several U.S. government agencies, American NGOs, corporations, and private charities. 

Crime Rating: High

Crime Threats

Criminals in urban areas may carry a knife or other edged weapon in order to cut the strap on bags, purses, or backpacks and can become violent particularly when the victim is noncompliant. Ordinarily, thieves do not threaten victims with weapons, although there have been thefts and attempted thefts involving firearms and knives. Street crime (pickpocketing, purse snatching, and backpack/cell phone theft) is pervasive in major cities. Cellular telephones, jewelry, laptops, and items of value are the 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).

Bribery, scams, and fraud are also prevalent.

Rape and sexual assault continue to periodically occur both in smaller towns and in Ouagadougou. 

Residential thefts/home invasions occur occasionally in the expatriate community and in other parts of Ouagadougou. When home invasions have occurred, thieves have entered residences stealthily at night and avoided direct confrontation with occupants. 

Hotel security is generally adequate against petty crime. 

Roadside banditry continues to be a problem. Banditry can take place anywhere along the country’s roads. Bandits generally do not harm victims who comply with their demands but have been known to attack vehicles that do not stop.

Areas of Concern

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 and nightclubs that tend to attract unsavory individuals after dark. 

Crime is also 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. 

The road just north of Kaya (around the towns of Pissila and Tougouri) and the Eastern Region beyond Koupela (toward Fada N’Gourma) are cited by local police as banditry-prone due to its isolated location and the lack of cell phone coverage. 

As a precautionary measure, the U.S. Embassy and some other diplomatic missions restrict their employees from unofficial travel north of the Djibo – Dori road, inclusive, due to security concerns.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions 

Traffic and road conditions in Ouagadougou make driving difficult and hazardous and result in most expatriates experiencing at least one vehicle accident. In addition to regular car and truck traffic, there is a huge volume of mopeds, pedestrians, bicycles, donkey carts, hand-cranked wheel chairs, and hand-pulled wagons on main thoroughfares. As a result, the average safe speed is 25-30 MPH, making for long commutes around Ouagadougou.

Pedestrians and mopeds dash in and out of traffic, often directly in front of oncoming vehicles. Drivers of every type of vehicle selectively obey traffic laws, often engaging 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 it. As a result, it is quite common to see accidents involving mopeds, often with injuries and/or fatalities. Drivers must go well beyond the norms of defensive driving. European rules of the road are theoretically followed in Burkina Faso. 

Hazards on both paved and unpaved side roads can be worse than on main thoroughfares. Commercial areas are overcrowded with pedestrians, taxis, trucks, hand carts, innumerable vendors, and even small begger children. Most of the country's roads are gravel surfaces or dirt tracks. On neighborhood roads, drivers may encounter young children at play in front of homes and businesses, dogs scavenging in trash piles, and livestock grazing. Exposed rocks, loose gravel, potholes, broken concrete/tile, and scattered pieces of wood often litter the 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 in places, especially at the edges. 

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 are long stretches between major cities on which one must detour to a dirt track. 

Night driving can be especially challenging. Many cars and motorbikes do not have or use their headlights, and many areas do not have streetlights. Bicyclists and pedestrians in dark clothing are practically invisible in the dark. The same carelessness and general lack of safety consciousness among daytime drivers becomes more dangerous at night. In some neighborhoods, packs of domesticated dogs roam the dark streets. All these factors combine to create very taxing and perilous nighttime driving conditions.

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, two good spare tires, and many have had to purchase new car batteries because Burkina Faso’s intense heat significantly drains battery life.

While driving, you should always scan the area in front of you and pay particular attention when approaching choke points (areas with limited egress or restricted traffic flow) and be prepared to take evasive action at any time. In traffic, always attempt to leave space between you and the vehicle in front of you to allow room to maneuver in the event of an emergency. Drive defensively, wear a seatbelt, keep doors locked, windows up, and seat belts on at all times. Yield to aggressive drivers and maintain a cool head in traffic – even if you have the right of way. If you have an accident, do not move your vehicle until instructed to do so by a police officer. If you feel like you are being followed in your vehicle, drive to a safe place (police station, hotel, or gas station), and immediately call the police for assistance. Avoid leading the person back to your residence.

Public Transportation Conditions 

Public transportation (buses and local (green) taxis) are discouraged from use by the American private sector as much as possible. Buses on the highways have been involved in catastrophic accidents and the target of roadside bandits, while green taxis are often mechanically unsafe, offer multiple patrons passage, and have been connected to criminal activity targeting passengers. 

However, there are a handful of yellow taxi cab services that are acceptable; the associated companies include: Allo Taxi, Chic Taxi, City Cab, and Taxi Jaune. All of these taxi cab services utilize centralized dispatchers, fare meters, seatbelts, and well-maintained automobiles.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The airport in Ouagadougou was built in the 1960s and has almost certainly outgrown its capacity constraints. It is located in the center of the city, approximately 1.5km southeast of the main commercial area. The airport site itself is approximately 4.8km in length, 0.5km in width at its narrowest point, and covers an area of approximately 426 hectares.

As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States 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, it is useful, if not essential, to note landmarks (neighborhood pharmacies, specific buildings, permanent signs, and roundabouts). The majority of paved roads do not have adequate markings; this leads to confusion among drivers.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Burkina Faso’s new head of state, Michel Kafando, was sworn in on November 18, 2014, as the interim president for a 12-month transitional period. Shortly thereafter, Kafando named the military leader who took charge of the country following the resignation of former President Blaise Compaore, Lt. Col Yacouba Isaac Zida, as prime minister for the transitional government. Elections are expected to take place during the September-November 2015 timeframe. 

Political Violence Rating: Medium

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

While there are no known operational extremist elements, such elements could be in-country or may easily access the country through the porous borders with Mali and Niger. 

Regional Islamist elements that could impact Burkina Faso include: a-Qai’da in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), Ansar al Dine, Ansar al Sharia, al-Murabitaoun, and Boko Haram.

Terrorism Rating: Low

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

Given the military campaign in Mali to defeat the Islamist extremists, the regional threat of retribution against Western private sector interests continues in 2015.

The Burkinabè people have a positive attitude toward Americans. Burkina Faso is generally very pro-American, and the U.S. Embassy shares an excellent working relationship with its Burkinabe counterparts. Anti-Americanism is considered low.

Civil Unrest 

Burkina Faso has experienced large-scale demonstrations and civil unrest On October 31, 2014, former President Compaore resigned after crowds looted and burned the National Assembly and other government buildings and residences. Martial law was declared, a curfew installed, and the airport and land borders were temporarily closed. There were incidents of violence, looting, road blockages, tire burning, and destruction of property throughout Ouagadougou, in Bobo-Dioulasso, and elsewhere. 

Aside from the October-November 2014 demonstrations, Ouagadougou occasionally experiences demonstrations and civil unrest. Although most demonstrations are generally peaceful, there have been incidents of violence, looting, road blockages, tire burning, and destruction of property. Instances may arise where the best, safest course of action is to temporarily shelter-in-place. 

Religious/Ethnic Violence 

Burkina Faso is noted for its religious and inter-ethnic tolerance, and faith-based violence is rare. Burkina Faso is a predominantly Muslim country, with the majority of practitioners following moderate Sunni teaching.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Flooding has been a major problem during the rainy season in parts of Burkina Faso, severely damaging 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 Concerns 

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

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. 

Kidnapping Threat

Regional Islamists (al-Qai’da in the Islamic Maghreb) have specifically targeted Westerners for kidnapping for ransom in neighboring countries. Although none have taken place in Burkina Faso, regional instability in Mali and Niger have increased potential vulnerabilities. 

Police Response

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

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Americans are advised to call the U.S. Embassy at 25-49-53-00 immediately and ask to speak with the Consular Officer or Duty Officer if they have been detained or harassed by local police. Although the investigation and prosecution of a crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help Americans understand the local criminal justice process and find an attorney if needed.

Crime Victim Assistance

Fire Department dial 18
Ambulance Service, 18, 25-30-66-44 or 25-30-66-45
National Police, 25-30-63-83, 25-30-71-00, or dial 17
Gendarmerie, 25-30-62-71 or dial 16. 
You can also dial 10-10, which will connect to the Ministry of Territorial Administration, Decentralization, and Security who will dispatch the appropriate law enforcement entity.

Medical Emergencies

Contact Information for Recommended Hospitals/Clinics

HOPITAL NATIONAL BLAISE COMPAORE
Contact Person: Dr. Alexandre Sanfo
Tel: (226) 25-50-96-63

CENTRE HOSPITALIER NATIONAL YALGADO OUEDRAOGO
Contact Person: Mr. BAGAGNE L, Director
Address: 03 BP 7035, Ouagadougou
Office Phone: (226) 25-31-16-55 / 25-30-66-43 / 25-31-53-07 
Other Phone: (226) 25-31-35-07 

CENTRE HOSPITALIER UNIVERSITAIRE PEDIATRIQUE, Charles-De-Gaulle
Contact Person: Prof. Jean Kabore
Address: Boulevard circulaire
Office Phone: (226) 25-36-67-77 / 25-36-67-79 / 25-36-67-79

CENTRE NATIONAL DE TRANSFUSION SANGUINE (Blood Bank)
Contact Person: Mahamoudou Sanou
Address: Avenue d'Oubritenga
Office Phone: (226) 25-32-46-95/ 25-42-23-95/ 70-26-79-06

Clinique du Coeur
Contact Person: Dr. Rene Traore
Address: Ouaga 2000
Office Phone: (226) 25-48-35-28 / 70-23-68-62
Primary alternative facility after Embassy, fully equipped ambulance.

Association International de Sante
Contact Person: Dr. Peter Mare, Critical Care
Address: 21 Avenue Nazi Boni Sur Faso Avenue
Office Phone: (226) 25-30-66-07
Emergency Phone: (226) 70-20-00-00 / 76-19-99-99
Medically equipped ambulance with a medical team. Hospital and referral, this Association can only handle basic illness.

Polyclinique Notre Dame de la Paix 
Contact Person: Dr. Jean Baptiste
Ouedraogo, Chief of the Clinic
Address: 01 BP 5666, Ouagadougou 01
Office Phone: (226) 25-35-61-55 or 53 / 25-36-71-06
Hospitalization 24/7, emergency surgical wards, Multiple physician specialties: orthopedist, x-ray, ultrasound, Laboratory, 24/7 on duty physician can handle emergencies, but unlikely more than 20 patients at the same time. Dr. Salifou Traore, OB/GYN, can be called for sexual assault examinations. Prof. Theodore Ouedraogo is a surgeon.

Polyclinique NINA
Contact Person: Dr Bernard Seidou Ouedraogo, Chief, and NDE Nina Ouedraogo
Office Phone: (226) 25-36-33-81 / 25-36-00-88
Emergency x-ray and ultrasound, surgical wards.

Recommended 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
Medical emergency assistance
Probable Response time: 6 hours

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance 

For additional information on vaccines and health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/burkina-faso.htm.

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Situational Awareness Best Practices 

Be alert and aware of your surroundings, travel with a group of people if possible, and avoid poorly lit streets and narrow alleys. Be extra cautious when visiting higher crime areas, especially at night. Visitors are urged to carry only what they are willing to lose and to comply with criminals’ demands in an effort to avoid violence and escalating the situation unnecessarily. Cell phones should be kept on your person at all times or out of sight in briefcases and backpacks when not in use. Personnel should exercise caution while using credit cards and/or ATMs.

Care should be taken to ensure that you are not being overcharged or defrauded as you conduct your day-to-day business.

All valuables should be secured in a hotel-provided lock box or safe. 

Be wary of people who approach you. Not every smile is a friendly one, and U.S. Embassy staff has reported encounters with con artists and persons seeking to intimidate them. 

Women should avoid walking alone after dark and should be aware that sexual predators have been known to be both acquaintances and strangers.

The use of static guards, window/door grilles, residential alarm systems, and a conscientious use of door/window locks are effective countermeasures to residential crime. Residential doors and windows should remain locked at all times, and no keys should be kept in keyholes. Use a residential alarm if you have one, when your home is unoccupied and at night while you sleep.

Secure items of value that are stored outside the house and lock car doors overnight. 

Private sector organizations should review their security profile and adjust as appropriate to render themselves difficult targets for regional terrorists. Stay abreast of the situation through media outlets. Demonstrations may continue in the lead-up to the 2015 presidential and legislative elections. These incidents may disrupt traffic and turn chaotic or even violent. If you encounter a protest or demonstration, you should immediately leave the area. If you are in your vehicle, turn around and take an alternate route. 

Best practices include ensuring that all of your staff have emergency evacuation plans in place. Such plans might include willingness to suspend operations when necessary, knowing where to obtain emergency travel arrangements, and pre-arranging planning care for your business, your residence, and your pets while away.   

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. 

The hours of operation are from Monday through Thursday from 7:30 am to 5:00 pm and Friday 7:30 am to 12:30 pm local time, excluding U.S. and local holidays.

Embassy Contact Numbers

Embassy Switchboard: (226) 25-49-53-00
American Citizen Services (Consular Section) (226) 25-49-57-20
Regional Security Office: (226) 25-49-55-21
After-Hours Duty Officer: (226) 77-20-24-14
Website: http://ouagadougou.usembassy.gov/

Embassy/Consulate Guidance

We strongly recommend that U.S. citizens enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at travel.state.gov. 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. If you do not have Internet access, enroll directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. You should remember to keep all of your information in STEP up to date; it is particularly important when you enroll or update your information to include a current phone number and e-mail address.

U.S. government facilities worldwide remain at a heightened state of alert. These facilities may temporarily close or periodically suspend public services to assess their security posture. In those instances, U.S. embassies and consulates will make every effort to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens abroad are urged to monitor the local news and maintain contact with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. 

Regularly monitor the State Department's website, where you can find current Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and the Worldwide Caution. Read the Country Specific Information for Burkina Faso. For additional information, refer to the “Traveler’s Checklist” on the State Department’s website.

Contact the U.S. embassy or consulate for up-to-date information on travel restrictions. You can also call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or 1-202-501-4444 from other countries. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to have travel information at your fingertips.

OSAC Country Council Information

Embassy Ouagadougou has a small OSAC Country Council due to the limited number of American-owned or -operated business interests. The OSAC Council generally meets annually or on an ad hoc basis, as warranted. Regional Security Officer Jesse C. Thomas, Jr. continues to provide country briefings for representatives of American businesses, non-governmental organizations, academia, and faith-based organizations, as requested. To reach the OSAC Africa Team, email: OSACAF@state.gov.