• Indigenous peoples in Burkina Faso

    Indigenous peoples in Burkina Faso

    The Peul and the Tuareg are the main indigenous groups of Burkina Faso, but are not recognised. The Constitution of Burkina Faso guarantees education and health for all, but as the Peul and the Tuareg are nomades, they can in practice only enjoy these rights to a very limited extent.
  • Peoples

    60 different ethnic groups can be found in Burkina Faso
  • Rights

    2007: Burkina Faso votes in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • Current state

    The Peul and the Tuareg are the main indigenous groups of Burkina Faso, but are not recognised. The Constitution of Burkina Faso guarantees education and health for all, but as the Peul and the Tuareg are nomades, they can in practice only enjoy these rights to a very limited extent.

Indigenous World 2019: Burkina Faso

According to the World Bank, Burkina Faso’s population stood at 19.19 million in 2017, with a fertility rate of 5.35 children per woman and a population growth rate of 2.9% per year.

Burkina Faso comprises 66 different ethnic groups. The M’bororo Fulani and the Tuareg are two of the peoples considered indigenous. They live spread throughout the country but are particularly concentrated in the north, Seno, Soum, Yagha and Oudalan regions; they are often geographically isolated, living in dry areas, economically marginalised and the victims of human rights violations.

According to the 2006 official census, Burkina Faso’s population is 60.5% Muslim, 19% Catholic, 15.3% animist and 4.2% Protestant.

Burkina Faso’s Constitution does not recognise the existence of indigenous peoples, but it does guarantee education and health care for all. A lack of resources and appropriate infrastructure, however, means that, in practice, nomadic peoples enjoy only limited access to these rights.

Burkina Faso voted for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.1

Political situation in 2018

In the war on jihadi terrorism in the Sahel conducted by Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso, Burkina Faso now seems to be the weakest link because of its inability to repel the terrorist attacks. There has been a surge in terrorist attacks since January 2018, with more than 240 deaths since 2015, according to an official tally issued in mid-October.

In recent months, this country – which borders both Mali and Niger has seen a new “front” emerge in the east although responsibility has not always been claimed for attacks on the local security forces. The north of the country continues to suffer: Prefects have been murdered, expatriates kidnapped, teachers threatened and judges have fled; all signs of a retreating State, which is unable to provide security in the north of the country.

There is a growing feeling of insecurity among the population aswell as a sense of impatience. The country was listed 183rd out of 187 on the Human Development Index published by the United Nations in September 2018.2

Universal Periodic Review at the Human Rights Council

On 12 May 2018, the situation of Burkina Faso’s minority and indigenous peoples was considered by the Human Rights Council in Geneva during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The compilation on Burkina Faso report3 from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights states:

  1. The Committee [on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination] is concerned that certain groups, including nomads, migrants and people living in rural areas, may not be sufficiently taken into account in the development programmes and policies drawn up by the State The Committee recommends that the State party take the necessary measures to avoid [their] marginalization.4
  2. The Committee is concerned by the communitarian and sometimes ethnic dimension of these conflicts, especially those involving the Fulani people.5 [The Human Rights Council called on Burkina Faso] to reduce tensions between pastoralists and farmers, including by taking into consideration the root causes of the conflicts, such as the increased competition for land and land-tenure insecurity.6 [It noted] with concern reports that the Fulani community [had] been regularly targeted by vigilante groups. [The Committee welcomed the] establishment in 2015 of the National Observatory for the Prevention and Management of Community 7

Future for pastoralism

The Platform of Action for Pastoral Household Security (Plateforme d’action pour la sécurisation des ménages pastoraux/PASMEP) published a report on 20 August 2018. The coordinator of civil society organisations for the promotion and defence of pastoralism, René Millogo, presented the report entitled: Pastoralism in Burkina: a truly problematic future for this sector. In an interview broadcast by Faso.net, he stated:

We have seen that national policies do not take sufficient (and I mean sufficient) account of these target groups and the underlying issues even though it is a highly viable economic activity for our country’s development. We therefore think that more work needs to be done at all levels to take better account of the pastoral communities and their contributions to social and economic development.8

A UNOWAS (UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel) report was published on 16 October 2018 under the title of: Pastoralism and Security in West Africa and the Sahel: Towards Peaceful Coexistence.9 The introduction summarises the situation of nomadic herders. In recent years, conflicts involving herders have increased:

West Africa and the Sahel is [sic] experiencing a surge in violent conflicts between pastoralists and farmers. These conflicts are primarily driven by competition for lands, water and forage, but there are also political and socio-economic factors involved, as the main issue is about how these essential natural resources are managed and allocated. […] Pastoralists are both victims and actors, which can be between pastoralist groups themselves or between pastoralists and farmers. […] [The causes and drivers of pastoral-related conflicts are:] 1) growing demographic and ecological pressures [which] are regional phenomena; 2) the area of land under cultivation has dramatically increased over time, while available grazing land has decreased. This is partly because pastoralists rarely own land on an individual or collective basis but instead rely on access to pasture and water as common resources, in agreement with local communities.10

Terrorism and self-defence groups

In the north of Burkina Faso, since 2017, jihadists have been attacking schools, particularly in the border area with Mali and Niger. They have killed a head teacher, teachers and pupils and burned down several schools. These attacks have thus far led to the closure of 216 educational establishments affecting 24,000 pupils and 895 teachers.11

The Koglweogo, or “guardians of the forest” in the Mooré language, were set up in 2014, in the context of the social and political crisis, out of a desire to fight “institutionalised insecurity”. A self-defence movement, Koglweogo are the result of a popular initiative that is now spread throughout virtually the whole country, with the exception of the Grand Ouest and Cascades regions.

The violent and ritualised practices of the Koglweogo groups are now common in many areas. In rural zones, where there were previously problems of insecurity, different testimonies seem to suggest that the presence of Koglweogo has improved the situation, increasing security. However, because of the “vigilante-style hunts” they carry out, and the inclusion of former criminals in their ranks, the Koglweogo movement has received a mixed welcome from society. The proliferation of these self-defence groups also feeds more latent conflicts. With presidential elections on the horizon in 2020 the issue of the integration of these armed groups back into the democratic process remains critical to ensure stability and peaceful governance.12

Notes and references

  1. Issa Diallo. IWGIA. The Indigenous World, 2017 at http://bit.ly/2IotPtF
  2. Le Bilan du Monde 2018. Le Monde, Sophie Douce
  3. See UNHRC A/HRC/WG.6/30/BFA/2, Compilation on Burkina Faso Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights at http://bit.ly/2TaEf4j
  4. Ibidem, referencing CERD/C/BFA/CO/12-19, 12.
  5. Ibidem, para. 15. See also: CCPR/C/BFA/CO/1, paras. 41–42.
  6. cit. UNHRC referencing CCPR/C/BFA/CO/1, para. 42.
  7. cit. UNHRC A/HRC/WG.6/30/BFA/2
  8. PASMEP Report: Interview with René http://lefaso.net/spip.php?article85052
  9. UNOWAS Report, “Pastoralism and Security in West Africa and the Sahel: Towards Peaceful Coexistence” (Pastoralisme et sécurité en afrique de l’ouest et au sahel) at http://bit.ly/2Izb9Ym
  10. Ibidem
  11. Interview with Oumarou Traoré, Inspector at the Ministry of National Education, technical advisor to the Asmae Association. La Croix, 1 June 2018
  12. Dupuy, Romane, and Tanguy 2018. «Mouvement D’Autodéfense Au Burkina Faso : Diffusion Et Structuration Des Groupes Koglweogo Noria». NORIA Network Of Researchers In International Affairs. See http://bit.ly/2TdfUL8

Patrick Kulesza is Executive Director of GITPA, the Groupe International de Travail pour les Peuples Autochtones www.gitpa.org



IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. Read The Indigenous World.

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