Burkina Faso is making remarkable progress in catching up in education and health. However, threats of internal and external conflicts affect its development. A preventative approach focused on young people is required.
In addition to problems seen across the Sahel, security in Burkina Faso is threatened by a multitude of increasingly complex internal factors. The most recurrent conflicts, which are potential insecurity risks to be prevented, are related to issues of access to natural resources. They pit herders and farmers, or traditional chiefdoms, for example, against each other.
While the direct causes of most of these crises are to be found in unemployment and poverty, scarce resources, the extent of social inequalities and poor governance, the demographic factor must be taken into account.
Between 1960 and 2020, the population of Burkina Faso more than quadrupled, from 4.83 million in 1960 to 21.51 million today. Demographic trends have not been linear; for example, the average number of children per woman rose from 6.2 in 1960 to 7.3 in 1991 and then declined again to 5.4 children in 2015, approaching 5. Burkina Faso remains a young country: the median age is 16.3 years old.
The urban population has grown, and this growth will continue. In 2019, an estimated 30.9 per cent of people in Burkina Faso live in cities, representing 6.2 million urban dwellers. For a long time, the country did not undertake real urban policies. As a result, the juxtaposition of uncoordinated sectoral interventions, reflecting a centralised state organisation, has taken the place of policy. All the difficulties that cities face in meeting the needs of growing and demanding populations in a sustainable and coherent manner are being measured.
Depending on the scenarios, the population of Burkina Faso will be between 32 million and 41 million in 2040.
In the low hypothesis, the dependency ratio would decrease significantly, allowing for satisfactory human development. According to projections, one Burkinabe in two will live in an urban area by 2050, particularly in Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso. Social cohesion in Burkina Faso’s cities is one of the future challenges to be met, since city population growth is not always linked to job creation.
Burkina Faso has a fairly low unemployment rate (6.4 per cent in early 2020), but it has been rising since the 2000s, and job insecurity remains high. Over the next 20 years, the working-age population will continue to grow.
The State is stepping up its response to threats
In terms of health, Burkina Faso has made remarkable progress on infant and child mortality (from 360 per thousand in 1960 to 81.6 per thousand in 2015). While medical and paramedical technical staff are still insufficient in quantity and quality, the country is nevertheless close to the standard of 1 doctor per 10,000 inhabitants and meets the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations for nurses, despite regional disparities. In some areas that have long been neglected by infrastructure investment, lack of employment and poverty are leading people to join the ranks of terrorists in order to support themselves. This is the case in the Sahel and in the east of the country.
The country’s security situation, which was stable for a long time, has gradually deteriorated since April 2015. Conflicts affecting rural areas have mainly impacted the North, Centre-North and Sahel regions of the country. Some 220,000 people have been displaced in these areas since the beginning of June 2019, in addition to the 26,000 refugees from the Malian crisis who have been in the country since 2011.
As a result of the frequency of attacks, which sometimes spread to other regions, economic activity and public services are affected. They lead to new burdens on the State budget due to expenditure on defence and security force equipment and operations. Among other responses to terrorist threats, the government of Burkina Faso has set up an incentive mechanism for the defence and security forces. Action is being taken to ensure better care for the injured and compensation for the families of victims. In addition to these actions there are, of course, efforts to provide the defence and security forces with adequate equipment. Nevertheless, Burkina Faso remains the G5 Sahel country with the lowest investment in security, relative to its income.
Education does figure prominently among the priorities identified in policy documents such as the current National Economic and Social Development Plan (PNDES). The security effort has not prevented a significant increase in the share of the national budget allocated to education, from 19.5 per cent in 2005 to 23.7 per cent in 2019.
Valuable support from international organisations
Social investments over the coming decades should lead to improved health and food self-sufficiency for all, quantitative and qualitative improvement of the education system, access to drinking water, and a significant reduction or even elimination of poverty and unemployment.
Yet the current demographic dynamics do not present opportunities for the economy to take advantage of the demographic dividend. To do that, the following key challenges need to be met: development of community facilities; fertility control; child survival; access to education and drinking water; population health; vocational training; youth employability; and good economic and political governance.
To this end, the government is pursuing its policy, supported by various initiatives such as the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) project, to increase women’s and adolescent girls’ access to sexual and reproductive health services, including voluntary family planning and maternal health. This regional initiative, especially supported by UNFPA, is also improving child health and nutrition, strengthening girls’ education, and working to end child marriage and other harmful practices.
In conclusion, the analysis of the peace and security situation in Burkina Faso places the issue of young people at the centre of all concerns. Any possible solution requires the resolution of this fundamental issue. The country’s internal and external security risks and challenges are genuine and beyond the capacity of any single State. Transnational threats can only be addressed through a comprehensive and inclusive approach based on partnership within a regional integration framework or with the help of the international community.
To benefit from the peace and security dividend, we must ensure that youth initiatives, youth organisations and young people themselves can operate in a rewarding and respectful environment rather than an invasive or repressive one. There are political, financial, legal and social means to optimise and multiply youth initiatives and ensure that young people can contribute fully to peace and security in their societies. Young women and men, especially those who are committed to peace and the prevention of violence, should be seen as key allies in the quest for peace and security.
Above all, there is a need to move from an event-driven security approach, often in emergency situations, to a youth-centred comprehensive violence prevention approach.