Burkina Faso + 3 more

State fragility in Burkina Faso: Analysis and Policy Brief

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Executive Summary

For decades, the land-locked country of Burkina Faso has avoided the exogenous shocks and internal conflicts that have plagued so many of its neighbors. As a result, authoritarian rule has overseen the informal social systems primarily responsible for steady incremental increases in Burkinabé capacity. In 2014, a groundswell of democracy overtook the country, and the advent of civilian leadership signaled that the potential for an exit out of fragility was on the horizon. However, the incursion of regional Islamic extremist groups has challenged the resilience of state security mechanisms as well as the capacity of its fledgling democratic institutions, demonstrating that Burkina Faso remains fragile and threating to undo hard-earned gains. It is unlikely that Burkina Faso will be able to withstand further shocks over the long term, and a failed state in central West Africa could have cascading effects in the global fight against violent extremism. For a middle power such as Canada, the options to support Burkina Faso are dependent upon Canadian national interests and desired levels of commitment.


This report utilized the fragility theory and cluster analysis put forth by Carment and Samy as a principal framework for its analysis of Burkina Faso. Approaches put forth by Grävingholt, Ziagja, and Kreibaum were also considered due to their similar spheres of authority, legitimacy, and capacity (ALC) in order to enrich analysis and guide data input. Multiple fragility indexes, including the Fund for Peace Fragile States Index, the Bertelsmann Transformation Index, and the Ibrahim Index of African provided baseline trends that fed into the combined cluster analysis. An initial examination of social, economic, and political cohesion in Burkina Faso produced a series of structural causes and “drivers” of fragility. The examination focused primarily on service delivery relative to each of the ALC clusters - first in terms of the formal political system, taking Webberian view of the state functionality - and later through the lens of social-contract theory which blended formal and informal systems of regulation and governance common in West African state models. Six sub-clusters – Security and Crime, Governance, Economic Development, Human Development, Demography and Population, and Environmental Factors – were then individually explored to affirm the previously identified drivers. This identification of key institutions, actors, and stakeholders within them allowed for a more precise understanding of associated risk as a function of the probability and negative impacts on fragility drivers. Placing our findings within the ALC framework, our assessment was consistent with several other wellestablished fragility indices on Burkina Faso.

These assessments had two puzzling and cascading implications for policy options that needed to be addressed in order to offer a complete analysis. First, ours as well as other published fragility assessments on Burkina Faso did not appear to match the recent media narratives, diplomatic reports, or security estimates. To respond to this, we accepted Call's challenge of universal fragility rankings and returned to our clusters to apply a more discrete analysis and disaggregate previous commonalities. Here, our application of informal systems adherence and social-contract theory as a basis for legitimacy was more heavily favored. Further, as no field research was able to be conducted in support of this project, regional anthropological reports regarding the informal West African regulatory systems were examined as a substitution, the results of which reinforced subsequent findings. While no “traps'” were determined, greater emphasis on contextual awareness demonstrated the existence of a “security gap.” Though conceptually accurate, Call's description of a security gap was ultimately problematic in that causal linkages associated with civil war or internal socio-cultural grievances were not present.

This friction flowed into our second implication for policy; fragility triggers existed both within and beyond the sphere of the state, both in terms of service delivery as well as geographic terrain. Here a principle of conflict diffusion was fittingly applied, wherein it was determined that external factors are motivated by the state's capacity to either reject or be resilient to them. This directly challenged earlier ALC estimates, generating revision. Applying a refined cluster analysis and gauged fragility triggers, three scenarios were built out to demonstrate potential fragility futures for Burkina Faso. Based on these scenarios, a series of policy options intended for Global Affairs Canada (GAC) are then presented without recommendation or prioritization.