What makes Burkina Faso a unique country to travel to?
Burkina Faso, previously known as Upper Volta, is a landlocked, developing country in the Sahel region of West Africa. Its capital is Ouagadougou. Burkina Faso is a former French colony; the official language is French. With a population of nearly 17 million, it is one of the world’s least-developed countries, and its infrastructure for tourism is limited.
Crime in Burkina Faso poses some measure of risk for visitors. Recent incidents of violent crime against visitors have included harassment, robbery, sexual assault, and rape. Non-violent crimes directed against visitors have been theft, burglary, and various confidence scams. Most reported incidents involve purse-snatchers, pickpockets, and street scam artists who target wallets, jewelry, cell phones, and other valuables. Thieves are especially active during international meetings or events which draw large crowds to the capital. The areas near and around the U.N. Circle, Avenue Kwame N’Krumah, and the Central Market in Ouagadougou experience the highest incidence of street crime. Travelers should stay alert, remain in groups, and avoid poorly lit areas. Be especially cautious at night when most reported incidents have taken place.
Although violent criminals typically operate at night, there have been daytime attacks. Several attacks have been directed at intercity public buses. U.S. citizen travelers should avoid all intercity and highway travel at night. It is best to check the Embassy website for the latest security information before setting out on your journey.
Perpetrators of business fraud often target foreigners, including U.S. citizens. Recent scams that have victimized U.S. citizens have taken many forms, including fraudulent transactions for gold and antiquities. Such fraud schemes are now prevalent throughout West Africa, including Burkina Faso. The scams pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm. A typical indicator of a business scam is the demand for advance payments on contracts. Persons contemplating business deals in Burkina Faso should contact the commercial section of the U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou if they have any doubts about the legitimacy of a potential business client or partner.
Normally, fraud schemes begin with an unsolicited communication (usually by e-mail) from an unknown individual who describes a situation that promises quick financial gain, often by assisting in the transfer of a large sum of money or gold dust out of the country. A series of "advance fees" must then be paid in order to conclude the transaction. In fact, the final payoff does not exist; the purpose of the scam is simply to collect the advance fees. Common variations of this scheme involve individuals claiming to be refugees, victims of various African conflicts, or former political leaders in need of help in transferring large sums of money. Sometimes perpetrators manage to induce victims to provide bank account and credit card information, and financial authorizations that allow them to incur large debts against the victim’s credit. In some instances, victims have lost their life savings.
The best way to avoid becoming a victim of advance-fee fraud is common sense. If a proposition looks too good to be true, it probably is. Research thoroughly any unsolicited business proposal originating from Burkina Faso or any other source before committing funds, providing goods or services, or undertaking travel.
Do not purchase counterfeit and pirated goods such as CDs, DVDs, or computer software even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, but if purchased, you may also be breaking local law.
While you are traveling in Burkina Faso, you are subject to its laws. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. You may be taken in for questioning if you do not have your passport with you. In Burkina Faso, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. Criminal penalties will vary from country to country; in some places driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. There are also some things that might be legal in Burkina Faso, but still illegal in the United States, and you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is prosecutable in the United States. If you break the law in Burkina Faso, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what is legal and what is not wherever you go.
Persons violating Burkina Faso’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking illegal drugs in Burkina Faso can be severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, bilateral agreements with certain countries, and customary international law, if you are arrested in Burkina Faso you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate of your arrest, and to have communications from you forwarded to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Burkina Faso is not a party to a bilateral agreement that requires mandatory notification.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical facilities and emergency hospital care are very limited and of poor quality, particularly in areas outside of Ouagadougou. Emergency response services, such as ambulances, are in very short supply, poorly equipped, and in many regions simply nonexistent.
Some medicines are available through local pharmacies, though supplies can be limited and quality is inconsistent. Travelers requiring specific medicines should bring an adequate supply for the duration of their stay in Burkina Faso.
Malaria is a serious risk to travelers in Burkina Faso and can be fatal. Current medications recommended for malaria prophylaxis include Lariam (Mefloquin), Malarone (Atovaguone/Proguanil) and Doxcycline. Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a malaria-risk area and up to one year after returning home should seek prompt medical attention and tell the physician their travel history and what anti-malarial drugs they have been taking. For additional information on malaria, including protective measures, please visit the CDC’s website.
There are vaccines not routinely given in the United States that are strongly advised before traveling to Burkina Faso. Meningitis and Yellow Fever are endemic in Burkina Faso, and cases are most frequent during the drier, dustier months of January through June. Travelers should confirm their meningitis inoculation is up to date. Tuberculosis remains a considerable health concern in Burkina Faso.
Safety and Security
U.S. citizens traveling to, and residing in, Burkina Faso are urged to exercise caution and maintain a high level of security awareness at all times. Roadside banditry and other violent crimes sometimes occur in Burkina Faso, especially in remote and border areas. U.S. citizens should exercise caution when traveling along the northern areas of the country near the Mali and Niger borders. The Sahel region of Burkina Faso is extremely remote, and the ability of both the Government of Burkina Faso and the Embassy to render assistance in the event of an emergency there is limited. The U.S. Embassy has placed restrictions on official government travel on the road stretching from Djibo to Dori, and to all areas north. While there have been no known terrorist incidents (bombings, hijackings, or kidnappings) directed against foreigners in Burkina Faso, it is prudent to be aware of events occurring in neighboring countries.
Burkina Faso shares a border with Mali. On January 11, 2013, the Malian military launched military operations against terrorist groups that have been in control of northern Mali. As a result, terrorist groups have stepped up their rhetoric calling for additional attacks or kidnappings against Westerners, particularly against those countries which support international military intervention in Mali. The al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) terrorist organization and their affiliates could therefore target Westerners in Burkina Faso, especially in the regions of the north near Mali and Niger.
Ouagadougou occasionally experiences demonstrations and civil unrest. Although most demonstrations are generally peaceful, there have been incidents of violence, looting, and destruction of property. Instances may arise where the best safe course of action is to shelter temporarily in place. U.S. citizens should remain informed of current developments, avoid crowds political gatherings, and street demonstrations, even if these appear to be peaceful.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Burkina Faso, you will encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information which follows is for general reference only, and may not be applicable in a particular location or circumstance within Burkina Faso.
Travelers should exercise great caution when traveling by road in Burkina Faso. While major urban and intercity roads are paved, they can be narrow and full of potholes. Dirt roads are common, even in large cities. Vehicles will often enter oncoming traffic to pass or maneuver around obstacles. Broken-down vehicles may be abandoned on the road. Rural roads outside of major arteries are often in poor condition and roadside assistance is not available. Some rural roads are impassible in the rainy season. Livestock and children may dart onto the road without warning. Road travel at night is especially dangerous and should be avoided. At night, there is a high volume of truck traffic passing through the country, and pedestrians, bicycles, and donkey carts pose a major hazard on unlit, unmarked roads. Vehicles are often dangerously overloaded and poorly maintained. Drivers, including motorcyclists and bicyclists, are at times careless. The police rarely enforce traffic laws and are virtually absent from rural roads. Emergency services in case of accidents are scarce, underequipped, and practically nonexistent in most rural areas.
Caution is urged while using any form of public transportation to travel by road, and travelers should remain aware of their personal belongings at all times.