• 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 2021: Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso has a population of 21.510.1811 comprising some 60 different ethnic groups. The Indigenous Peoples include the pastoralist Peul (also called the fulbe duroobe egga hoɗɗaaɓe, or, more commonly, duroobe or egga hoɗɗaaɓe) and the Tuareg. There are no reliable statistics on the exact number of pastoralists in Burkina Faso. They can be found throughout the whole country but are particularly concentrated in the northern regions of Séno, Soum, Baraboulé, Djibo, Liptaako, Yagha and Oudalan. The Peul and the Tuareg most often live in areas which are geographically isolated, dry and economically marginalised and they are often the victims of human rights abuses. Burkinabe nomadic pastoralists, even if innocent of any crime, have thus been subjected to numerous acts of violence: their houses burned, their possessions stolen, their animals killed or disappeared, children and the elderly killed, bodies left to decay and their families forbidden from retrieving them.

Peul pastoralists are gradually becoming sedentarised in some parts of Burkina Faso. There are, however, still many who remain nomadic, following seasonal migrations and travelling hundreds of kilometres into neighbouring countries, particularly Togo, Benin and Ghana. Unlike other populations in Burkina Faso, the nomadic Peul are pastoralists whose whole lives are governed by the activities necessary for the survival of their animals and many of them still reject any activity not related to extensive livestock rearing.

The existence of Indigenous Peoples is not recognised by the Constitution of Burkina Faso. The Constitution guarantees education and health for all; however, due to lack of resources and proper infrastructure, the nomadic populations can, in practice, only enjoy these rights to a very limited extent. Burkina Faso voted in favour of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.


General situation of Burkina Faso’s nomadic pastoralists

2019 was a deadly year for nomadic pastoralists, with hundreds killed by jihadists, armed militia commonly known as kogleweogo and also by uncontrolled elements of the country’s forces of law and order.2 2020 has been no better. Pastoralists very often pay the price for the various counter-terrorism operations organised by Burkina Faso's security and defence forces but also for the offensives of armed militia such as the kogleweogo. The Peul are falsely linked to the terrorist groups, suffer attacks from armed militia, and have even been arrested and killed, particularly along the Fada NGourma - Pama - Benin border. In some areas, their movements are restricted and they are forbidden to travel to market. At the same time, they are also targeted by the jihadists and therefore find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. Many have therefore taken the decision not to return to Burkina following their nomadic travels to Benin, Ghana and Togo for fear of being branded terrorists. 2020 was marked by an “ethnicisation” of terrorism, with nomadic pastoralists increasingly associated with the terrorists.


Pastoralism and COVID-19 in Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso recorded its first case of COVID-19 on 9 March 2020. On 29 December 2020, the government information service attached to the Office of the Prime Minister communicated the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 since that first date: 6,631, of whom 2,437 women and 4,194 men, with a total of 84 deaths. From March to December 2020, however, the nomadic Peul pastoralists of Burkina found themselves in a very difficult situation due to the imposition of lockdowns, curfews and border closures.



Many transhumant pastoralists began their usual movements in the first quarter of 2020, both inside Burkina and across its borders. Preparations require the sale of one or two animals to buy grain for the family. Unfortunately, COVID-19 meant that the large towns that receive almost all the animals for sale were in lockdown (see map of the cities and towns in lockdown).3 Only village markets remained open where small amounts of money could be obtained with which to buy grain. Since traders were unable to take their animals to the towns, they had to sell them locally at a much cheaper price.

In addition, the urban lockdown paralysed the system by which nomadic pastoralists obtain supplies of pharmaceutical products with which to treat their animals on the journey. As these products generally come from Ouagadougou, the lockdown in this city prevented veterinary pharmacies from replenishing their supplies. It was also impossible to buy products such as salt lick, and especially cattle feed, thousands of tonnes of which are needed to ensure that enough animals survive the “lean cow” period from March to June. Without vaccination and without feed, it therefore became impossible to travel.


Market closures

The mobility of nomadic pastoralists depends on water points, the security of the route, and also on village markets where they can sell a ram, a calf, or a sick or very lean cow or bull that is unable to continue the journey. For fear of encouraging the transmission of the coronavirus, however, markets have remained closed. This has put a strain on transhumance, with the nomadic pastoralists forced to sell their animals at a low price, and even to sell two or three animals instead of one.

Moreover, the situation did not improve once the markets reopened because there was such a large surplus that “animal prices have fallen slightly on average compared to the previous season. For example, at Mani, in Gnagna, a male bovine that cost 155,000 FCFA between February and March now costs 125,000 FCFA. The price of sheep has declined from 80,000 FCFA to 75,000 FCFA and that of goats from 18,500 FCFA to 17,500 FCFA, a decrease of 7% and 6% respectively.”4


Border closures

Pastoralism relies on the mobility of livestock. This means that thousands of pastoralists cross Burkina Faso’s borders each year in search of fodder for their animals. Unfortunately, however, the country's land borders have been closed since March 2020 and have still not reopened. Crossborder mobility has thus been interrupted by this closure, and it has had a negative impact on pastoral activities.

The Director of Pastoral Security in Burkina Faso furthermore notes that “in the Central-Eastern and Eastern regions, the closure of borders with host countries (Benin, Togo, Ghana) has resulted in a concentration of animals and a scarcity of water and pasture in the transit areas. This closure of borders has restricted the flow of animals to the coastal countries, and some pastoralists have been forced to wait along the border in the communes of Logobou, Madjoari and Kompienga, creating a concentration of animals that could lead to conflicts if the situation continues.”5 Many nomadic pastoralists whose food supply systems rely on the transit areas were thus left helpless.


Generally speaking, 2020 in Burkina Faso was marked, on the one hand, by the violent extremism of the jihadists and armed militia and, on the other, by the COVID-19 pandemic. The former, which has pushed many pastoralists to leave Burkina Faso, has also deprived the many nomadic pastoralists of their animals and sometimes even cost them their lives. As for COVID-19, it has exacerbated “the difficulties of the lean season for pastoralists and agropastoralists due to a drastic reduction in residual fodder, difficulties in accessing water points, decapitalisation, theft, difficulties in accessing basic social infrastructure (health centres, schools, wells, veterinary pharmacies), the unavailability of livestock feed on the markets, and conflicts with sedentary farmers. This has led to a deterioration in the living conditions of pastoralists and their animals”.6 Support measures need to be implemented to assist these nomadic pastoralists in their struggle for survival.


Issa Diallo is senior research fellow at the National Center for Scientific and Technological Research in Ouagadougou. He is also president of the Association for the Protection of Rights and Promotion of Cultural Diversities of Minority Groups (ADCPM), officially recognised by the Government of Burkina Faso since 2005. ADCPM’s objective is to promote human and cultural rights, especially for people from minority groups. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

This article is part of the 35th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced.  Find The Indigenous World 2021 in full here


 Notes and references

1 Institut National de la Statistique et de la Démographie. "CHIFFRES CLÉS." 2020. www.insd.bf

2 Diallo, Issa. “Burkina Faso.” In The Indigenous World 2020, edited by Dwayne Mamo, 45. IWGIA, 2020. http://iwgia.org/images/yearbook/2020/IWGIA_The_Indigenous_World_2020.pdf

3 APESS. “Note d’analyse des premiers impacts de la pandémie du COVID 19 sur les Exploitations Familiales Agropastorales membres de l’APESS.” [Note analysing the first impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on APESS member family farms]. APESS Communication, 29 April, 2020. https://www.apess.org/note-danalyse-des-premiers-impacts-de-la-pandemie-du-covid-19-sur-les-exploitations-familiales-agropastorales-membres-de-lapess/

4 Action Contre la Faim (Action Against Hunger). “Bulletin de Surveillance Multisectorielle dans la Region de L’est- --Burkina Faso—Avril-Mai 2020.“ [Multisectoral Surveillance Bulletin in the Region of East-Burkina Faso-April-May 2020] June 2020. Accessed 30 December, 2020. https://sigsahel.info/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Bulletin_Surveillance_Multi_Sectorielle_BurkinaFaso_Juin2020.pdf

5 Ministry of Animal and Fishery Resources. “The impact of COVID-19 on Pastoral Activity.“ Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, 22 April, 2020. Accessed 27 December, 2020. http://agrhymet.cilss.int/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/contribution_Burkina_faso.pdf

6 CILSS, Agrhymet Regional Centre. “Situation pastorale face à la pandémie du COVID-19.” [Pastoral situation in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic] Agrhymet News, 9 June, 2020. Accessed 30 December, 2020. http://agrhymet.cilss.int/index.php/2020/06/09/situation-pastorale-face-a-la-pandemie-du-covid-19/





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

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