The SDC’s focus on the civil society in Burkina Faso

Article, 28.12.2015

The peaceful election in Burkina Faso of President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré on 29 November 2015, thirteen months after the end of the long reign of Blaise Compaoré, was an impressive accomplishment. The West African country can be proud of having achieved a truly democratic transition. For the SDC, it is confirmation that its efforts to strengthen civil society over the long term are proving successful.

A group of Burkinabe women in a room talking.
Meeting of a dyers' group in Koudougou, in central Burkina Faso. The female members join together to negotiate with the authorities and increase their income. © SDC

Good news too merit special attention. The news that a new president of Burkina Faso, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, was peacefully elected on 29 November 2015, is a case in point. All the observers confirmed that the presidential election, held at the same time as parliamentary elections organised throughout the country, took place without major irregularities.

The elections brought to an end a fairly turbulent year of transition triggered by the ousting of former president Blaise Compaoré. Even during the week-long coup by a dissident general in September 2015, the public remained calm and always defended the public interest.

Successful development cooperation

"The transition process up to the recent elections is the fruit of the Burkinabe people's commitment, but it is also an achievement for development cooperation in general, and that of Switzerland in particular," says Chantal Nicod, head of the West Africa Division at the SDC. For more than twenty years, Switzerland has been working with civil society in Burkina Faso to develop the latter's ability to take on responsibility and participate in decision-making processes. It promotes a culture of active citizenship based on dialogue, transparency and accountability of public institutions.

Strengthening civil society in Burkina Faso and, more broadly, promoting participatory democracy, are the common denominators in all SDC activities in the country.

Supporting the electoral process

From April 2015 onwards, the SDC committed CHF 5 million to consolidating the electoral process in the run-up to the planned elections. It supported 24 civil society organisations involved in civic education (voter turnout was 60%), and helped 16 political parties draw up balanced and constructive election manifestos. The national institutions in charge of running the elections also benefited from technical and material support.

At the same time, the SDC responded positively to a request for financial aid from Burkina Faso's national radio and television (RTB). After its premises were ransacked during the uprising in October 2014, RTB was no longer able to fulfil its mandate as a public information service. The SDC's support to RTB over 18 months meant that the public received impartial coverage of the main issues in the elections.

Empowered civil society

On a broader level, since 2005 the SDC has been running a programme to strengthen civil society, empowering various players in the socio-economic field in Burkina Faso to challenge the authorities’ implementation of national public policies. In particular, it is helping about a dozen civic organisations to improve their ability to organise, manage their finances and defend their interests. As part of this work, along with other donors the SDC finances a national anti-corruption network (RENLAC).

Involving communities in improving their lot

The SDC's economic support for local groups and politicians in 15 rural districts in the country aims to create jobs and raise the income of thousands of craftspeople. The SDC is also working to modernise the agriculture sector, supporting central farmer's associations in representing their interests over reforms introduced by the state. Experience shows that better cooperation between local elected representatives, producers and tradespeople leads to increases in food production.

At national level, the SDC works with thirty or so women’s associations to improve their agricultural processing techniques and infrastructure. Having started from scratch, after just three years 7,000 women farmers and 3,000 male colleagues now manage to generate a monthly income of about CHF 25. The SDC also helps to keep potential conflict between livestock farmers and arable farmers over natural resource use (pasture, water sources, etc.) to a minimum, and to circulate information on product prices. Thirty thousand market gardeners currently receive regular information on the development of prices. Several infrastructure projects financed by Switzerland – marsh-draining, public wells, latrines, roads – also benefit from the active involvement of the local communities.

Training curricula to meet needs

Finally, the SDC promotes decentralisation in the system of education and vocational training. Rural communities are invited to get involved in setting up a school system adapted to their needs, so that children are less likely to drop out of primary school. The SDC supports alternative school programmes developed by local associations and NGOs (accelerated learning, bilingual classes, community schools). Since 2006, half a million young people and adults have learned to read and write in these programmes, and 10,000 children between the ages of 9 and 15 have been able to return to school. The SDC also encourages new ideas about vocational training adapted to the needs of the market.

In all these situations, the SDC endeavours to share locally developed solutions with the political authorities in Burkina Faso in order to raise their awareness and provide inspiration. Integrating the needs voiced by the public into reform projects is essential in fostering long-term stability and democracy in the country. Furthermore, the funding made available to local communities must continue to grow.