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Safety Travel Safety: Africa: Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso: Burkina Faso
Capital: Ouagadougou
Population: 12,603,185
Currency: Communaute Financiere Africaine franc (XOF)
Languages: French (official), native African languages belonging to Sudanic family spoken by 90% of the population
Religions: indigenous beliefs 40%, Muslim 50%, Christian (mainly Roman Catholic) 10%
Borders: Benin 306 km, Cote d'Ivoire 584 km, Ghana 549 km, Mali 1,000 km, Niger 628 km, Togo 126 km

Burkina Faso, previously known as Upper Volta, is a developing country in western Africa that borders the Sahara Desert. The official language is French.

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. The capital of Ouagadougou periodically experiences demonstrations and civil unrest. Although the demonstrations are generally peaceful, there have been several incidents of violence and destruction within recent years. U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political gatherings, and street demonstrations.

Street crime in Burkina Faso poses high risks for visitors. Most reported incidents involve purse-snatchers and street scam artists, who target wallets, jewelry 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 and the former Central Market in Ouagadougou experience the highest incidence of purse snatchings and muggings. Travelers should stay alert, remain in groups and avoid poorly lit areas. Be especially cautious at night.

There continue to be frequent armed robberies and attacks on intercity roads throughout the country and particularly on the Fada-Kantchari Road, at the eastern end of National Route 4, the main east-west highway. Although these armed individuals are operating mostly at night, there have been daytime attacks. They have injured and/or killed individuals who refuse their demands. U.S. travelers should avoid travel on these roads at night. Avoid stopping for what appear to be road maintenance crews, hitchhikers, persons apparently in distress, or others trying to block the road. Check with the U.S. Embassy for the latest security information before setting out on your journey.

Perpetrators of business fraud often target foreigners, including Americans. While such fraud schemes in the past have been largely associated with Nigeria, they are now prevalent throughout West Africa, including Burkina Faso. The scams pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm. Recently, an increasing number of American citizens have been the targets of such scams. The business scam may appear to be a legitimate business deal, often requiring 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.

Typically, these scam operations 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 valuables out of the country. A series of "advance fees" must then be paid in order to conclude the transaction; for example, fees to provide legal documents or to pay certain taxes. In fact, the final payoff does not exist; the purpose of the scam is simply to collect the advance fees. One common variation of this scheme involves individuals claiming to be refugees or other victims of various western African conflicts (notably Sierra Leone) who contact U.S. citizens to request their help in transferring large sums of money out of Burkina Faso. Another typical ploy has persons claiming to be related to present or former political leaders who need assistance to transfer large sums of cash. Other variations include what appear to be legitimate business deals requiring advance payments on contracts. Sometimes, perpetrators manage to induce victims to provide bank account and credit card information and financial authorization that allow them to drain the accounts and incur large debts against the victim's credit. In many 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. Any unsolicited business proposal originating from Burkina Faso, Nigeria or any other source should be carefully checked and researched before any funds are committed, any goods or services are provided, or any travel is undertaken. For additional information, single copies of the Department of State's brochure � Advance Fee Business Scams� are available at no charge by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the Office of Overseas Citizens Services, Room 4811, Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818.

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Burkinabe law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Burkina Faso are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.

Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.

Medical facilities and emergency hospital care are very limited, particularly in areas outside the capital, Ouagadougou. Some medicines are, however, available through local pharmacies. Travelers requiring medicines should bring an adequate supply for the duration of their stay in Burkina Faso.

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Burkina Faso is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:

Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Non-existent

Travelers should exercise great caution when traveling by land in Burkina Faso. The few roads that exist are in very bad condition. Most roads are unpaved, narrow, and full of potholes. Road travel at night is especially dangerous and, if at all possible, should be avoided. At night, there is a high volume of truck traffic passing through the country; and pedestrians, bicycles, and carts pose a major hazard on unlit, unmarked roads.

For additional information on road travel in Burkina Faso, see the Embassy of Burkina Faso's website at:

As there is no direct commercial air service by local carriers at present, or economic authority to operate such service, between the U.S. and Burkina Faso, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Burkina Faso's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet website at

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.

A valid photo permit must be obtained from the Ministry of Tourism; the Ministry's list of photo restrictions should be observed. The U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou can provide information on specific photography regulations.

Please also refer to the separate Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

October 4, 2004

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