Burkina Faso: Ouagadougou knows what needs to be done. Will the city be able to deliver? Dispatch from the Frontlines of COVID-19

  • April 29, 2020

  • Uagadugú, Burkina Faso


Burkina Faso is one of Africa's nations hardest hit by the coronavirus with 42 deaths, one of the highest number of fatalities in sub-Saharan Africa as of April 28.

Authorities have traced “patient zero” or the “index case” to an arrival in Ouagadougou on 9th March 2020 just seven weeks ago. Since then there have been 635 confirmed cases including the U.S. and Italian ambassadors as well as at least six government ministers. By contrast, neighboring Mali has about half as many cases and half as many deaths. This rapid spread of confirmed cases could be the tip of the iceberg. Burkina Faso currently has only one laboratory equipped to provide testing, situated in the second city of Bobo Dioulasso. Many potentially infected people are not able to access this facility.

The government has adopted several containment measures, including social distancing, a nationwide curfew, closure of schools and universities, cancelation of major public events, closure of terrestrial borders, suspension of commercial flights, and quarantine of the affected cities.

Even before the pandemic, Burkina Faso was already struggling to deal with a humanitarian crisis, due to attacks linked to Islamic militants and local defense groups. Almost 840,000 people are internally displaced, 2 million are reliant on aid and more than 130 health centers have closed because of the violence according to the government and aid workers.

In this challenging context, on April 2 authorities announced plans to revise the 2020 budget to address the socio-economic impacts of the outbreak with various measures under consideration, including, among others:

  1. Lowering import duties and VAT for hygiene and healthcare goods and services critical to tackle COVID-19, and for tourism businesses; lowering other selected tax rates and delaying and waving tax payments;
  2. Suspending government fees on informal sector operators’ rent, security and parking in urban markets; lowering the licensing fee for companies in the transportation and tourism sectors;
  3. Suspending on-site tax inspection operations;
  4. Donating food and providing assistance for households and local small businesses;
  5. Supporting water and electricity bills, including through cancelation, of the most vulnerable social groups;
  6. Securing adequate stocks of consumer products and strengthening surveillance of prices.

Measures taken by local governments

An emergency response plan for the health sector has been prepared. The plan focuses on strengthening human and technical capacities of public hospitals, increasing available hospital beds, expanding testing capacities and purchasing medical supplies to facilitate the implementation of hygiene measures. The plan will be regularly updated to reflect local and global developments.

The 2004 General Code of Local Authorities in Burkina Faso defines two levels of local authorities: the region and the municipality (rural and urban). There are 351 municipalities, including 302 rural municipalities, 47 urban municipalities, 2 “special status municipalities” (Ouagadougou the capital and Bobo Dioulasso) and 13 “local authorities-regions”. The ''special status municipalities'' are subdivided into districts with an elected council within each district and a district mayor at the head of each district. Ouagadougou is divided into 12 districts and Bobo Dioulasso into 7 districts.

The Code also defines that municipalities are responsible for primary health care, health centers and preventive health. Therefore, municipal governments are on the forefront of combatting the health crisis. However, in Burkina the transfer of competences and resources to municipalities remains incomplete overall and particularly slow.

In order to enforce physical distancing to stop the spread of coronavirus, the mayor of Ouagadougou (population 2.5m) – one of the hardest hit areas of the country, has decided to close 40 markets in the city. The implementation of these measures has an immediate impact on communities in general and the most vulnerable in particular. Vulnerable households are unable to build up stocks of essential food items and are forced to rely on daily supplies to ensure their survival. Also, the spontaneous emergence of markets and stalls in neighborhoods, without any supervision, enables the rapid propagation of the virus within these vulnerable communities.

The Ouagadougou City Council, in collaboration with Technical and Financial Partners (TFPs) including the United Nations System Agencies (UN Agencies), is currently considering how to support the establishment of a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) for the deployment of a resilient COVID-19 food and commodities supply chain, comprising a coordinated system of farmers, traders, transporters and vendors as well as SME services around the various value chains.

It is imperative for municipalities to be provided the tools and means necessary for the emergency response and to prepare the post-COVID recovery phase. UNCDF is working with the UN family to deploy its tools for local government finance and other support such as digital finance and SME finance. In addition to working on the value chain, one key component should be immediate operational support to the Ouagadougou City Council.

Blog entry written by Amadou Sy, , edited by Nan Zhang.