Journal Article

Urban Protest in Burkina Faso

Ernest Harsch

in African Affairs

Published on behalf of Royal African Society

Volume 108, issue 431, pages 263-288
Published in print April 2009 | ISSN: 0001-9909
Published online April 2009 | e-ISSN: 1468-2621 | DOI:
Urban Protest in Burkina Faso

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  • African Studies
  • International Relations
  • African History
  • Regional Political Studies


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Burkina Faso has embarked on a course of decentralization in which elected local governments are assuming a share of decision making over a range of services and activities previously under central authority. But many of these municipalities have also become sites and targets of popular contestation, a reality that has rarely been acknowledged in the official discourses of decentralized governance. By employing social movement research methods, this article examines more than 200 public demonstrations, marches, sit-ins, strikes, riots, and other forms of protest over local issues in 31 of Burkina's urban municipalities, from 1995 to 2007. It finds that both local government reactions and the protests themselves are strongly influenced by the national political context. The analysis highlights some of the main grievances raised by protesters, from opposition to police violence and merchants’ frustrations over the management of marketplaces, to residents’ concerns about municipal corruption and resistance to neighbourhood displacement resulting from urban ‘modernization’ schemes. By challenging the performance of Burkina's municipal councils and mayors, ordinary residents are exercising ‘voice’ and seeking to give some real substance to notions of participatory decentralization.

Journal Article.  10794 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: African Studies ; International Relations ; African History ; Regional Political Studies

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