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Justice Needs in Burkina Faso:
view from a small sample


In the spring of 2020, HiiL was supposed to talk to thousands of people throughout Burkina Faso to learn about the legal problems they face in daily life and how they try to resolve these problems. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis and adoption of travel restrictions meant this was no longer possible.

COVID-19 has forced many around the globe to become creative and innovative. In order to still get an idea of the legal problems in Burkina Faso, we decided to launch an online survey, filled in by respondents recruited via social media. This report is the result of that exercise. It aims to answer the following questions:

The data in this online report is displayed in interactive charts. We show, rather than tell. Readers are invited to click through the graphs to see differences between demographic groups and for different problems. In this way, they can obtain answers to their own questions.

This report is a part of a larger study that is scheduled to take place in Burkina Faso in 2021 where we will undertake a large scale Justice Needs and Satisfaction Survey with thousands of people in the country. We hope to continue to support access to justice in Burkina Faso with new data, insights and solutions.

Methodology and limitations

To measure justice we talk directly to thousands of people. The core of our methodology is to randomly select individuals so their voices represent the whole population of a country. Normally trained interviewers sit with the selected respondents and discuss the legal issues in daily life, what people do to resolve them, and whether they actually manage to have their problems resolved.

But 2020 was not an ordinary year. Like many other countries in the world, Burkina Faso closed its international borders and imposed travel restrictions to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Hence, it was no longer possible to conduct the Justice Needs and Satisfaction survey according to the standard face-to-face mode of data collection.

We were left with two options: to wait until the measures are lifted or to explore new ways for data collection. Urged by the anticipated impact of the pandemic on people’s justice needs, we decided to seek alternatives which can give a clue about:

We decided to turn to the internet as an option to gather data during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, that brought its set of challenges. Internet penetration in Burkina Faso is one of the lowest in the world. Only 17.7% of the population in Burkina Faso has access to the internet.1 Allegedly there are 840 000 Facebook users.2 Data collection was expected to be challenging.
Between September and November 2020 we published advertisements on Facebook and Instagram, inviting people to take part in a short survey. Organised in two campaigns, the advertisements reached 1.6 million users, but some users have seen them more than once. In total, the advertisements have been seen 4.17 million times.
By monitoring the data collection, we found out that more men use Facebook and Instagram in Burkina Faso. To correct this sampling bias, we adjusted the advertisements to make sure that they reached more women. Although this did help, the final sample remains biased towards men.

The advertisements invite the respondent to fill in a short survey. To encourage users to participate in the survey, we offered each respondent the chance to win a cash voucher for 20 000 CFA franc.3 Fifty vouchers were distributed between the people who agreed to share a phone or email contact.

As a result of the advertisement campaigns, 444 individuals filled in the survey. 31 people did not consent on leaving personal data and therefore did not proceed to the substantive questions. Clearly, the final sample is not representative of the population of Burkina Faso. Survey respondents are younger, better educated, mostly from urban areas, and most likely wealthier than the overall population. Hence, we caution the readers that the results cannot be extrapolated towards the entire adult population of Burkina Faso. To better interpret our findings, we compare them where possible to what is, at least to our awareness, the only other study of justice needs: a survey on access to justice conducted by the World Justice Project in 2017 among 1029 respondents in the three largest cities of Burkina Faso.



In total, we collected 413 fully filled out surveys. Out of these 413 respondents:
While the sample is skewed towards young, highly educated men, the data visualisations in this report allow for the examination of smaller groups in the sample. Throughout the report, you can click the charts to select different demographics and see how this changes the results.

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Justice gap

Legal problems in Burkina Faso

58% of people who filled in the survey experienced at least one legal problem in the last year. On average, these people experienced 2.3 problems.

The percentage is higher than in neighbouring Mali, where HiiL found that 39% of people had experienced a legal problem in the last four years. To compare, the WJP found that 69% of people in Burkina Faso experienced a legal problem in the last two years.

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Types of legal problems

We asked people which types of problems they experienced in the last twelve months. Select the different demographics to see the problems experienced by different groups.

The three most common problems are misbehaving neighbours, consumer problems, and employment problems. The skewed sample might play a role in this. For example, we know from JNS surveys in other countries (including in Mali) that land problems are often very common, but also that they are more often experienced in rural areas. The WJP uses a different categorisation and has more reported problems because they cover two years, making comparisons not straightforward. 

They found that consumer and money problems are most prevalent in Burkina Faso, followed by problems related to the community, public services, and education. Employment and neighbour problems are less common in their sample.

For each problem they experienced, we asked people two questions:

If the problem had been resolved, we also asked how fair the resolution was. By selecting specific problems, you can see how the answers change depending on the type of problem.

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On average, problems are scored with 5.84 in terms of seriousness. The problems rated as most serious are land problems and crime, while accidents and problems around obtaining identity documents are considered least serious.


Almost half of the problems (47%) have been partially or completely resolved. Most problems are on-going, while almost one in five problems is completely abandoned. Crime and employment problems are least likely to be resolved.

These findings are not too different from the WJP, which found that 39% of problems were fully resolved, 9% persists, and 52% on-going. It is interesting to note that compared to other African countries where HiiL conducted a JNS, in Burkina Faso less problems are completely resolved, but considerably more are partially resolved.



Most people who managed to resolve their problem, either partially or fully, indicated this had not led to a satisfying outcome. Only 20% of resolved problems is considered to be resolved in a fair manner, and another 20% is considered moderately fair. Since only half of the problems are resolved in the first place, this means roughly 20% of all problems are resolved in a way that is considered to be at least moderately fair.

Until this point in the survey, we asked people to tell us about all their legal problems. In the next stage, we asked them which problem was the most serious one and how they went about resolving it. The following section will dive deeper into these questions.


Resolution process

If people experienced more than one problem, we asked them to select the most serious one. Click the demographics in the chart to see what the most serious problems are for different groups of people.

The most serious problems differ slightly from the most common problems identified above. The three most serious problems are misbehaving neighbours, land problems, and employment problems. So while consumer problems occur quite frequently (they are the second most common problem in terms of frequency), they are clearly considered to be less serious. On the other hand, land problems occur less frequently, but are generally considered as more serious.

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83% of the people took some sort of action to resolve their most serious problem. This is similar to what we have seen in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda. It is slightly higher than in Nigeria (71%), but lower than in Mali (91%).

The percentage of people taking action varies between different age groups, with people between 18 and 24 less likely to take action than older age groups.

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What action do people take?

Own actions

In most cases, people who took action talked directly to the other party. 73% of people with a legal problem talked to the other party in order to resolve their problem. Especially people whose problem involves someone they know tried to reach a solution through direct negotiation. Talking to the other party is less common when encountering crime or when trying to obtain personal identity documents. 

This indicates that especially problems in the sphere of civil justice – such as problems related to family, land, employment, personal loans, or housing – are often negotiated between the involved parties without engaging a third party.

Unfortunately these negotiations with the other party are often unsuccessful: approximately 37% of people managed to achieve an agreement with the other party. At the same time, this does mean that a considerable number of people manage to achieve satisfying outcomes without engaging the formal justice system.

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Third parties

When engaging a third party to try to solve their problem, people most often turned to their direct social network: family, friends, and neighbours. As with bilateral negotiations, their help is utilised especially for disputes within the civil sphere. For crime and accidents, the police were the first source of help. The WJP also found that most people looking for help turned to friends or family (65%), and that only a small number of people engage a lawyer, court, or the police.

The most common intervention offered by third parties was giving advice (26%), followed by mediating the case (20%). Especially family, friends, and neighbours often give advice. Third parties are not always helpful: the third most common answer to the question what a third party did is ‘nothing’.

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Despite the fact that family members, friends and neighbours are usually not trained in law or dispute resolution, 47% of people found one of these informal resolution providers the most helpful source of help for their legal problem. Police, lawyers, and courts together count for 35%. It should be noted that the percentages for this question overlap almost perfectly with those of the question above (who helped you solve the problem?).

Some differences exist between men and women: women tend to rely more often on their family members, while men more often seek help from their friends and neighbours.

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How do people evaluate the process?

In the process of resolving their problem, more than 90% of people report spending nothing or only a small amount of money and time. This is a hopeful indicator and in line with the WJP data, which shows most people were able to afford the process and spent on average three months on resolving their problem. However, this does not mean that the process is easy: a clear majority of people (88%) report experiencing a large or very large amount of stress while trying to resolve their legal problem.

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The spiderweb chart presents peoples’ evaluation of the process they went through to resolve their problem: 1.00 indicates a low evaluation for a certain dimension of the problem, while 5.00 would be a very positive evaluation. The dimensions featured in the chart, starting at the top and going clockwise, are:
On average, people evaluate their process under 2.00 for all dimensions; this is very low, also in comparisons with other countries.

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Expected legal problems

If people did not experience any legal problem in the last year, we asked them to anticipate the likelihood of experiencing different types of legal problems in the upcoming year. Most of these people do not expect to experience a legal problem in the upcoming twelve months. Problems related to debt and money, consumer problems, and land problems are believed to be most likely to occur, but still only one in ten persons found this to be likely. It is noteworthy that nobody believed it was likely they would become a victim of a crime.

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Conclusion and discussion

In this report, we presented the results of an online survey on legal problems among people in Burkina Faso. The results indicate that 58% of surveyed people experienced a legal problem. On average, they experienced 2.3 legal problems in the past year. The most common problems are misbehaving neighbours, consumer problems, and employment problems.

Almost half of all problems were partially or completely resolved. This is a hopeful sign about the justice system in Burkina Faso. However, this also means more than half of problems are not being resolved. One third of problems are on-going and one in five problems is abandoned. This suggests the existence of a considerable justice gap in Burkina Faso.

Most people who experienced a legal problem took some sort of action to resolve their most serious problem. The majority of respondents talked directly to the other party, especially in the case of problems in the civil justice sphere. Approximately 37% of these people managed to solve their problem in this way.

When engaging a third party, most people turned to someone in their social network: family, friends, or neighbours. The only exception to this are crime and accidents, when people primarily sought help from the police. In most cases, people received advice from these third parties. Despite the informal nature of these justice providers, they are often seen as the most helpful source of help.

Most people spent none to a small amount of money and time on the resolution process. While this in itself is a promising sign, a large majority of people experience a large or very large amount of stress because of their legal problem. Evaluations of the dispute resolution process are also mostly negative.

This study has provided valuable lessons about gathering justice data in a complicated and restrictive environment. It shows the benefits and drawbacks of rapid data collection from a non-systematic random sample of users of justice in a country where only a limited part of the population, with specific demographic characteristics, has access to the internet. What does this mean for the value of such types of studies?

Despite the obvious limitation of non-representativeness, the data provides a glimpse into the access to justice landscape in Burkina Faso. Comparisons with the WJP data show some differences, but also important similarities in key findings. This study can be seen as a viewfinder for the justice needs of the overall population of Burkina Faso. Follow-up studies can use it as a benchmark or as a basis for refining their theories, methods, and results. Such studies can also shine further light on the strengths and limitations of the current methodological approach.

Moreover, although the sample is skewed, young and educated urbanites are a dynamic and important group and the study tells us which are the justice needs of that group and how they cope with them. We can see how many and which problems are resolved and which are not. This knowledge can directly inform policy makers and service providers about what can be done to improve justice services for a key demographic.

HiiL’s primary objective is to gain a better understanding of the justice gap in Burkina Faso and to support the development and implementation of user-friendly solutions. To that end, in the coming year, we will build upon this study and conduct further research into the justice needs of people in Burkina Faso.



Dr. Jelmer Brouwer, Data Analysis and Reporting Officer

Armi Korhonen, Justice Sector Advisor

Dr. Martin Gramatikov, Director Measuring Justice

Manasi Nikam, Knowledge Management Officer

Prof. Dr. Maurits Barendrecht, Director Research & Development

About HiiL

HiiL (The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law) is a social enterprise devoted to user-friendly justice. That means justice that is easy to access, easy to understand, and effective. We will ensure that by 2030, 150 million people will be able to prevent or resolve their most pressing justice problems. We do this by stimulating innovation and scaling what works best. We are friendly rebels focused on concrete improvements in the lives of people. Data and evidence is central in all that we do. We are based in The Hague, City of Peace and Justice.

The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law
Fluwelen Burgwal 58, 2511 CJ The Hague
P.O. Box 93033, 2509 AA The Hague
The Netherlands

Tel: +31 70 762 0700

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