Study on the effects of structural adjustment policies in Burkina Faso Contents

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Aims of the study and methodological approach

In the mid-1980s, the Bretton Woods institutions (i.e. the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank) imposed a set of budgetary, monetary and fiscal measures – known collectively as Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) – on a number of African countries which had been experiencing serious economic difficulties for over a decade. The aim of the SAPs was to revive the ailing African economies, to lay the foundations for healthy economic growth and to re-establish macroeconomic balance.

However, the evaluations that have been carried out of the first SAPs show that, in spite of the congratulatory statements of their promoters, they have had unexpected negative effects. The SAPs have effectively resulted in a lowering of the living standards of African workers, including those in the “social sectors” (education and healthcare) which had been identified as the programmes’ priority targets. In many countries, the unions have reacted forcefully against these negative effects.
But very little is known, in terms of systematic, in-depth research, about the impact of structural adjustment policies on living standards and working conditions. The unions themselves lack basic information on this key issue as a result of inadequate financial resources and/or the absence of an effective local management system (lack of trade union statistics). When they are invited to take part in bodies responsible for policymaking or for finding solutions to the problems associated with the policies that are being implemented, they submit few or no alternative proposals to uphold the interests of workers. The lessons that can be drawn from an individual union’s successes (and failures) are not shared with other unions facing similar problems elsewhere in the region.
There is also a need to continue to exert well-targeted pressure on the Bretton Woods institutions, which are no doubt somewhat shaken in their belief in the effectiveness of the “therapy” recommended by them, but which nevertheless remain anchored to the logic of market forces and complete subordination to the “the economy”.
It was therefore with the threefold aim of collecting additional information on the impact of structural adjustment on education, helping teachers’ unions to develop alternative strategies for education in the context of structural adjustment, and increasing affiliates’ awareness of the problems associated with structural adjustment, that the teachers and education workers’ international federation, Education International (EI), undertook a series of case studies on the effects of SAPs on education.
The first study, carried out in Ghana in 1999, showed that even in countries where SAPs are considered a success, education has suffered from the adverse effects of these policies. In order to complement the results of the case study on Ghana, EI next targeted Burkina Faso, another “model pupil” of the Bretton Woods institutions.
The Burkinese study was conducted by Nazi Kaboré, who is a trade union educator and researcher, and Haoua Koné, a primary education inspector. It concerns mainly teachers in the public sector, who make up the vast majority of the teaching profession (over 90%) and benefit from better living and working conditions than their colleagues in the private sector. The study covers the period 1990-2002.

In the case of Burkina Faso, the principal aim was to determine the extent to which “orthodox” structural adjustment has affected education policies as well as the living standards and employment relations of teachers and education workers.

The following, more specific questions were then identified as being particularly relevant:

Have unions in the education sector in Burkina Faso effectively put forward their objectives, priorities and views in order to influence the policies promoted by the government and the Bretton Woods institutions? What participation systems has the government made available to unions, and to what extent have the latter availed themselves of their right to participate so as to minimise the adverse effects of the SAPs and, more generally, influence decision-making in the sector? What is the balance sheet of trade union action in relation to the SAPs?

How can unions develop a more effective response?
The study is basically descriptive in nature. On the basis of the documents of the institutions responsible for education as well as union documents and press articles, it sets out to:
1- Analyse Burkina Faso’s education policy under the SAPs;
2- Analyse the impact of the measures implemented under the IMF/World Bank-sponsored SAPs on:

  • the remuneration of teachers (including salaries, bonuses and benefits)

  • purchasing power

  • teachers’ workload

  • the quality of the work environment

  • social protection

  • employment conditions and job security

  • employment relations;

3- Analyse unions’ response to the effects of the IMF/World Bank-sponsored SAPs on their members and organisations, as well as the structures, mechanisms and practices through which education workers’ organisations participate in policy-making and implementation;
4- Put forward proposals aimed at achieving a more effective and more significant participation of education workers and their unions in Burkina Faso at national level;
The review of the available literature and press articles was carried out in bookshops and libraries as well as on the basis of documentation obtained from the two main ministries responsible for education (MEBA and MESSRS4), the unions, the University of Ouagadougou, the “Ecole nationale d’administration et de la magistrature” (National School of Administration and Magistrature – ENAM), the African Workers’ Participation Development Programme (PADEP) and the Internet. No documents dealing specifically with the impact of the SAPs on education were found. This appears to be confirmed by the National Review of Education Sector Analysis in Burkina Faso of UNESCO’s WGESA5, which reviewed 227 studies on the sector between 1994 and 1997.
Definition of concepts
Purchasing power is defined in relation to the goods and services that can be bought with the money earned by a worker.
A family’s living standards are defined in relation to the goods and services that the family in question can purchase with its total income.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank are two international financial institutions set up at Bretton Woods (a small American town) after the Second World War. The IMF is entrusted with the task of stabilising and promoting international exchanges and lends funds on a short-term basis to countries experiencing temporary deficits in their balance of payments. For its part, the World Bank provides long-term loans for public or publicly-guaranteed private investment projects.
Devaluation is a measure of the decrease in the value (i.e. the parity) of a currency in relation to others. The CFA franc was devalued by 50% on 12 January 1994.
The poverty line represents the minimum income required by a family to cover its basic needs, such as food, shelter and healthcare.
Social protection covers the following main areas: healthcare, unemployment benefit, retirement pensions, occupational accident insurance, family benefits, maternity benefits, disability benefits and survivors’ pensions.
The informal economy comprises any economic activity performed outside the registered public or private enterprises. For example, street traders, home-based workers, domestic workers etc. work in the informal economy.
The terms “check off” or “payroll deduction” apply to a system for paying union membership fees. This means that employers deduct union fees from union members’ wages and then transfer these to the union.
The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) reflects variations in the cost, for the average consumer, of an agreed “basket” of goods and services. The contents of this “basket” may be modified at pre-established intervals.
Inflation is characterised by an increase in prices, resulting in a decrease in the value of money. The annual inflation rate is the increase in prices over a one-year period, expressed as a percentage. If wages are not adjusted in line with inflation, workers’ real income falls, given that the prices of goods and services are rising.
A Structural Adjustment Programme is a set of budgetary, monetary and fiscal measures aimed principally at reducing public expenditure by:

  • Privatising public companies;

  • Abolishing subsidies for basic goods and services (e.g. certain kinds of foodstuffs, farming inputs, education, healthcare, etc.);

  • Reducing the total wage and salary bill, i.e. dismissing many workers in the public sector;

  • Freezing wages and salaries;

  • Devaluating the national currency;

  • Reorganising the tax system (e.g. introducing Value Added Tax – VAT);

  • Liberalising trade. This mainly involves removing barriers to imports and promoting free price formation;

  • Reducing tax advantages for local companies so as to promote competition;

  • Increasing interest rates in order to promote saving.

Introduction: SAPs, mismanagement and increased poverty
According to the Burkenese Government, over the past ten years Burkina Faso has improved its macroeconomic performance very significantly, achieving an average real growth rate in the region of 5% in the 1994-1999 period, as compared with approximately 3% in the 1980-93 period. In spite of a serious deterioration of the terms of trade between 1997 and 1999, the growth rate remained at about 5.6% on average in this same period. This rise in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was achieved at the cost of adopting and implementing stabilisation and structural reform programmes supported by all development partners and aimed at improving the management of public finances, liberalising the national economy and benefiting from a greater openness to foreign investment and trade. (Our emphasis)
However, a European Union report from 2001 notes that “despite the progress made at macroeconomic level” (average growth of 5% in the 1996-1999 period) and despite considerable inflows of foreign aid on a regular basis, the results obtained in terms of improving people’s living standards, combating poverty and meeting social needs remain very limited.
In 2003, therefore, Burkina Faso, the former Upper Volta (covering 274,000 km2, with a population of 11 million), lying at the centre of West Africa, at the gates of the Sahara, is still a backward country in terms of human development. Its HDI value6 is 0.330, and 47% of its population live below the poverty line (72,690 CFA francs per capita/year). Burkina Faso is ranked 173rd out of 175 by the UNDP in its 2003 World Report on Human Development.
As happens in many other countries, political and economic power in Burkina Faso is in the hands of a small minority of individuals who among them control the constitutional institutions, trade and industry, the public administration, NGOs and the leading bodies of civil society organisations. The development association APVD7 distinguishes the following social groups in Burkinese society:

  1. The “business elite”, including:

  • Members of the government, MPs, the judiciary, high-ranking civil servants, the managing directors of public companies, financial officials;

  • Workers in the structured public or private sectors, NGO employees and

  1. The population at large (agricultural labourers, craftsmen, informal workers).

Without any effective participation of “those who truly know what poverty means”, the business elite plans, implements and assesses the results of economic policies and development projects, including the Structural Adjustment Programmes and the current Strategic Anti-Poverty Framework. These privileged groups – some of them organised into “clubs”, “circles”, “orders” and “parties”, others organised into unions, associations and NGOs, with the common aim of preserving their respective powers and furthering their respective interests – do not hesitate to wield their power in such a way as to effectively hold the population hostage.

As a result, the poor are becoming poorer, and the gap between rich and poor, between the elite and the general population, and between town and country is widening. This, in turn, is giving rise to a crisis of confidence between rulers and ruled, leaders and grassroots and, more generally, between the elite and the population at large. The latter, consequently, either resign themselves to being “mere spectators of political and economic life, victims doomed to poverty and hardship”8…or increasingly resort to unlawful methods in order to solve their problems or seek justice for themselves!

Burkina Faso entered the SAP “cycle” in 1991. Following the implementation of an initial three-year SAP (i.e. the 1991-1993 “Programme de facilité d’ajustement structurel renforcé” or Strengthened Structural Adjustment Facilitating Programme – FASR), in 1994 the country embarked on a second three-year programme, which was completed at the end of 1996 (1994-1996 FASR Programme). This was followed by a third programme from 1997 to 1999. Since 2000, the term “Structural Adjustment Programme” (SAP) has been replaced by “Cadre stratégique de lutte contre la pauvreté” (Strategic Anti-Poverty Framework – CSLP) in the country’s official speeches and documents.

Burkina Faso has therefore attended the “Bretton Woods clinic” several times, in the footsteps of many other countries of sub-Saharan Africa. What’s more, to paraphrase the Burkinese authorities, this country of upright men “was not carried there on a stretcher”. Before starting negotiations with the Bretton Woods institutions, the government could even afford the luxury of consulting all stakeholders, including the unions, in the course of a national conference on the economy, held in May 1990. At this forum, the government promised the population a “soft” SAP and identified education and healthcare as the two sectors that should benefit from economic restructuring as a matter of priority. It also committed itself to implementing a project on the “social dimension of adjustment”.
Furthermore, it should be noted that, in the guise of self-medication, the former Upper Volta had already swallowed an economic adjustment pill:

  • The first time from 1966 to 1975 through an economic and financial restructuring programme implemented by the Provisional Military Government (known as “Ganrangose”9);

  • A second time from 1984 to 1988 under the regime of the National Revolutionary Council (NRC).

Economist Pascal Zagré speaks of “self-adjustment” in discussing these two programmes and calls “orthodox adjustment” the programmes initiated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

It is therefore probable that some of the shortcomings and adverse or negative effects experienced in the orthodox SAP-pioneering countries were avoided or mitigated by the “social dimension” of the Burkinese SAP. Such effects may even have been inconspicuous or practically non-existent as a result of “habituation” or owing to the “vaccine principle”, particularly in education, which was designated by the authorities as one of the priority sectors due to benefit especially from the reallocation of resources under the Structural Adjustment Programmes.
1- Education policies and SAPs in Burkina Faso:
The first schools were created in Upper Volta in the 1900s by the missionaries who arrived in the country on the morrow of its colonial conquest by the French. However, the colonial education system very soon specialised in training auxiliary staff for the colonial administration. As a result, when the country became independent in 1960, the school enrolment rate was only 8%. The state was therefore faced with a twofold challenge: a very low rate of schooling and the inadequacy of the education system to the national socio-economic and cultural realities. The various regimes that have succeeded each other in power since independence have tried, each in its own way, to meet this challenge. Mamadou SISSOKO et al.10 distinguish four different experiences, i.e. what were effectively four attempts to reform the education system.
1.1 Pre-SAP education policies: The endless transition to an education system geared to Burkina Faso’s economic, social and cultural realities
The first phase was the “Africanisation of schooling” from 1960 to 1976, which consisted of a reform of the curricula inherited from the colonial system. While the contents and aims of education were not significantly changed by this reform, rural schools were set up to provide agricultural training for the children who were unable to access conventional schools.

The second phase was the “unfinished reform of curricula” from 1976 to 1984. This was an ambitious programme that was supposed to modernise education at all levels, but it was scrapped while still in the experimental stage as a result of the government’s indecisiveness and the strong reservations expressed by the general population as to its usefulness.

The third phase consisted of “unsuccessful attempts at far-reaching reforms” from 1984 to 1988. The reform programme initiated by the revolutionary government provided for education to be divided into “cycles” or tiers, including a vocational training tier which was supposed to reflect the country’s socio-economic needs. But – once again – the programme did not survive the overthrow of the regime in 1987. It is noteworthy that, during this “revolutionary” period, over 2,000 teachers (1,300, according to the authorities) were dismissed for going on strike. The recruitment of “revolutionary” teachers to replace those who had been sacked, and subsequently the use of National Development Service staff to palliate the lack of qualified teachers, had a negative effect on the quality of education.
After 1988, the government adopted a more cautious approach to reform, aiming to change the system through successive innovations.
Thus, thirty years after independence, owing to political instability, to the lack of trust between rulers and ruled, and also to the lack of conviction of some of the reformers, none of the policies implemented had succeeded in significantly reforming the system inherited from the colonial period. In 1990, i.e. just before the advent of the Structural Adjustment Programmes promoted by the Bretton Woods institutions, the Burkinese education system was still characterised by:

  • Its lack of adaptation to the country’s economic, social and cultural realities;

  • Its inherent ineffectiveness (the grade repeat-rate was 44% on average at CM2 level11; only 30% of students moved on to secondary education; only 54.8% of students obtained a primary education certificate in the 1991-1994 period);

  • Low enrolment rates: 0.7% at pre-school level, 30% at primary level, 7.8% at secondary level and less than 1% at higher education level.

  • Considerable disparities between boys and girls as well as between the towns and the countryside and between different provinces (See Tables 2.1 and 2.2).

Table 2.1 below gives an idea of the disparities between boys and girls, while Table 2.2 illustrates the disparities between the towns and rural areas.

Table 2.1: Disparities between girls and boys








Gross enrolment rate







Girls’ enrolment rate







Boys’ enrolment rate







Percentage of girls







Percentage of boys







Source: Summary report on the evolution of the Structural Adjustment Programme in Burkina Faso, December 1997.

Table 2.2: Disparities between urban and rural areas



Gross enrolment rate – Primary ed.


Gross enrolment rate – Secondary ed.


Gross enrolment rate – Higher ed.



Literacy rate



Urban Rural Total
74.2 28.4 35.2

79.0 34.3 40.5

69.4 21.8 29.3
36.7 4.9 11.2

44.8 6.6 13.7

28.8 3.1 8.5
6.1 0.0 1.4

8.6 0.0 2.1

3.4 0.0 0.7
51.6 11.8 18.9

61.7 18.8 27.1

40.9 5.7 11.4

Urban Rural Total
102.3 30.8 40.9

105.8 37.1 46.7

98.7 23.9 34.7
48.8 4.5 13.0

56.4 5.8 15.4

41.2 3.1 10.2
4.9 0.0 1.3

7.9 0.1 2.3

1.9 0.0 0.4
50.6 10.8 18.4

59.9 15.6 24.8

42.0 6.8 12.9

Source: Poverty Analysis Report - INSD-EP II - 1998
Even in the case of the social groups that had replaced the colonial administration staff in the modern, structured sector (accounting for 2% of the economically active population), the Burkinese education system still catered for only one-third of school-age children12. The social underdogs who could not find a place in the rural economy (in which 90% of the working population was engaged) were left to fend for themselves in the informal economy (7%).
1.2 Educational innovations and alternative approaches
Since 1991, the education policies developed under the Structural Adjustment Programmes have been based on the principles of “expansion, gender equality, geographical equality, quality and relevance of education”. The authorities and their partners, including the World Bank in particular, have centred their policies, at primary school level, on what they term “educational innovations” and “alternative approaches” while, at higher levels, they have relied on privatisation.
Educational innovations, such as so-called “double-flow” classes (DFCs) in urban zones and multigrade classes (MGCs) in rural zones, aim primarily to broaden access to primary education. They were introduced in the education system under the 1991-1996 Action Plan of the Ministry for Basic Education and Mass Literacy13 in order to address the problem of the lack of school infrastructures and to boost enrolment rates. Following an experimental stage in 1992-93, the educational innovations became generalised starting in 1994-95.
According to the Summary report on the evolution of the Structural Adjustment Programme in Burkina Faso (December 1998), the introduction of double-flow classes made it possible to provide schooling for 40% of children in urban areas, thus containing the demographic pressure in towns, while the introduction of multigrade classes enabled the schooling of 25% of children in low-population-density rural areas.
One of the authorities’ specific aims was to increase the proportion of MGCs and DFCs from 17% of all classes in 1996 to 33% in 1999.
In addition to DFCs and MGCs, educational innovations and alternative schemes include “satellite schools” (SSs) and Informal Basic Education Centres (IBECs)14.
However, the most innovative alternative approach is undoubtedly bilingual education, which combines the traditional learning of French with productive work, taking into account the country’s social, economic and cultural realities.
Thanks to the early learning centres already under experimentation at pre-school level, and building on the bilingual schools available at primary level as well as on Multilingual Specific Secondary Education (SMS), bilingual education is set to become a coherent continuum which may gradually replace the traditional system…”15
Bilingual education was introduced as part of a Ten-Year Basic Education Development Plan 2000-2009 (PDDEB) which, on the basis of the guidelines laid down by the Jomtien and Dakar conferences, aims to lay the foundations of quality education for all by the year 2015.
The main objectives of the PDDEB are the following:

  • To speed up the quantitative development of basic education provision and reduce inequality in all respects;

  • To improve the quality, relevance and effectiveness of basic education and promote coherence and integration between the various levels and schemes in basic education;

  • To promote literacy as well as new, alternative educational schemes;

  • To develop and consolidate the ability of the structures responsible for education at both the central and decentralised levels to direct, manage and evaluate the education system as well as the ability to coordinate foreign aid more effectively.

There were 21 bilingual schools in 2001, 40 in 2002, and 60 in 2003.

A National Consultative Assembly on Education (“Etats Généraux de l’éducation”) and a National Education Conference (“Assises nationales sur l’Education”), held in 1994 and 2002 respectively, brought together all stakeholders in education to disseminate the recommendations of the Jomtien (1990) and Dakar (2000) conferences and ratify the government’s objectives and strategies to achieve Education For All by the year 2015.
The government’s strategy – centred on basic education and a large-scale campaign to promote the enrolment of girls – has been actively supported by its foreign partners as well as by numerous associations and NGOs involved in the education sector.
1.3 Rural and urban bilingual schools
Nevertheless, local press reports and especially the documents produced by unions show that some actors of education, including many teachers, are far from enthusiastic about the educational innovations. DFCs and MGCs are regarded as a redistribution of the existing provision of education. In terms of schooling time – and certainly in terms of contents – DFCs and MGCs provide students with half the schooling they should normally receive.
Furthermore, judging from the aspects compared in Table 2.3 below, it is difficult to believe that the entire current syllabus – to which we must now add the study of a national language as well as “economically productive activities” and “activities to increase awareness of the positive cultural values of the local environment” – can be implemented more successfully in a course which is one-year shorter, even with the introduction of modular education and in spite of the annual number of learning hours rising from 600 to 800.
Table 2.3: Some comparisons between bilingual schools and traditional schools

Aspect compared

Bilingual school

Traditional school


5 years

6 years


The entire state curriculum for primary education in French
Study and use of a national language: grammar, spelling, verb conjugation and use in other subjects (maths, history, science, etc.)
Productive activities: vegetable gardening, stockbreeding, carpentry, batik making, weaving, etc. with the participation of parents and other local economic actors

Activities to increase awareness of the positive cultural values of the local environment (story-telling, proverbs, singing, dancing, discussion of moral issues, etc.) with the participation of parents

The entire state curriculum for primary education in French
* None

* None

* None

Final exam

Elementary Primary Education Certificate (CEPE) (in 5 years).

Elementary Primary Education Certificate (CEPE) (in 6 years)

Success rate at CEPE level (in 2002)

85.02 %

61.82 %

(national average)

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