How can bureaucracy hinder vulnerable classes of society? The case of Burkina Faso

Copyright: Alfredo Martirena, Climbing in bureaucry, 2017

Bureaucracy in the North vs Bureaucracy in the South

In the developed countries (in Europe, in the United States for example), when we consider organizational life, there are objectively many positive points which tend to lighten the bureaucracy.

Americans, for example, are very proactive and always ready to support each other through opportunities sharing, connection and networking. In the United States, it’s sometimes only about knowing how to express your needs and accepting help from others so that doors to opportunities are open to you. And this, regardless of race, social origin, even if it is to be put into perspective. It’s not that difficult or too formal to meet the provost, or any specific Professor; you just need to make an appointment ahead of time by writing them an email.

In the West (Belgium, France), based on my personal experience, there are still certain prejudices or complexes which tend to disadvantage certain social strata but in general, access to authority is relatively easy.

In other words, I observed that in the developed countries, there is a relative close relationship between the authority and citizens. This is ideally characterized by a clear communication, the culture of proactivity, the promotion of equality and fairness. There is also the promotion of accountability which reduces the complex between the authority and the ordinary citizen who then treat each other with equal respect.

By comparison, in a developing country like Burkina Faso, the bureaucracy is much heavier. Even if it is necessary in the theory of organizations, sometimes we even have the feeling that bureaucracy here is too much to the point of negatively affecting the relations between authority and the citizen. This feeling is most evident in the public sector. Public administration is heavily imbued with bureaucratic rules. There, hierarchical opinion matters so much in decision-making that it can slow down the administrative machine. This system is also centralized with all the risks of abuse, misappropriation and appropriation of the power that it can generate. Let us examine a case based on my own experience in the humanitarian field in Burkina Faso.

Bureaucracy and humanitarian emergency in Burkina

According to CAROLINE BANTON a bureaucracy typically refers to an organization that is complex with multi-layered systems and processes. These systems and procedures are designed to maintain uniformity and control within an organization. A bureaucracy describes the established methods in large organizations or governments. For example, an oil company may establish a bureaucracy to compel its employees to complete safety checks when operating on an oil rig.

Humanitarian aid is an emergency and ad hoc aid provided in the event of an exceptional crisis or natural disaster. The faster it is, the more effective it is. However, that is not always the case for certain reasons. We are presenting here some challenges related to supporting refugees following the unprecedented humanitarian crisis that Burkina Faso has encountered in recent years.

In November 2019, the UN Refugee Agency estimated that some 500,000 people were displaced inside Burkina Faso, including 300,000 in the past three months alone. This number could increase considering the development of terrorist attacks to date in some regions of Burkina Faso. I previously published several articles on this subject to inform national and international opinion, but also to attract their support towards the thousands of women, children and men who are in agony daily.

Indeed, some good souls from overseas were kind enough to come to their aid by generously making cash donations in December 2019, which I was responsible for transmitting to the displaced people. In total, this represented the sum of $ 3,051 or about 1,800,000 FCFA.

Given the very large number of displaced people and the multitude of refugees camps dispersed in different regions, I decided to make donations in the regions where I had some reliable contacts to avoid diversion. This is how the regions of Centre-South and Centre-North were selected. Let’s note that in Burkina Faso, the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family and Humanitarian affairs (or Ministry of Social affairs in short) is responsible for coordinating all humanitarian actions targeting displaced persons. So, I got in touch with the competent authority in the Centre-South region to inform my intention of making donations but also to know the real needs on the ground.

The governmental authority provided me with a list of needs (food, mats, dishes, cups, water bottles, buckets, etc.) to buy for refugees. However, making an appointment for the donation activity will prove to be very formal and long. I was first asked to give the origin of the donation and the actors involved. I also had to provide a detailed list of donations with an estimated value. I was told that some cases of embezzlement were experienced in the past. To avoid this happening again, the hierarchical opinion (to the top) is now required from all donors who must follow this long process.

But the problem is that this procedure turns out to be objectively long and inappropriate in a context of humanitarian emergency where some refugees are struggling to have 2 meals a day (see articles in January 2020). Between deferment and wait, the procedure will take practically (01) a month if not more, so that finally the famous hierarchical authorization so awaited is effective. From the beginning of December 2019 when donations were already available, it was finally on January 15, 2020 that a response came to me saying that my request for support to the displaced persons was granted. Among other challenges related to the management of the food stock and funds during this time, the new challenge is to agree on a new date to finally make the donation.

The above example illustrates the negative impact of red tape on the current humanitarian crisis in Burkina Faso. One might imagine that the system in place could discourage impatient donors or direct their intentions to other sectors.

To get around this problem, we are considering the imminent creation of a humanitarian organization to allow rapid and direct intervention.

Mandela Washington Fellow, for Young African Leaders — Civic engagement — Development Cooperation, Economist, Project Management skills, Free learner