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Burkina Faso: Meeting the October Target
Burkina Faso: Meeting the October Target
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Burkina Faso: A Report’s Conclusions, Presented on the Ground
Burkina Faso: A Report’s Conclusions, Presented on the Ground
Briefing 112 / Africa

Burkina Faso: Meeting the October Target

Burkina Faso’s faltering transition faces elections in less than four months amid political tensions and social agitation. A controversial electoral code could inject the poison of exclusion into a country that is attached to multiparty politics. It is time for political and civil society actors to begin a formal dialogue to reduce the risks.

I. Overview

With less than four months to go, the transition in Burkina Faso must focus all its efforts on the October elections. In a context marked by political tensions and intense social agitation, the new electoral code, which bans representatives of the former regime from contesting the forthcoming elections, will open the door to interminable legal arguments and threaten compliance with the electoral calendar. It will sideline a whole segment of the political establishment. If members of the former regime cannot express themselves through the ballot box, they could be tempted to do so through other means or try to sabotage the electoral process. It is not too late to reduce the risks of this happening. The government can still clarify the electoral code by decree. Political and social actors on all sides must maintain dialogue, ideally by creating a framework for discussion. The Constitutional Council, which has the last word on the eligibility of candidates, must remain faithful to the text and inclusive spirit of the transition charter and the constitution.

Burkina Faso, la marche aux élections

Dans cette vidéo, Cynthia Ohayon, analyste principal pour l'Afrique de l'ouest pour Crisis Group, analyse le processus électoral au Burkina Faso et recommande aux acteurs politiques et à la société civile de s’engager dans un dialogue formel. CRISIS GROUP

After the October 2014 popular uprising, which ended the 27-year rule of President Blaise Compaoré, it was illusory to believe that things would easily return to normal. The transitional government has for the moment succeeded in keeping Burkina afloat. It survived the “mini-crisis” of February 2015, caused by controversy over the future of the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP), Compaoré’s former presidential guard. But the adoption of a new electoral code in early April put the transition in a difficult situation. This electoral code sanctions the ineligibility of those who supported the bill amending the constitution to allow Blaise Compaoré to run for another term.

The electoral code is a threat not only to the forthcoming elections but also to the future, by injecting the poison of political exclusion into a country that is attached to multiparty politics and dialogue. Potential appeals against the eligibility of candidates will be submitted from early September. The Constitutional Council could find itself submerged in petitions only one month before the election, which could delay voting. If the electoral calendar is not respected, Burkina will enter unchartered territory. Members of the transitional government, notably those drawn from the army, could argue that they should stay in power for the sake of stability. To avoid this scenario, it is crucial to hold the elections on time and to guarantee that the results will be accepted by all.

The new electoral code was adopted in a context in which some transitional institutions have been weakened. The prime minister, Yacouba Isaac Zida, formerly second-in-command of the RSP, is finding it increasingly difficult to provide the government with a clear sense of direction and to calm popular discontent, a task complicated by the budget crisis and the economic downturn. The transitional government is caught in its own trap. It has made many promises without being able to satisfy them. The public is still waiting to see justice served for the economic crimes and murders committed under Compaoré. However, investigations have come up against a brick wall in the form of the RSP, some of whose members are accused of being involved in such crimes. There can be no final resolution of the question of the RSP’s future without destabilising the country. The transitional government is too weak to tackle their future role head on and seems to have decided to leave it to the new authorities.

With less than four months left before the elections, the transition has no more time to begin reforms and must focus on organising the ballot and promoting a peaceful climate. The elections are essential not only because they should end a transition that is taking place in an uncertain legal framework but also because they provide an opportunity for a democratic and peaceful change of government through the ballot box for the first time since independence. Several measures should be taken to facilitate this process:

  • Political and civil society actors on all sides should begin an inclusive, formal political dialogue, which could take the form of a framework for discussion chaired by one or several consensus figures, so as to keep channels of communication open. Otherwise, they should maintain and develop informal contacts at the highest level.
  • The Constitutional Council should remain faithful to the text and inclusive spirit of the transition charter and the constitution when applying the electoral law.
  • The transitional government should prioritise the organisation of the presidential and legislative elections and reduce the uncertainty around the electoral law by issuing a decree clarifying the criteria for deciding who supported the constitutional revision.
  • The representatives of the former majority should take on the role of constructive opposition, resist the temptation to obstruct the electoral process and resume dialogue with the National Reconciliation and Reform Commission (CRNR).
  • The transitional authorities should continue the discussion about the future of the RSP, by focusing on devising a new name for this elite corps and relocating it well away from the presidential palace. They should also be more transparent on this issue, which will need to be included in a more general reform of the army.
  • International partners should encourage all Burkina actors to maintain dialogue, and send a clear message that the electoral law should be enforced in a restrained and intelligent manner. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) should also provide financial support to help cover the deficit in the electoral budget.

Dakar/Brussels, 24 June 2015

Cynthia Ohayon donne en main propre le nouveau rapport de Crisis Group au président du Centre des maîtres coranics du Burkina Faso et à un marabout, le 10 octobre 2017. CRISISGROUP/Julie David de Lossy
Impact Note / Africa

Burkina Faso: A Report’s Conclusions, Presented on the Ground

Un rapport de Crisis Group est le fruit de plusieurs mois de travail de terrain, de rédaction et de débats. En outre, comme le montre ce reportage photo, le moment où l'analyste présente cette nouvelle publication à ses lecteurs est également le point de départ d'un nouveau cycle de recherche.

To mark the publication of the Report The Social Roots of Jihadist Violence in Burkina Faso’s North on 12 October 2017, West Africa Analyst Cynthia Ohayon and Project Director Rinaldo Depagne presented their conclusions and recommendations in Ouagadougou to the various protagonists. Cynthia has travelled regularly to Burkina Faso over the past three years; Rinaldo previously lived and worked in the country for more than seven years. Their aim with the report was to persuade political decision-makers and other influential figures to address the root causes of the social crisis in northern Burkina Faso, and to avoid rushing into single-track counter-terrorism strategy at a time when violence is spreading in the north of the country.

Long spared by the Sahel’s armed groups, Burkina Faso – and particularly its northern region – has faced increasing insecurity since 2015. Crisis Group’s many interviews on the ground show that the crisis stems more from social unrest than from the growth of an Islamic movement.

Street life in Ouagadougou's city centre at noon, on 13 October 2017. CRISISGROUP/Julie David de Lossy

On the day of the report’s publication, Crisis Group held a launch event at a hotel in the capital, organised jointly with Luxembourg’s delegation in Ouagadougou. The number of attendees far exceeded our expectations. Present were representatives from several ministries, Burkinabè army officers, former ministers, the emir of Djibo, traditional Fulani chiefs, diplomats, academics and civil society activists.

Cynthya Ohayon introducing the findings of Crisis Group's latest report on northern Burkina at report launch in Ouagadougou. on 12 October 2017. CRISISGROUP/Julie David de Lossy
Rinaldo Depagne discussing with Captain Longpo and MP at Crisis Group report launch in Ouagadougou, on 12 October 2017. CRISISGROUP/ Julie David de Lossy

At the event a young man from the north detailed the difficulties faced by his village; a traditional chief reminded those present that rebel fighters were also citizens of Burkina Faso who felt abandoned by an elite fixated upon events in the capital. “I came here thinking that the attacks were terrorism-related. After listening to you today, I now realise courage is needed to meet society’s expectations”, one gendarmerie captain said. “We’ve learned a lot today”, concluded a former minister, in recognition of Crisis Group’s role.

Cynthya Ohayon introducing the findings of Crisis Group's latest report on northern Burkina to marabouts (Quranic masters), on 10 October 2017. CRISISGROUP/ Julie David de Lossy

The Crisis Group team then presented the report, its conclusions and recommendations, to the Quranic teachers with whom Cynthia had met five months earlier. Lively discussion quickly followed. The marabouts recounted how the situation in the north had worsened. Basing her comments on the report, Cynthia summarised the points of view of all parties to the conflict. These moments – when various actors feel themselves understood, while listening to the perspectives of others – are at the core of Crisis Group’s advocacy work. On these foundations future solutions can be built.

Crisis Group prides itself on engaging all actors involved in a crisis, as well as others who have something to bring to the table. Our team met with Tanguy Denieul, director of the French Development Agency (AFD), to discuss our conclusion that the crisis is rooted in a sense of abandonment, as demonstrated by the north’s severe underdevelopment. The meeting was focused on the sustainability of financing development in the north, the training of mayors and the supply of electricity to the principal towns.

Cynthya Ohayon talks to Afd Director Tanguy Deneuil about Crisis Group latest report on northern Burkina, on 10 October 2017. CRISISGROUP/ Julie David de Lossy

Brigadier-General Oumarou Sadou, chief of general staff of the armed forces, granted an audience to Crisis Group in the presence of three of his officers. We presented our report and discussed the north’s problems, including an ossified and unequal social order and a lack of engagement by the state.

The soldiers asked a number of questions about Mali, regarding the border situation, civilian opinions of the security forces, response times and military abuses. It was a constructive exchange, made possible by mutual trust built up over several previous meetings. The Burkina officers’ priority is to prevent the jihadist violence in Mali from spreading any further into Burkina. Rinaldo Depagne noted down lessons from this meeting to apply to his work on stability in the Sahel and his advocacy for a regional force. The discussion ended with a Burkina proverb: “If your neighbour’s wall has fallen down and your property is in danger, you should help him rebuild it”.

Cynthya Ohayon and Rinaldo Depagne with army Chief of Staff Oumarou Sadou (centre). Ouagadougou, on 13 October 2017. CRISISGROUP/ Julie David de Lossy
A military at chief of staff's office in Ouagadougou, on 13 October 2017. CRISISGROUP/ Julie David de Lossy

Crisis Group’s credibility in Ouagadougou was already high thanks to its July 2013 report, Burkina Faso: With or Without Compaoré, Times of Uncertainty. This report’s analysis of Compaoré’s vulnerability as a ruler proved prescient, as the president was ousted the following year after a popular uprising. Crisis Group puts great store in maintaining an open and respectful relationship with each of its interlocutors. One of the significant meetings during Cynthia’s and Rinaldo’s trip was with Bénéwendé Sankara, the first vice president of the National Assembly, to discuss how focusing on politics in the capital can distract the government from the task of developing national policy. Only policies that apply nationwide can defuse tensions in the country.

Cynthya Ohayon and Rinaldo Depagne with Maitre Sankara, National Assembly's acting president. Ouagadougou, on 13 October 2017. CRISISGROUP/ Julie David de Lossy

Our team also visited historian Hamidou Diallo at his university office in Ouagadougou. Diallo, who has frequently debated his ideas with Crisis Group over the years, shared his concerns. After exchanging views, we left with new avenues to explore and an agreement to meet again soon.

Hamidou Diallo, historian at the University of Ouagadougou with Crisis Group's latest report on northern Burkina, on 11 October 2017. CRISISGROUP/ Julie David de Lossy

Successful advocacy often depends on our analysts’ flexibility in seizing opportunities. When Cynthia found out that Fulani representatives from Burkina, Mali and Niger were meeting that day in a downtown hotel, she asked if she could join them. The Fulanis from three countries in the region were ready to listen. Some of them were already familiar with Crisis Group’s work, noting its quality and respecting our neutrality.

The imam Ilboudo from the Islamic Education, Research and Study Centre (CERFI), a man highly respected in Ouagadougou’s Muslim community, is a major player in Crisis Group’s advocacy work. Sipping hot tea under a mango tree by the mosque, the imam shared with our team his reactions to their presentation of the report.

Fulani representatives meeting in Ouagadougou, on 11 October 2017. CRISISGROUP/ Julie David de Lossy
Cynthya Ohayon and Rinaldo Depagne introducing the findings of Crisis Group's latest report on northern Burkina to imam Ilboudo, president of the CERFI (Cercle d'étude, de recherche et de formation islamique). Ouagadougou, 11 October 2017. CRISISGROUP/ Julie David de Lossy

Three months after its publication in French and English, the report The Social Roots of Jihadist Violence in Burkina Faso’s North has already been read more than 21,000 times. The second phase of Crisis Group’s work is to help the actors understand their rivals’ viewpoints and to reflect on the issues at stake. This is the most delicate stage of the proceedings.

Rinaldo Depagne and his team at the West Africa program will keep the report in circulation among the various protagonists on the ground. By continuing to engage in dialogue, they will formulate new approaches as well as understand future obstacles, so as to halt the downward spiral of a deadly crisis.

The meetings held around this new publication were also a point of departure for our West Africa team. Our analysts’ notebooks were already filled with ideas collected on the ground to prepare for our next report on the deployment of a G5 Sahel joint force.

The airport cantina, Ouagadougou, on 9 October 2017. CRISISGROUP/ Julie David de Lossy
Burkina Faso: A Report’s Conclusions, Presented on the Ground. CRISISGROUP/ Julie David de Lossy