Arrow Left Arrow Right Camera icon set icon set Ellipsis icon set Facebook Favorite Globe Hamburger List Mail Map Marker Map Microphone Minus PDF Play Print RSS Search Share Trash Twitter Video Camera Youtube
Burkina Faso: Nine Months to Complete the Transition
Burkina Faso: Nine Months to Complete the Transition
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Burkina Faso: Meeting the October Target
Burkina Faso: Meeting the October Target
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida presents the Burkinabe flag to interim civilian President Michel Kafando in Ouagadougou, on 21 November 2014. AFP/Sia Kambou
Report 222 / Africa

Burkina Faso: Nine Months to Complete the Transition

Three months after Blaise Compaoré’s departure, Burkina Faso’s transition is moving forward in an uncertain context. The provisional government, with the help of its international partners, should initiate urgent reforms and ensure the October 2015 elections allow for peaceful, democratic change.

Executive Summary

Blaise Compaoré’s resignation on 31 October 2014, the day after a historic insurrection, came as no surprise. Growing old and out of touch with reality, his regime has given way to an uncertain transition, led by a military-civilian government that must work with provisional, weak institutions. The government has nine months to organise presidential and legislative elections scheduled for 11 October 2015. International partners must help Burkina Faso achieve this goal, while maintaining a dialogue with the army to ensure it does not remain in power at the end of the transition. They also must not repeat the mistake of turning a blind eye to poor governance and supporting the Compaoré regime to safeguard their own strategic interests.

Burkina’s four key actors – the army, the former political opposition, civil society and citizens – have agreed on the necessity of a peaceful and inclusive transition to stabilise the country. Lieutenant-Colonel Yacouba Isaac Zida, a member of Compaoré’s former presidential guard, is the most powerful figure. Although the military has shown worrying signs of authoritarianism, Burkina is not governed by a junta. The army’s power is limited by a charter that requires it to share executive power with civilians, including President Michel Kafando. The military must also take into account a mobilised civil society and population as well as a vigilant international community that is providing the financial aid necessary for the survival of the current government.

However, three contradictions threaten the future stability of Burkina Faso: the tension between aspirations for a radical change of governance and the realistic or reformist desire for stability; the contrast between the short time available to complete the transition and the enormity of the task at hand; and the difficulty of organising elections and implementing reforms at a time when the government lacks funds. Finally, poor management of the dissolution of the former presidential guard, the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP), could pose a serious threat to the transition. Without consultation on this issue, elements from this elite unit, the best armed in the country, could react with violence.

After 27 years under a semi-authoritarian regime, popular expectations for change are high. Another risk that could derail the transition is increasing discontent if these expectations are not met. Justice should be served in the 1998 murder of Norbert Zongo, a journalist who was investigating the unresolved murder of David Ouédraogo, the driver of Blaise Compaoré’s brother. This case symbolises the abuses of the Compaoré regime and its resolution has been a longstanding demand of civil society. The improvement of living conditions is also a key demand of the people in one of the poorest countries in the world.

The government will not be able to simultaneously act on all fronts. As of late, it has pandered to popular demands by promising future reforms, but the more significant the promises, the harder it will be for the government to abide by them. Blaise Compaoré’s departure does not mean that Burkina Faso is out of the woods. Several measures are needed to guarantee the country’s stability during the transition.

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