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Burkina Faso: Nine Months to Complete the Transition
Burkina Faso: Nine Months to Complete the Transition
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
The Sahel: Mali’s Crumbling Peace Process and the Spreading Jihadist Threat
The Sahel: Mali’s Crumbling Peace Process and the Spreading Jihadist Threat
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.

Commentary / Africa

The Sahel: Mali’s Crumbling Peace Process and the Spreading Jihadist Threat

With jihadists and armed groups exploiting political and security vacuums across the Sahel, Mali and neighbouring states will continue to face insecurity. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2017 annual early-warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to rethink international development strategies and to support local government initiatives that combat radicalisation.

 

This commentary is part of our annual early-warning report Watch List 2017.

Despite significant international sweat, the Sahel remains on a trajectory toward greater violence and widening instability. Jihadists, armed groups and entrenched criminal networks – sometimes linked to national and local authorities – continue to expand and threaten the stability of already weak states. Across the region, citizens remain deeply disenchanted with their governments. International actors must review their current strategies, which tackle the symptoms of the Sahel’s problems without addressing their underlying cause: central governments’ long-term neglect of their states. In particular, they should act urgently to prevent the collapse of the peace process in Mali – a genuine danger this year that would have serious implications for security across the Sahel.

Widening Cracks in Mali’s Peace Process

At the heart of the Sahel’s instability is Mali’s long-running crisis. It is spilling over into Burkina Faso and spreading to fragile Niger and more stable Senegal. Twenty months since the government and armed groups signed the Algeria-brokered Bamako peace agreement in June 2015, implementation is faltering and the deal’s collapse is a real possibility. Despite publicly claiming to support the process, Malian parties lack confidence in a deal that was signed under international pressure and has serious shortcomings. It does little to tackle the violent war economy in which prominent businessmen rely on small private armies to protect trafficking routes. It also fails to restore a viable balance of power between northern communities and leaders who compete for resources, influence and territory.

Map of Sahel. International Crisis Group

The recent fracturing of the main rebel coalition, the Coordination des Mouvements de l’Azawad (CMA), has seen the creation of new community-based armed groups, such as the Mouvement pour le Salut de l’Azawad and the Congrès pour la Justice dans l’Azawad, and may further aggravate insecurity. More worryingly, the appointment of interim local authorities and the launch of mixed patrols comprising army soldiers and former rebels in the north have failed to demonstrate much positive impact at the local level.

Meanwhile, jihadist groups, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar Eddine and al-Mourabitoun, remain active. Having been chased out of major towns, rather than trying to hold urban areas they are striking provincial and district centres from rural bases. Al-Mourabitoun claimed responsibility for the bombing on 18 January that killed 61 personnel of the mixed unit in Gao region.

Jihadists and other violent non-state groups are filling the security vacuum as the army retreats and local authorities and the central government abandon immense rural areas.

At the same time, insecurity is rising in areas long neglected by the state such as central Mali, which is not included in the northern Mali peace process. Jihadists and other violent non-state groups are filling the security vacuum as the army retreats and local authorities and the central government abandon immense rural areas. Bamako still has no effective response to the jihadists’ strategy of threatening or killing local authorities or civil society members that stand against them. In addition, the rise of a new group, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, and the possible influx from Libya of defeated Islamic State (IS) fighters are further sources of concern.

Jihad Sans Frontières

Despite international military intervention including by UN peacekeepers, jihadists are making inroads into other Sahelian countries. In late 2016, jihadist fighters based in central and northern Mali launched attacks in western Niger and northern Burkina Faso, underscoring the region’s vulnerability and the serious risks of overlapping conflicts across the greater Sahel. On 6 February, the G5 countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) met in Bamako to announce the creation of a regional force to tackle terrorism and transnational crime. It remains to be seen how effective this ambitious project will prove.

Mali’s neighbours are right to point out that Bamako is responsible for failing to prevent radical groups using its territory. However, they should also pay closer attention to their own internal dynamics. These include years of state neglect and poor political representation of certain communities – especially nomadic Fulanis in the region of Djibo in Burkina Faso and Tillabery in Niger. Chronic resource limitations hobble Sahelian states’ ability to respond effectively: Niger’s state revenue, for example, is €1.7 billion, about as much as France invested in stadiums to host the 2016 European football competition.

In 2016, Burkina Faso suffered eight attacks originating in Mali and it remains the most vulnerable of Mali’s neighbours. The ousting of former President Blaise Compaoré in 2014 left the security apparatus in disarray. National authorities have been slow to rebuild the intelligence system and they lack a defence strategy to help security forces adjust to rapidly evolving threats. Despite recurring attacks, military posts in the country’s northern Sahel region remain poorly protected. With limited resources the government will struggle to meet demands for significant social development, which partly drove the October 2014 uprising, and, at the same time, increase spending to revamp the security forces. Should Burkina be tempted to use the social welfare budget to plug security holes, it could face new protests.

Reviving the Malian Peace Process

International forces have been slow to adjust to changing ground realities and for now there is little appetite in Bamako or the region for a major course correction. However, further deterioration – such as jihadist groups expanding westwards into Ségou region in the centre – would require a response. The European Union (EU) and its member states should anticipate this and encourage Malian parties and the Algeria-led mediation team to meet again before the process loses all credibility. New talks would offer all parties an opportunity to express their concerns about the implementation of the Bamako agreement and reenergise it. They should agree on additional appendices that include a new timetable and mechanisms to ensure that each party respects its commitments. To limit the risk of further armed group fragmentation, discussions should also focus on ways to bring splinter groups into the process. This could mostly be done by integrating them into one of the existing coalitions, the CMA or Platform.

The focus should be as much on helping the state provide services to the population, including justice and security, as on economic projects or infrastructure.

To avoid the further spread of violence in Mali, the EU and its member states should encourage and support central government and local authorities to mediate local conflicts. They should also assist local authorities, through training and direct support, to provide public services and ensure the equitable sharing of natural resources. Such peacebuilding support should not be framed as preventing or countering “violent extremism” (P/CVE) as these concepts lack clarity, mask the complex dynamics of jihadist recruitment and risk stigmatising communities that receive such assistance.

Vital too is the need for a shift in international development strategies. The focus should be as much on helping the state provide services to the population, including justice and security, as on economic projects or infrastructure. The EU and member states should pay particular attention to assisting the state’s local-level redeployment through programs that support public services. They should encourage and assist the government to improve its draft “Plan for Central Mali” and make it a useful tool to coordinate government efforts.

They should also ensure that the EU’s capacity-building mission, EUCAP Mali, closely collaborates with authorities at both central and regional levels to make Mopti region in the centre a pilot site to test policies aimed at improving local security, and specifically reforming the local police. Lessons drawn from here could be applied in northern Mali and other Sahelian regions.

Halting Jihadists’ Cross-border Spread

The EU and its member states should pay more attention to Burkina Faso, which faces a real threat from armed groups. In particular, member states with a military presence in Mali should deploy forces near its border with Burkina Faso, and provide the Burkinabè security forces with helicopters so that they can conduct aerial surveillance of the long shared border. Although the link between underdevelopment and radicalisation is complex and indirect, increasing aid in health, education and professional training particularly in areas affected by attacks, could potentially improve relations between state authorities and communities and therefore undercut an important grievance that extremist groups often exploit.