icon caret Arrow Down Arrow Left Arrow Right Arrow Up Line 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 Crisiswatch Alerts and Trends Box - 1080/761 Copy Twitter Video Camera  copyview Youtube
Burkina Faso: With or Without Compaoré, Times of Uncertainty
Burkina Faso: With or Without Compaoré, Times of Uncertainty
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
CrisisWatch 2019: August Trends & September Alerts
CrisisWatch 2019: August Trends & September Alerts
Table of Contents
  1. Related Documents
Report 205 / Africa

Burkina Faso: With or Without Compaoré, Times of Uncertainty

If President Blaise Compaoré fails to manage his departure well, the country could face political upheaval in an increasingly troubled region.

  • Share
  • Save
  • Print
  • Download PDF Full Report

Executive Summary

For the first time since 1987, succession is being openly discussed in Burkina Faso. Under the current constitution, President Blaise Compaoré, in power for more than a quarter century, is not allowed to contest the presidency in 2015. Any attempt to amend the constitution for a fifth-term bid could provoke a repeat of the 2011 popular uprisings. However, even if Compaoré abides by the constitution and leaves power in 2015, his succession may still prove challenging as he has dominated the political scene for decades, placing severe restrictions on political space. International partners must encourage him to uphold the constitution and prepare for a smooth, democratic transition.

Preserving Burkina Faso’s stability is all the more important given that the country is located at the centre of an increasingly troubled region, with the political and military crisis in neighbouring Mali possibly spilling over into Niger, another border country. Burkina Faso has been spared similar upheaval so far thanks to its internal stability and robust security apparatus, but deterioration of the political climate in the run-up to 2015 could make the country more vulnerable. A presidential election is also due in 2015 in Côte d’Ivoire, a country with which Burkina Faso has very close ties. This special relationship and the presence of a significant Burkinabe community in the country mean that a political crisis in Ouagadougou could have a negative impact on a still fragile Côte d’Ivoire.

Burkina Faso also holds significant diplomatic influence in West Africa. Over the past two decades under Blaise Compaoré’s rule, the country has become a key player in the resolution of regional crises. The president and his men have succeeded, with much ingenuity, in positioning themselves as indispensable mediators or as “watch-dogs” helping Western countries monitor the security situation in the Sahel and the Sahara. A crisis in Burkina Faso would not only mean the loss of a key ally and a strategic base for France and the U.S., it would also reduce the capacity of an African country in dealing with regional conflicts. The collapse of the Burkinabe diplomatic apparatus would also mean the loss of an important reference point for West Africa that, despite limitations, has played an essential role as a regulatory authority.

There is real risk of socio-political crisis in Burkina Faso. Since coming to power in 1987, Blaise Compaoré has put in place a semi-authoritarian regime, combining democratisation with repression, to ensure political stability – something its predecessors have never achieved. This complex, flawed system is unlikely to be sustained, however. It revolves around one man who has dominated political life for over two decades and has left little room for a smooth transition. In fact, there are few alternatives for democratic succession. The opposition is divided and lacks financial capacity and charismatic, experienced leaders; and none of the key figures in the ruling party has emerged as a credible successor. If Compaoré fails to manage his departure effectively, the country could face political upheaval similar to that which rocked Côte d’Ivoire in the 1990s following the death of Félix Houphouët-Boigny.

Another threat to Burkina Faso’s stability is social explosion. The society has modernised faster than the political system, and urbanisation and globalisation have created high expectations for change from an increasingly young population. Despite strong economic growth, inequalities are widespread and the country is one of the poorest in the world. Repeated promises of change have never been fulfilled, and this has led to broken relations between the state and its citizens as well as a loss of authority at all levels of the administration. Public distrust sparked violent protests in the first half of 2011 that involved various segments of the society, including rank-and-file soldiers in several cities.

For the first time, the military appeared divided between the elites and the rank and file, and somewhat hostile to the president, who has sought to control the defence and security apparatus from which he had emerged. The crisis was only partially resolved, and local conflicts over land, traditional leadership and workers’ rights increased in 2012. Such tensions are especially worrying given the country’s history of social struggle and revolutionary tendencies since the 1983 Marxist-inspired revolution.

Blaise Compaoré’s long reign is showing the usual signs of erosion that characterises semi-autocratic rule. Several key figures of his regime have retired, including the mayor of Ouagadougou, Simon Compaoré – not a relative of the president – who managed the country’s capital for seventeen years; and billionaire Oumarou Kanazoé, who until his death was a moderate voice among the Muslim community. In addition, the death of Libya’s Muammar Qadhafi, a major financial partner, was a blow to Compaoré’s regime.

President Compaoré has responded to these challenges with reforms that have not met popular expectations and have only scratched the surface. Further, he has remained silent on whether he will actually leave office in 2015. He has concentrated power, in the country and within his Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) party, in the hands of a small circle of very close allies and family members, including his younger brother François Compaoré, who was elected to parliament for the first time on 2 December 2012. The president’s silence and his brother’s political ascent continue to fuel uncertainty.

President Compaoré has less than three years left to prepare his departure and prevent a succession battle or a new popular uprising. He is the only actor capable of facilitating a smooth transition. By upholding the constitution and resisting the temptation of dynastic succession, he could preserve stability, the main accomplishment of his long rule. Any other scenario would pave the way for a troubled future. Similarly, the opposition and civil society organisations should act responsibly and work to create conditions for a democratic process that would preserve peace and stability. International partners, in particular Western allies, should no longer focus exclusively on Compaoré’s mediation role and the monitoring of security risks in West Africa; they should also pay close attention to domestic politics and the promotion of democracy in Burkina Faso.

Dakar/Brussels, 22 July 2013

Commentary / Global

CrisisWatch 2019: August Trends & September Alerts

The latest edition of Crisis Group's monthly conflict tracker highlights dangers of escalating conflict in Cameroon, Kashmir, Lebanon, and Yemen. But there are also resolution opportunities in Afghanistan.

In August, deadly clashes in Yemen between southern separatists and forces aligned with the internationally-recognised government dimmed prospects for ending the war. Suspected Israeli drone strikes on Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Lebanon ramped up regional tensions. Fighting intensified in Libya’s south, north west Syria, and Myanmar’s northern Shan State, and in Colombia senior FARC leaders returned to armed struggle. Security in El Salvador improved, but murder rates climbed in Mexico. In Asia, tensions rose in the South China Sea, clashes erupted in Indonesia over the treatment of Papuans, and India’s change to Kashmir’s status could fuel violence. Presidential polls in Somalia’s Jubaland state deepened divisions, intercommunal attacks rose in eastern Chad, and violence in Cameroon’s Anglophone west could increase in the coming month. Repression intensified in Burundi, authorities cracked down on protesters in Zimbabwe, and friction between opposition protesters and Malawi’s security forces could rise in September. In Europe, tensions rose between Georgia and breakaway region South Ossetia, while in Kyrgyzstan political rivalry led to a shoot-out. On a positive note, Sudan’s protagonists agreed on structures to rule until elections, Mozambique’s warring parties officially ended hostilities, dialogue initiatives reduced violence in Mali’s centre, and talks to end the U.S.-Taliban conflict in Afghanistan could lead to a framework agreement in the coming weeks.

In Yemen, southern separatists aligned with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) seized the city of Aden from the Saudi-backed internationally-recognised government of President Hadi on 10 August. The fighting left at least 40 dead. Violence could escalate in coming weeks as the two factions seek to gain the upper hand. To prevent this rivalry becoming a civil war within a civil war, Saudi Arabia, alongside the UAE and the UN special envoy, should mediate an end to the fighting, including by placing the southern question on the agenda of UN-led talks.

Suspected Israeli drone strikes on Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Lebanon sparked outrage in both countries and further strained Baghdad’s policy of neutrality amid U.S.-Iran tensions. Fighting intensified in north-western Syria as pro-government forces advanced into rebel-held Idlib, targeting the Turkish military. In Libya, the war dragged on in and around Tripoli between armed groups aligned with the UN-backed government and those supporting Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA). Hostilities escalated in the south, where clashes between militias aligned with the main rivals left over 100 dead.

In Colombia, three senior former FARC rebel commanders, including the group’s former chief negotiator, announced their return to armed struggle, becoming the highest ranking guerrillas to have reneged on the 2016 peace deal. El Salvador recorded its lowest monthly murder rate this century, but Mexico’s homicide rate continued to soar; 2019 is on course to become its deadliest year on record.

Fighting escalated in Myanmar’s northern Shan State, as an alliance of ethnic armed groups launched coordinated attacks on strategic targets, including on a military academy, killing about fifteen. Tensions grew in the South China Sea as both Vietnam and the Philippines protested Chinese incursions into disputed waters, while a U.S. warship sailed near Chinese-claimed islands, angering Beijing. India revoked Kashmir’s special constitutional status, deployed tens of thousands of troops, arrested Kashmiri politicians and put the region under lockdown. Its moves raised the risk that violence erupts, both within the region and between India and neighbouring Pakistan in coming months. In Indonesia’s Papua region, large demonstrations against mistreatment of Papuans resulted in violent clashes with security forces.

Presidential polls in Somalia’s Jubaland federal state deepened political divisions, as opposition candidates barred from running and the federal government in Mogadishu rejected the incumbent’s victory. Communal violence in eastern Chad left about 100 dead and prompted the government to impose a state of emergency. A military court in Cameroon handed down life sentences to ten Anglophone separatist leaders, sparking a rise in clashes in the Anglophone regions. Violence could escalate further in September if separatists seek to impose by force a promised lockdown.

As Zimbabwe’s economic crisis deepened, the security forces cracked down on protests, while the frequency of attacks on opposition members and activists rose. In Malawi, protesters continued to push their claim that President Mutharika won re-election through fraud; violence between protesters and security forces could rise in September if Constitutional Court dismisses the opposition’s case to overturn the result. As Burundi’s 2020 presidential elections approach, the government and ruling party’s youth wing stepped up repression of the main opposition party, arresting and assaulting its members, killing one.

Tensions rose markedly between Georgia and its breakaway region of South Ossetia as Russian and de facto South Ossetian border guards resumed efforts to build a fence along the line between Georgia and South Ossetia. In response, Georgia began building police stations in contested areas. Meanwhile, in Kyrgyzstan, supporters of former President Atambayev took up arms to resist special forces’ attempts to arrest him, killing one.

Conflict resolution efforts took fragile steps forward in several corners of the globe. In Sudan, the ruling military council and opposition coalition signed a landmark constitutional declaration and power-sharing accord, beginning a three-year transitional period until elections. Mozambique’s former armed opposition group Renamo signed a peace deal with the government, formally ending decades of hostilities. Communal and militant violence fell in Mali’s centre, thanks in part to a growing number of local dialogue initiatives. Finally, the U.S. and Afghanistan’s Taliban made progress in talks and could announce a deal in September. But the conflict continued to exact an excruciatingly high toll on civilians.

Related Documents