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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 2018 June Trends & July Alerts
CrisisWatch 2018 June Trends & July Alerts
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.

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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

CrisisWatch 2018 June Trends & July Alerts

The latest edition of Crisis Group’s monthly conflict tracker highlights dangers of escalating conflict in Yemen, Syria and Somaliland. CrisisWatch also notes improved relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea, South Sudan’s leaders, Macedonia and Greece, as well as diplomatic engagement between North Korea and the U.S.

In June, Yemeni forces backed by the United Arab Emirates accelerated their offensive to take the Huthi-held city of Hodeida. A fleeting opportunity exists to find a mediated settlement and avoid prolonged urban warfare. In Syria, pro-government forces intensified efforts to retake territory in the south west, risking worse violence in July, while in Libya, new fighting over oil facilities aggravated tensions. The conflict between Somalia’s Puntland and Somaliland spread, and looks set to escalate; attacks linked to Nigeria’s farmer-herder conflict left over 200 dead; and radical Islamists in Mozambique stepped up attacks. The month saw heightened political rivalry in Tunisia, and election-related violence in Zimbabwe and Papua New Guinea. High-level engagement between North Korea and the U.S. paved the way for a diplomatic process, and Macedonia and Greece reached an agreement on their name dispute. Opportunities to advance peace opened up in Africa with Ethiopia and Eritrea taking tentative steps to address their border dispute, and South Sudan’s warring leaders signing an initial framework agreement.

In Yemen, forces backed by the United Arab Emirates stepped up their offensive to take the port city of Hodeida from Huthi rebels, pushing up to the city’s southern suburbs. As we explained, mediation efforts led by UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths toward a solution that safeguards all sides’ vital interests could – with strong international pressure on the warring parties – produce a settlement for the city, and serve as a basis for talks on a way out of the wider conflict. But if the belligerents continue to reject his proposals, a battle for Hodeida – home to 600,000 – would likely have devastating humanitarian consequences.

In Syria, pro-government forces – backed by Russian air power – ramped up their campaign to retake territory toward the Jordanian border, raising the risk of further escalation in July. Fighting again rocked Libya’s oil industry. Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s east-based Libyan National Army was forced to cede and then retook oil export terminals at Sidra and Ras Lanuf. Its announcement that oil sales from areas under its control would go through the east-based National Oil Corporation, unrecognised internationally, further aggravated political tensions and risks deepening the country’s economic woes.

A feud between Tunisia’s prime minister, Youssef Chahed, and President Essebsi intensified, with Chahed firing the interior minister, Essebsi’s ally. Ahead of the 2019 presidential election, the rivalry is polarising the political field and could hamper much needed legislative reform.

Fighting between Somaliland and Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region over contested territory spread from Tukaraq – where both sides continued to beef up their positions – to Las Anod, capital of the disputed Sool area. Incendiary rhetoric from both sides bodes ill. To stave off war, the UN – backed by Somalia and Ethiopia – should renew its mediation to broker a ceasefire, ensure both sides commit to withdraw troops, allow in humanitarian aid and launch talks aimed at a long-term settlement.

In Mozambique’s neglected and predominantly Muslim far north, Islamist militants, active since October, stepped up the rate of attacks, raiding some seven villages and killing at least 39 people. Ahead of Zimbabwe’s elections in July, an explosion at a rally for President Mnangagwa killed two and raised concerns for security around the vote. In Nigeria, attacks linked to the conflict between herding and farming communities took a yet more horrifying toll; over 200 are thought to have been killed in attacks and reprisals over five days in Plateau state.

Violence erupted in Papua New Guinea’s Southern Highlands province as protesters, angry about a failed court challenge to the 2017 provincial election result, set fire to an aeroplane and official buildings in the provincial capital, prompting the government to declare a state of emergency and deploy troops.

A historic summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump on 12 June produced a vague statement including a reaffirmation by Pyongyang of its commitment to work toward “complete denuclearization” of the peninsula. As Crisis Group wrote, the summit represented a shift from a confrontational track to a diplomatic one, but needs to be followed by the hard work of hammering out a path toward denuclearisation. Later in the month, U.S. officials were quoted saying that Pyongyang has been stepping up production of enriched uranium at secret sites.

Macedonia and Greece signed a historic agreement resolving their decades-long dispute over Macedonia’s official name, now to be the Republic of North Macedonia. The deal, which still needs to be ratified in the face of opposition in both countries, unblocks Greek opposition to Macedonia joining the European Union and NATO.

Relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea, hostile since the 1998-2000 border war, began to thaw. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy’s pledge to cede contested territory and initial talks opened the door to greater neighbourliness and regional stability. In another boon for the region, South Sudan’s warring leaders, President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar, signed an initial framework agreement to enact a ceasefire, work toward a new transitional government and, with Sudan, secure the oil fields. We welcomed this best, and only, hope for a breakthrough and urged other African leaders to lend it cautious support.

Go to CrisisWatch.

Contributors

Director of Research & Special Adviser on Gender
iarradon
Research Manager
BranczikAmelia
Senior Research Analyst
neddalby