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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
Burkina Faso: Meeting the October Target
Burkina Faso: Meeting the October Target
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
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

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