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Burkina Faso: Meeting the October Target
Burkina Faso: Meeting the October Target
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Supporters of President-elect Roch Marc Kabore watch election results at Kabore's campaign headquarters in Ouagadougou, 1 December 2015. REUTERS/Joe Penney
Briefing 116 / Africa

Burkina Faso: Transition, Act II

Burkina Faso’s democratically elected new government faces great challenges to deliver on justice, socio-economic needs and regional security. To succeed, authorities must resist the temptation to establish a new one-party hegemony. Instead, they should engage in social dialogue and political reconciliation, military reform, and friendly relations with neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire.

I. Overview

Roch Marc Christian Kaboré’s victory in the 29 November presidential election shows that Burkinabes aspire as much to change as to continuity. A former heir apparent to Blaise Compaoré, Kaboré symbolises both the stability of the former regime and, given his split from Compaoré, the desire for change. The new government must deliver on many challenges: major socio-economic needs, demands for justice, the fight against corruption and impunity, army reform and growing regional threats. The government will have to refrain from triumphalism, recognise the formidable challenges ahead and, most importantly, resist the temptation to recreate a Compaoré-like system of one-party hegemony. Without this, Burkinabes will massively return to the streets, as in October 2014 and September 2015, which could plunge the country back into crisis.

For now, however, a sense of relief is in order: the long and fragile transition was completed peacefully. By organising the free and fair 29 November elections, the transition fulfilled its principal purpose. It did not, however, manage to resolve all outstanding issues of the Compaoré years: economic crimes and acts of violence committed under the former regime have gone unpunished. The September 2015 attempted coup allowed the country to rid itself of at least the presidential guard (RSP). While the RSP’s dissolution is another step toward dismantling the Compaoré system, it does not solve the thorny issue of the future of the former regime’s partisans. The real transition – the one that should lead to the consolidation of democracy and the introduction of a new form of governance – begins now, with the installation of the new authorities.

The grace period will not last. Dire budgetary realities mean the new president will struggle to meet immediately the population’s high expectations, especially their socioeconomic demands. The presence of violent extremist groups in neighbouring countries is another threat. The October 2015 attack on a gendarmerie post in the west of the country, the first of its kind in Burkina Faso, is evidence of the worsening security environment. The inauguration of new authorities could be followed by a rapid deterioration of the social climate, which, combined with regional security threats, could create an explosive cocktail and block the new government’s scope for action. Furthermore, the September coup attempt demonstrated that the armed forces remain a key actor in the country’s political life. The military’s ability to interfere in political affairs, a constant feature of Burkina Faso’s history since 1966, did not disappear with the RSP’s dissolution.

The political class will eventually have to solve its own disputes. It will be particularly difficult for some of Compaoré affiliates to accept the accession to power of their ex-comrades-turned-enemies of the Movement of People for Progress (MPP) – founded in January 2014 as an outgrowth of the former ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) party. This animosity could generate further tensions, especially if the new government succumbs to the temptation of a witch hunt against members of the former regime, and if some Compaoré followers choose destabilisation as their strategy to demonstrate that they remain a force to be reckoned with.

If Compaoré associates decide to use neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire as a rear base, as was allegedly the case during the September coup and the foiled attack against the Ouagadougou military prison last December, relations between Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire could rapidly deteriorate. The bone of contention between the two countries has grown over the last two months. In addition to the suspected involvement of some Ivorian dignitaries in the September coup, the Ivorian authorities have so far ignored an arrest warrant against Compaoré issued on 4 December by a Burkinabè military court.

The October 2014 uprising that ousted Compaoré after 27 years in power marked a major upheaval in Burkina Faso, and the September 2015 coup was the first aftershock. Despite the peaceful elections, the country is not immune to future trouble as it opens a new chapter of its history. Many short- and long-term measures could be adopted to reduce the risk of future instability.

  • The new authorities should organise a constructive dialogue with unions, and quickly adopt social appeasement measures, focusing on youth and the country’s poorest regions.
  • The new authorities should rapidly begin to reform the army and develop a global defence and security strategy through the publication of a white paper. Army reform should be carried out under parliamentary supervision and the commission in charge of it should include civilians and retired military officers.
  • The role of the National High Council of Elders should be constitutionalised, as was recommended by the reconciliation commission, so that its function as an institution supporting the resolution and prevention of social and political crises is fully established.
  • Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso should continue to strengthen their relationship as part of the 2008 Friendship and Cooperation Treaty. Ivorian leaders should move past their political ties with former Compaoré regime officials and make Burkina Faso’s stability a priority, if necessary by cooperating with Burkina Faso’s courts.
  • Burkina Faso’s international partners should stay mobilised to provide adequate financial assistance, in particular to help the government deal with social demands. This support is particularly important given Burkina Faso’s position as one of the last islands of stability in an increasingly troubled region.

Dakar/Brussels, 7 January 2016

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