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Burkina Faso: A Report’s Conclusions, Presented on the Ground
Burkina Faso: A Report’s Conclusions, Presented on the Ground
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

Cynthia Ohayon donne en main propre le nouveau rapport de Crisis Group au président du Centre des maîtres coranics du Burkina Faso et à un marabout, le 10 octobre 2017. CRISISGROUP/Julie David de Lossy
Impact Note / Africa

Burkina Faso: A Report’s Conclusions, Presented on the Ground

Un rapport de Crisis Group est le fruit de plusieurs mois de travail de terrain, de rédaction et de débats. En outre, comme le montre ce reportage photo, le moment où l'analyste présente cette nouvelle publication à ses lecteurs est également le point de départ d'un nouveau cycle de recherche.

To mark the publication of the Report The Social Roots of Jihadist Violence in Burkina Faso’s North on 12 October 2017, West Africa Analyst Cynthia Ohayon and Project Director Rinaldo Depagne presented their conclusions and recommendations in Ouagadougou to the various protagonists. Cynthia has travelled regularly to Burkina Faso over the past three years; Rinaldo previously lived and worked in the country for more than seven years. Their aim with the report was to persuade political decision-makers and other influential figures to address the root causes of the social crisis in northern Burkina Faso, and to avoid rushing into single-track counter-terrorism strategy at a time when violence is spreading in the north of the country.

Long spared by the Sahel’s armed groups, Burkina Faso – and particularly its northern region – has faced increasing insecurity since 2015. Crisis Group’s many interviews on the ground show that the crisis stems more from social unrest than from the growth of an Islamic movement.

Street life in Ouagadougou's city centre at noon, on 13 October 2017. CRISISGROUP/Julie David de Lossy

On the day of the report’s publication, Crisis Group held a launch event at a hotel in the capital, organised jointly with Luxembourg’s delegation in Ouagadougou. The number of attendees far exceeded our expectations. Present were representatives from several ministries, Burkinabè army officers, former ministers, the emir of Djibo, traditional Fulani chiefs, diplomats, academics and civil society activists.

Cynthya Ohayon introducing the findings of Crisis Group's latest report on northern Burkina at report launch in Ouagadougou. on 12 October 2017. CRISISGROUP/Julie David de Lossy
Rinaldo Depagne discussing with Captain Longpo and MP at Crisis Group report launch in Ouagadougou, on 12 October 2017. CRISISGROUP/ Julie David de Lossy

At the event a young man from the north detailed the difficulties faced by his village; a traditional chief reminded those present that rebel fighters were also citizens of Burkina Faso who felt abandoned by an elite fixated upon events in the capital. “I came here thinking that the attacks were terrorism-related. After listening to you today, I now realise courage is needed to meet society’s expectations”, one gendarmerie captain said. “We’ve learned a lot today”, concluded a former minister, in recognition of Crisis Group’s role.

Cynthya Ohayon introducing the findings of Crisis Group's latest report on northern Burkina to marabouts (Quranic masters), on 10 October 2017. CRISISGROUP/ Julie David de Lossy

The Crisis Group team then presented the report, its conclusions and recommendations, to the Quranic teachers with whom Cynthia had met five months earlier. Lively discussion quickly followed. The marabouts recounted how the situation in the north had worsened. Basing her comments on the report, Cynthia summarised the points of view of all parties to the conflict. These moments – when various actors feel themselves understood, while listening to the perspectives of others – are at the core of Crisis Group’s advocacy work. On these foundations future solutions can be built.

Crisis Group prides itself on engaging all actors involved in a crisis, as well as others who have something to bring to the table. Our team met with Tanguy Denieul, director of the French Development Agency (AFD), to discuss our conclusion that the crisis is rooted in a sense of abandonment, as demonstrated by the north’s severe underdevelopment. The meeting was focused on the sustainability of financing development in the north, the training of mayors and the supply of electricity to the principal towns.

Cynthya Ohayon talks to Afd Director Tanguy Deneuil about Crisis Group latest report on northern Burkina, on 10 October 2017. CRISISGROUP/ Julie David de Lossy

Brigadier-General Oumarou Sadou, chief of general staff of the armed forces, granted an audience to Crisis Group in the presence of three of his officers. We presented our report and discussed the north’s problems, including an ossified and unequal social order and a lack of engagement by the state.

The soldiers asked a number of questions about Mali, regarding the border situation, civilian opinions of the security forces, response times and military abuses. It was a constructive exchange, made possible by mutual trust built up over several previous meetings. The Burkina officers’ priority is to prevent the jihadist violence in Mali from spreading any further into Burkina. Rinaldo Depagne noted down lessons from this meeting to apply to his work on stability in the Sahel and his advocacy for a regional force. The discussion ended with a Burkina proverb: “If your neighbour’s wall has fallen down and your property is in danger, you should help him rebuild it”.

Cynthya Ohayon and Rinaldo Depagne with army Chief of Staff Oumarou Sadou (centre). Ouagadougou, on 13 October 2017. CRISISGROUP/ Julie David de Lossy
A military at chief of staff's office in Ouagadougou, on 13 October 2017. CRISISGROUP/ Julie David de Lossy

Crisis Group’s credibility in Ouagadougou was already high thanks to its July 2013 report, Burkina Faso: With or Without Compaoré, Times of Uncertainty. This report’s analysis of Compaoré’s vulnerability as a ruler proved prescient, as the president was ousted the following year after a popular uprising. Crisis Group puts great store in maintaining an open and respectful relationship with each of its interlocutors. One of the significant meetings during Cynthia’s and Rinaldo’s trip was with Bénéwendé Sankara, the first vice president of the National Assembly, to discuss how focusing on politics in the capital can distract the government from the task of developing national policy. Only policies that apply nationwide can defuse tensions in the country.

Cynthya Ohayon and Rinaldo Depagne with Maitre Sankara, National Assembly's acting president. Ouagadougou, on 13 October 2017. CRISISGROUP/ Julie David de Lossy

Our team also visited historian Hamidou Diallo at his university office in Ouagadougou. Diallo, who has frequently debated his ideas with Crisis Group over the years, shared his concerns. After exchanging views, we left with new avenues to explore and an agreement to meet again soon.

Hamidou Diallo, historian at the University of Ouagadougou with Crisis Group's latest report on northern Burkina, on 11 October 2017. CRISISGROUP/ Julie David de Lossy

Successful advocacy often depends on our analysts’ flexibility in seizing opportunities. When Cynthia found out that Fulani representatives from Burkina, Mali and Niger were meeting that day in a downtown hotel, she asked if she could join them. The Fulanis from three countries in the region were ready to listen. Some of them were already familiar with Crisis Group’s work, noting its quality and respecting our neutrality.

The imam Ilboudo from the Islamic Education, Research and Study Centre (CERFI), a man highly respected in Ouagadougou’s Muslim community, is a major player in Crisis Group’s advocacy work. Sipping hot tea under a mango tree by the mosque, the imam shared with our team his reactions to their presentation of the report.

Fulani representatives meeting in Ouagadougou, on 11 October 2017. CRISISGROUP/ Julie David de Lossy
Cynthya Ohayon and Rinaldo Depagne introducing the findings of Crisis Group's latest report on northern Burkina to imam Ilboudo, president of the CERFI (Cercle d'étude, de recherche et de formation islamique). Ouagadougou, 11 October 2017. CRISISGROUP/ Julie David de Lossy

Three months after its publication in French and English, the report The Social Roots of Jihadist Violence in Burkina Faso’s North has already been read more than 21,000 times. The second phase of Crisis Group’s work is to help the actors understand their rivals’ viewpoints and to reflect on the issues at stake. This is the most delicate stage of the proceedings.

Rinaldo Depagne and his team at the West Africa program will keep the report in circulation among the various protagonists on the ground. By continuing to engage in dialogue, they will formulate new approaches as well as understand future obstacles, so as to halt the downward spiral of a deadly crisis.

The meetings held around this new publication were also a point of departure for our West Africa team. Our analysts’ notebooks were already filled with ideas collected on the ground to prepare for our next report on the deployment of a G5 Sahel joint force.

The airport cantina, Ouagadougou, on 9 October 2017. CRISISGROUP/ Julie David de Lossy
Burkina Faso: A Report’s Conclusions, Presented on the Ground. CRISISGROUP/ Julie David de Lossy