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Burkina Faso : avec ou sans Compaoré, le temps des incertitudes
Burkina Faso : avec ou sans Compaoré, le temps des incertitudes
Report 205 / Africa

Burkina Faso : avec ou sans Compaoré, le temps des incertitudes

Si le président Compaoré ne parvient pas à bien préparer sa succession, son pays pourrait connaitre une crise politique grave dans une région de plus en plus troublée.

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Synthèse

Pour la première fois depuis 1987, la question de la succession du président burkinabè est ouvertement posée. La Constitution interdit en effet à Blaise Compaoré, au pouvoir depuis plus d’un quart de siècle, de briguer un nouveau mandat en 2015. Sa marge de manœuvre est très étroite. S’il respecte la loi fondamentale, sa succession risque d’être difficile tant il a dominé la vie politique et fermé les possibilités d’alternance. S’il modifie la Constitution et se porte candidat à un cinquième mandat consécutif, il prend le risque de déclencher un soulèvement populaire comme celui qui a fait vaciller son régime au premier semestre de l’année 2011. Les partenaires internationaux doivent l’inciter à respecter la loi fondamentale et permettre une transition démocratique en douceur.

Préserver la stabilité du Burkina Faso est d’autant plus important que la région ouest-africaine, où le pays occupe une position géographique centrale, vit une période difficile. Le Mali voisin traverse un conflit politico-militaire qui a déjà eu des conséquences graves sur le Niger, autre pays frontalier du Faso. Le Burkina a pour le moment été épargné par cette onde de choc parce que sa situation intérieure reste stable et son appareil de sécurité suffisamment solide, mais une détérioration de son climat politique à l’horizon 2015 le rendrait beaucoup plus vulnérable. Une élection présidentielle doit aussi être organisée cette même année en Côte d’Ivoire, un pays avec lequel le Burkina Faso est intimement lié. Une crise politique à Ouagadougou aurait des répercussions négatives sur une Côte d’Ivoire toujours fragile.

Cette position géographique centrale se double d’une influence diplomatique majeure. En deux décennies, Blaise Compaoré a fait de son pays un point de passage obligé pour le règlement de la quasi-totalité des crises de la région. Avec une grande habileté, Compaoré et ses hommes ont su se rendre indispensables comme médiateurs ou comme « vigies » permettant à plusieurs puissances occidentales la surveillance sécuritaire de l’espace sahélo-saharien. Une crise au Burkina Faso signifierait d’abord la perte d’un allié important et d’une base stratégique pour la France et les Etats-Unis ainsi qu’une possibilité réduite de déléguer à un pays africain le règlement des conflits régionaux. Pour l’Afrique de l’Ouest, la désorganisation de l’appareil diplomatique burkinabè impliquerait la perte d’un point de référence, d’une sorte d’autorité de régulation qui reste utile malgré de nombreuses limites.

Le risque qu’une crise politique et sociale survienne au Burkina Faso est réel. Depuis 1987, Blaise Compaoré a construit un régime semi-autoritaire, dans lequel ouverture démocratique et répression cohabitent, qui lui a permis de gagner le pari de la stabilité perdu par tous ses prédécesseurs. Ce système perfectionné comporte néanmoins plusieurs failles et ne survivra probablement pas à l’épreuve du temps. Il s’articule autour d’un seul homme qui a exercé une emprise totale sur le jeu politique pendant plus de deux décennies, laissant peu d’espace pour une transition souple. Les possibilités pour son remplacement démocratique sont en effet peu nombreuses. L’opposition est divisée, sans ressources humaines et financières suffisantes ou trop jeune pour prendre à court terme la relève et aucun des cadres du parti présidentiel ne s’impose comme potentiel successeur incontesté. L’un des premiers risques pour le pays est donc de se retrouver, en cas de départ mal encadré de Blaise Compaoré, face à une situation similaire à celle de la Côte d’Ivoire des années 1990, aspirée par le vide laissé par la mort de Félix Houphouët-Boigny après 33 ans de pouvoir.

L’explosion sociale est l’autre menace qui pèse sur le Burkina Faso. La société a évolué plus vite que le système politique ne s’adaptait. Le Burkina s’est urbanisé et ouvert au monde avec pour conséquence une demande croissante de changement de la part d’une population majoritairement jeune. Les fruits du développement demeurent très mal partagés dans ce pays à forte croissance mais classé parmi les plus pauvres de la planète. Des changements ont été maintes fois promis sans jamais être réalisés, ce qui a entrainé un divorce entre l’Etat et ses administrés ainsi qu’une perte d’autorité à tous les niveaux. Cette rupture de confiance s’est exprimée lors du premier semestre 2011 par de violentes émeutes qui ont touché plusieurs villes du pays et impliqué de nombreux segments de la société, y compris la base de l’armée.

« La grande muette » est apparue pour la première fois divisée entre élites et hommes de rang, et en partie hostile à un président qui s’était pourtant employé à contrôler et à organiser une institution dont il est issu. Cette crise sociale n’a été éteinte qu’en apparence et en 2012 les micro-conflits locaux à caractères foncier, coutumier ou portant sur les droits des travailleurs se sont multipliés dans un pays qui a une longue tradition de luttes sociales et de tentations révolutionnaires depuis l’expérience de 1983 inspirée par le marxisme.

Enfin, le long règne de Blaise Compaoré, si perfectionné fût-il, a connu l’usure inévitable du temps. Plusieurs piliers de son régime ont quitté la scène, à l’image du maire de Ouagadougou, Simon Compaoré, qui a régulé pendant dix-sept ans la capitale, du milliardaire Oumarou Kanazoé, qui a joué un rôle de modérateur au sein de la communauté musulmane, ou du colonel libyen Mouammar Kadhafi qui fournissait une aide financière importante au « pays des hommes intègres ».

Le président Compaoré a choisi de répondre à tous ces défis en effectuant quelques réformes superficielles qui ne répondent guère aux attentes de la population. Il a aussi opté pour le silence sur sa volonté de quitter le pouvoir en 2015. Il a recentré la direction du pays et de son parti, le Congrès pour la démocratie et le progrès (CDP), autour d’un groupe restreint de fidèles et de membres de sa famille, au premier rang desquels son frère cadet, François Compaoré. Ce silence et la montée en puissance de son frère, élu pour la première fois député le 2 décembre 2012, continuent d’entretenir un lourd climat d’incertitude.

Le chef de l’Etat burkinabè dispose d’un peu moins de trois ans pour préparer son départ et éviter ainsi une bataille de succession ou une nouvelle fronde populaire. Il lui appartient de faciliter cette transition. C’est d’abord en respectant la Constitution et en ne succombant pas à une tentation dynastique qu’il pourra confirmer la principale réussite de sa longue présidence : la stabilité. Un choix contraire ouvrirait la porte à une période de troubles. De son côté, l’opposition burkinabè et la société civile doivent devenir des forces de proposition et travailler dès maintenant à créer les conditions d’un progrès démocratique compatible avec la paix et de la stabilité. Les partenaires extérieurs, notamment les puissances occidentales, doivent maintenant s’intéresser autant à l’évolution politique interne du Burkina Faso et à la consolidation démocratique qu’au rôle que son président joue dans des médiations politiques et la surveillance sécuritaire des foyers de tensions en Afrique de l’Ouest.

Dakar/Bruxelles, 22 juillet 2013

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Sudan’s President Omar Al Bashir take part in a tripartite summit regarding a dam on the Nile River, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 10 February 2019. AFP/ANADOLU AGENCY/Handout /Presidency of Egypt
Commentary / Africa

Calming the Choppy Nile Dam Talks

Egypt and Ethiopia are exchanging harsh words over the dam the latter is building on the Blue Nile. At issue is how fast the Horn nation will fill its reservoir once construction is complete. The two countries’ leaders should cool the rhetoric and seek compromise.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed are set to meet on the margins of an ongoing two-day Russia-Africa summit in Sochi in an effort to ease tensions over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Ethiopia is building the dam on the main tributary of the Nile, and Egypt fears that the project will imperil its water supply.

Experts from those two nations and Sudan, the third country directly involved, had neared a technical consensus last year on how fast Ethiopia would fill the dam’s reservoir. But the past few months have seen Addis Ababa and Cairo move further apart amid feisty exchanges of rhetoric. Experts made little progress at their latest meeting this month in Khartoum.

There are still reasons to think a deal can be struck. First, however, the two leaders need to reiterate at Sochi their intention to cooperate over the GERD, so as to create an atmosphere conducive to agreement on filling and operating what will be the continent’s largest hydropower plant.

The background

Ethiopia began building the GERD on the Blue Nile River in 2010. Meles Zenawi, then Ethiopia’s leader, argued that the dam was critical to the country’s development efforts and would benefit the whole region. He said nearby states, including Egypt, would gain from purchasing the cheap electricity Ethiopia intends the dam to produce.

The scheme alarmed Cairo. Egypt claims “historical rights” over the Nile, stemming from treaties to which upstream countries, with the exception of Sudan, were not party. Most of those treaties date to the colonial era; the latest, a 1959 Egypt-Sudan pact, apportioned all 84 billion cubic meters of the Nile’s waters between Egypt (then the United Arab Republic), Sudan and evaporation. Egypt still bases its supply on the 55.5 billion cubic meters agreed upon in 1959 but it is estimated to use more than that as Sudan does not use its full allocation.

Egypt is especially vulnerable to reductions in Nile flows.

Egypt is especially vulnerable to reductions in Nile flows. It relies on the river for about 90 per cent of its water needs. Abdullatif Khalid, head of the irrigation sector, said recently that “drinking water is consuming 11 billion cubic meters. … Industrial usage consumes 8 billion cubic meters, and the rest is distributed to agriculture”. Egypt also relies on the Nile to generate about a tenth of its power, particularly from its High Dam at Aswan. Egypt characterises the status of the Nile as a life-and-death matter. It fears the loss of Egyptian influence and control over upper Nile states that Ethiopia’s unilateral project represents. It also worries that acceding to Ethiopia over the GERD could pave the way for other major hydropower and irrigation projects by upstream Nile nations.

Ethiopian officials portray such concerns as quasi-imperialist. “The struggle is between a country which wants to ensure equitable and reasonable utilisation and another which wants to maintain a colonial-era treaty of injustice and unfairness”, said one Ethiopian diplomat. A statement from the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry blamed Egypt for acting as a spoiler at this month’s Khartoum talks. Ethiopian officials argue that Egypt built the Aswan dam in a bid to drive its own economic growth but that Cairo has since used its international influence to prevent upstream Nile development. They portray Ethiopia’s eventual decision to construct the GERD as an effort to redress a historic imbalance and as a last resort after Egypt refusal to cooperate over the basin.

Forging an initial filling deal could increase trust among the parties, which is all the more important given the threat posed by rising temperatures in the Nile basin.

In March, Crisis Group encouraged Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to persevere in trying to agree a detailed policy for filling the GERD’s reservoir. The three countries had taken some steps in that direction. In 2015, they signed a Declaration of Principles pledging to equitably share water resources and cooperate over the GERD, and since then have met regularly at both technical and political levels to try to reach agreement.

Forging an initial filling deal could increase trust among the parties, which is all the more important given the threat posed by rising temperatures in the Nile basin. In the longer term, Crisis Group supports the idea that the three countries, together with the other eight who share the Nile’s waters, establish a broader resource-sharing arrangement via the Nile Basin Commission that is to form once six of the eleven riparian nations ratify the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA).

Egypt signed on to the 2015 Declaration, but, along with Sudan, it rejects key parts of the CFA. Cairo stresses in its Nile policy the “inviolability of our water share”. Addis Ababa, meanwhile, is explicit that water allocation treaties to which it was not party have “no applicability whatsoever on Ethiopia”.

After some heated words of its own, Cairo put its well-oiled diplomatic machine into action at late September’s UN General Assembly meeting in New York. Egyptian diplomats met with counterparts from Burundi and South Sudan, two riparian countries that are cash-strapped and experiencing major internal crises. Burundi, along with Kenya and Uganda, has signed but not ratified the CFA, while South Sudan has not yet made its position clear. An experienced observer of Nile politics says it is “common knowledge that Cairo increases its activism with upper riparians, especially South Sudan, whenever rhetoric with Addis increases”. Egypt’s intention appears to be to forestall explicit statements of support for Ethiopia’s position from other upper Nile nations and to drag out the CFA’s ratification.

The sticking point

The initial challenge lies in the sides’ competing positions on filling the GERD reservoir.

The initial challenge lies in the sides’ competing positions on filling the GERD reservoir. Ethiopia wants to move quickly to expedite maximum power generation. Egypt is concerned about how the dam will be managed during drought years and wants the GERD filled slowly enough that a sufficient volume of water can flow downstream each year during filling. Egypt also says it wants an office at the GERD site staffed with its own technicians. Ethiopia counters that this proposal breaches its sovereignty. It also has repeatedly rejected as unnecessary Egyptian calls for third-party meditation in the dispute.

The GERD’s 74-billion cubic meter reservoir is to be filled in three stages. The first consists of tests of the initial two turbines, which require some 3 billion cubic meters (bcm) of water and would take one year. Second, all 13 turbines would be tested, requiring at least another 12 bcm and one more year. Last, Ethiopia would fill the rest of the reservoir – although its volume would fluctuate by around 50 bcm each year as Ethiopia would have to allow much of the water out ahead of seasonal rainfall to prevent overflowing. The first two years’ filling would use too little water to significantly affect downstream supplies. It is the final stage that worries Egypt and prompts its disagreement with Ethiopia.

Last year, the National Independent Scientific Research Study Group, comprising Egyptian, Ethiopian and Sudanese experts, made progress toward a filling agreement that all parties could get behind. This deal would entail Ethiopia annually releasing about 35 bcm (around 70 per cent of the Blue Nile’s average annual flow) of water downstream as it fills the dam.

Egypt subsequently slowed down the pace of talks. At the February meeting of the African Union, President Sisi told Prime Minister Abiy that he wanted to discuss the minutes from the study group meetings. These conversations led to a new Egyptian proposal, which called for a minimum annual release of 40 bcm of water from the GERD during the period of filling. Egypt had also requested that the entire average annual Blue Nile flow of 49 bcm be released once the GERD is operational and the dam filled. If the flow decreases, Cairo says Addis Ababa should make up for the deficit the next year. Ethiopia has rejected both suggestions.

Space for compromise

Despite the recent disagreements, the 2018 progress and expert studies suggest that a compromise solution exists. In a period of average or above-average rainfall, releases of around 35 bcm would allow Ethiopia to fill the dam at a slightly faster rate than if the annual release was at 40 bcm, while also avoiding acute water shortages in Egypt.

Ethiopia seems ready to agree to a 35 bcm release. According to experts like Kevin Wheeler from the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, who has studied the GERD filling options with a team of experts, a 35 bcm release could fill the dam’s reservoir in five to six years, assuming average flows. Ethiopia said after the latest inconclusive talks that it proposed to fill the GERD in four to seven years.

There are also steps that Egypt could take to manage water more efficiently and mitigate the dam’s potential impact on agriculture and manufacturing.

Despite Cairo’s reservations, this fill rate does not appear likely to significantly damage Egypt’s water supply or power generation. “Under wet to average conditions with a 35 bcm release, Egypt does not need to suffer any shortages, or very minimal reductions if they use their drought management policy”, Wheeler told Crisis Group.

There are also steps that Egypt could take to manage water more efficiently and mitigate the dam’s potential impact on agriculture and manufacturing. Aid programs could improve irrigation efficiency, for example.

For its part, Ethiopia could also be more accommodating, especially given climate volatility and Egypt’s concerns about how the dam will be managed in drought conditions. One experienced observer questions why Ethiopia is apparently so fixated on filling the reservoir quickly to its maximum volume of 74 bcm. After all, the reservoir will need draining to around 20 bcm each year before the rainy season to guard against over-spilling.

Nor is it clear whether sufficient demand exists in either Ethiopia or export markets to justify maximising the GERD’s power generation in the first few years. For example, in 2017/18, all of Ethiopia consumed less electricity than the 15,760 gigawatt hours a year that the GERD is projected to generate. In that same year, Ethiopia sold 1,516 gigawatt hours to Sudan and Djibouti. It has ambitions to sell power to East Africa via an under-construction transmission line to Kenya, but there is work to do on building further inter-connections and negotiating export deals, including, potentially, with Egypt and Gulf states.

The likely gap between the dam’s maximum output and demand means that Ethiopia could take a concertedly flexible approach to the initial stages, including filling the dam only to the extent it needs at present. Such an approach may allow it to initially release more water each year, ensuring that the reservoir at Aswan retains a healthy volume and giving Egypt more time to adapt.

Returning to constructive talks

It is hard to say precisely when the GERD will start impounding water, but parties should have at least all next year to thrash out a deal on filling. There was a major hiccup in the dam’s construction last year, when Ethiopia’s political power struggle and the transition that saw Abiy come to power rocked the mega-project. But the Ethiopian state seems to have rallied behind the GERD again. Its completion is inevitable – as Prime Minister Abiy made clear in Parliament yesterday – even if there are further delays.

Given the renewed spat between their countries, Sisi and Abiy could help prepare the ground for constructive negotiations during their meeting in Sochi at what is the first Russia-Africa summit. Even if warm words are exchanged, a real breakthrough at the technical level is unlikely any time soon. But if Sisi and Abiy can achieve a reset it would increase the chances that the engineers, lawyers and diplomats can hammer out a deal.

A deal on filling and operating the GERD should create space for renewed diplomacy aimed at safeguarding the Nile basin’s long-term future.

More broadly, a deal on filling and operating the GERD should create space for renewed diplomacy aimed at safeguarding the Nile basin’s long-term future. Climate change means that not only Egypt but all Nile nations should be concerned about water shortages. A study published in August in the Earth’s Future journal found that despite models projecting increased rainfall, nations like Ethiopia, South Sudan and Uganda may have less water available to them due to hotter and drier years in the Nile basin. Such findings are of even more acute concern to rain-starved Sudan and Egypt, which rely on downstream flows.

Addressing the mistrust among riparian nations, which the GERD presently symbolises, is critical. Those countries need to institutionalise cooperation, including exchanging data on critical elements such as rainfall levels, river flows, dam volumes and power needs. If President Sisi and Prime Minister Abiy can set the right tone in Sochi, they could set a path for a GERD agreement that in turn could catalyse the eventual ratification of the Cooperative Framework Agreement and management of the world’s longest river via the Nile Basin Commission.

This commentary is co-published with The Africa Report.