Burkina Faso: what’s next?

We have seen that Blaise Compaoré’s decision to run another term as President of Burkina Faso led to his ousting by the people on 31 October 2014. A transitional government has since been set up, but uncertainty remains. In view of the next elections, planned for the 11 October 2015, how is current transition going? At the end of a 27 year regime, where does that leave the prospect of a genuine democracy?

The fall of Blaise Compaoré’s regime has undeniably represented a key moment in Burkinabe history and even, for some reasons, in that of the entire African continent. Indeed, it is quite unusual to witness the ousting of a Head of State by his people; the past suggests that coups are more commonplace in African States. Likewise, Compaoré’s decision to flee the country instead of maintaining power at all costs, including the use of force, could be seen as a major achievement for civil society – most popular movements being, up to now, confronted by their leaders’ intransigence.

The end of Compaoré’s regime began with the leader’s attempt to modify the constitution, which could have allowed him to run for another term. Today, this issue tends to be predominant in many African States politics. As recent events happening in Burundi show us, and in light of the numerous elections that will take place by 2017 across the continent, long-standing presidents remain reluctant to play the game of democracy. The tools they use may be various – constitutional amendments, election rigging or slandering the opposition – in their eagerness to control the whole political space. Burkina Faso’s revolution and the ensuing overthrow of Compaoré’s regime, after 27 years of power, have raised many issues. Does the Burkinabe case constitute the first step towards a global recognition of democratic popular claims by African leaders? Does it mean the end of an authoritarian governance that would be in decline?

The events of October 30 have also raised hopes for a democratic transition. For sure, there has also been confusion and uncertainty. In the context of disorder, after the popular invasion of the National Assembly, Compaoré seemed to have fled to the Ivory Coast while two military personnel – General Nabéré Honoré and Lieutenant colonel Isaac Zida – successively proclaimed themselves Head of State and of transition. Afterwards, a consensus has emerged on Zida’s appointment whereas political opposition and civil society have organised to claim a “civil democratic” transition and the lifting of the Constitution’s suspension[1]. The Transition Charter, elaborated on 16 November 2014, put to an end the two weeks of constitutional vacuum and enabled the setting up of a transitional national Council. The career diplomat Michel Kafando has been chosen as transitional President and acting Head of State. Kafando then named Zida as Prime Minister. Democratic transition took place. A transitional government has been formed, Zida being also appointed as Minister of Defence, and general elections have been planned on 11 October 2015. The ECOWAS, the AU and the international community seemed relieved with the turn of events and reiterated their support for the process.

Kafando’s goodwill had, and has still, to face some resistance and has not been able to prevent polemics to arise. Firstly, especially in the army, some factions have remained loyal to Compaoré. Indeed, after government decisions to reopen the Sankara matter and particularly to reform the presidential security Regiment (RSP – Régiment de sécurité présidentielle), protestations have emanated from RSP members, who even called for Zida’s resignation. Against this background, Burkinabe people protested on 7 February 2015 and begged for the dissolution of the body. The mediation led by Kafando and the Moro Naba (the Mossi Chief) resulted in a respite in RSP claims; for all that, the body still exists and might, in the future, seriously threaten the democratic process as long as its interests are not reassured. Secondly, the reform of the electoral code has raised controversy that has undermined transitional government credibility. The debate has evolved around the question whether individuals who had supported Compaoré’s constitutional reform may, or may not, run for the coming elections. Finally, the transitional national council adopted the bill allowing the electoral code modification on 7 April 2015. It notably stipulates that “all individuals who supported an anti-constitutional change that infringes democratic alternation principles {…} are ineligible”[2]. CDP members, the previous leader political party, were not the only ones to firmly denounce this reform. Several organisations and researchers warned about the violation of the Transition Charter. They argued that the exclusion the electoral code promotes is at variance with values – inclusiveness, dialogue and reconciliation – that characterised the Charter. Furthermore, the text is not accurate regarding the people who could be affected by ineligibility. One can fear the random nature of their designation. It could also compromise the smooth functioning of the 11 October elections or delay them[3]. At the same time, Compaoré has just been charged by the above mentioned Council with “high treason” and “attempt against the Constitution”[4]. Yet, it is up to the High Court of Justice to approve or invalidate the lawsuits required by deputies. It could also request his extradition. Evidently, the government will remain clear in addressing the harm caused by decades of authoritarianism, nepotism and cronyism.

The current crisis has been felt on 17 July when Kafando decided to maintain Zida as Prime Minister but removed him from the Defence portfolio. The change aimed to sort out “dysfunction and frustration issues[5]within the army, as acting president said. He also regretted the divergences in the armed forces, which could harm the efforts deployed so far. Besides, the government has now to take a step back with regard to the electoral code: the ECOWAS Court of Justice has recently ruled in favour of the political parties that lodged a complaint and therefore invalidated the code[6]. Doubts remain regarding the government’s stance, but Burkina Faso, as an ECOWAS member, must normally comply with every regional justice adjudication. Kafando will likely need to reconsider this measure, at the risk that the domestic political situation may worsen even more.

Nonetheless, despite the current crisis, electoral process is under way. At this time, several people have declared their intention to be candidates in the next presidential election. One can quote Zéphirin Diabré (UPC) – a Compaoré long time opponent, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré (MPP) – a former deposed President’s proponent, Bénéwendé Stanislas Sankara (UNIR/MS) – who represents the symbolic legacy left by Thomas Sankara, but also Djibril Bassolé (NAFA), Saran Sérémé Séré (PDC) and Eddie Komboïgo. The latter has been particularly concerned by the electoral code reform because he is the current CDP leader. At the same time, civil society heralded on 21 July its intention to deploy 5000 observers during the next elections. The CODEL (Convention des Organisations de la Société civile pour l’Observation domestique des Élections), made up of more than a hundred civil society organisations, aims to count the votes in parallel and so to “pre-empt dysfunction risks but also pre-electoral, electoral and post-electoral violence”[7]. While waiting for these elections, it is to be hoped that they will effectively and without skirmishes take place and that every stakeholder will face its responsibilities. The end of Compaoré’s era did not necessarily be accompanied by a genuine democratic transition; as ever, it only depends upon political will and the importance of involved efforts towards general interest.

Déborah Guidez

[1] Courrier des Afriques, Burkina Faso – Chronique d’une transition démocratique “confisquée” ?

[2] Burkina 24, Burkina : le “nouveau” code électoral adopté, 07/04/2015.

[3] International Crisis Group, Burkina Faso : cap sur octobre, 24/06/2015

[4] Jeune Afrique, Burkina Faso : Blaise Compaoré accusé de “haute trahison” par les députés, 17/07/2015.

[5] RFI, Burkina Faso : Isaac Zida reste Premier ministre mais perd la Défense, 17/07/2015.

[6] France 24, Burkina Faso : le nouveau code électoral burkinabé invalidé par la Cédéao, 13/07/2015.

[7] Oeil d’Afrique, Burkina Faso : 5000 observateurs de la société civile prêts pour les élections d’octobre, 21/07/2015.

Déborah Guidez

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