Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1274, (10 - 16 December 2015)
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1274, (10 - 16 December 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Burkina Faso turns a corner

Burkina Faso has a new president, elected in a free and fair vote, but significant challenges lie ahead to put the country on the right track, writes Haytham Nuri

Al-Ahram Weekly

The country that overthrew long-serving President Blaise Compaoré on 31 October 2014, then survived a coup attempt in September 2015, has successfully held free and fair elections. At long last, Burkina Faso has a freely elected president.

The winner, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, a former prime minister and parliamentary speaker, won 53.49 per cent of the vote, followed by former Finance Minister Zephirin Diabré with 29.65 per cent. The turnout in the 29 November 2015 elections was 60 per cent of the 5.5 million registered voters.

Nearly 17,000 local and foreign observers monitored the elections, while 25,000 troops and policemen were deployed to protect polling stations.

In a departure from previous traditions, most presidential candidates offered their congratulations to the president-elect. Protests and boycotts that marred previous elections were hardly in evidence.

Following his victory, Kaboré said that he intends to tackle the country’s basic needs, including not only a flagging economy, but health and education.

“We need to organise ourselves to take in hand the whole country’s preoccupations, because our first objective is not simply to revive the economy but at the same time to satisfy the fundamental needs of the whole population,” Kaboré told Reuters.

Observers say that the main task of Burkina Faso’s new leader is to promote economic growth, fight corruption and reform the justice system.

Burkina Faso, a landlocked country, produces gold and cotton but remains largely impoverished. Its economy has slowed due to the drop in global commodity prices and the flight of capital following the protests that forced Compaoré out of power.

Analysts expect the economy to grow by four per cent or so this year, compared to six per cent in 2014.

Although Kaboré was a long-time associate of Compaoré, many expect him to revive at least some of the left-wing policies of Burkina Faso’s iconic leader Thomas Sankara, who was often referred to as Africa’s Ché Guevara.

Sankara, who took power in a coup in 1983, championed the cause of the poor, nationalised land and mines, improved health and education, and started a programme to reduce the country’s debts. He was killed in a coup that brought Compaoré to power in 1987.

Compaoré went on to win presidential elections in 1991, 1998, 2005 and 2010. When he tried to change electoral regulations to run again for office in 2015, even his closest associates felt uneasy.

As the country plunged into protests, Kaboré and 75 other members of the ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress split from the party, creating a rival one party, The People’s Movement for Progress, which is now the largest bloc in parliament, commanding 57 seats out of 127.

The second-largest party in parliament, led by the runner-up in the presidential campaign, Zephirin Diabré, garnered 33 seats in the parliamentary elections. Compaoré’s party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress, came in third place with 19 seats.

Commenting on the outcome of the elections, Burkinabe journalist Moussa Nadembega said that although he trusts Kaboré, he will withhold his judgement until he sees real change in the country.

The first task facing Kaboré will be to form a coalition government. He cannot possibly join forces with the Congress for Democracy and Progress, because of its current popularity. And if he tries to approach Diabré’s Union for Progress and Change, he may have to offer concessions that would dilute his reform programme.

According to Helmi Shaarawi, director of the Arab and African Studies Centre, the new leader will have to turn Burkina Faso around. During the Compaoré reign, Burkina Faso became a transit point for drug dealers and arms traffickers.

While reviving the economy and stamping out corruption, Kaboré will also have to reorganise the army to confront the growing power of radical groups, including Boko Haram, in the region, Shaarawi pointed out.

Shaarawi is also concerned that Burkina Faso may face challenges from countries ruled by dictatorships and wary of democracy. According to Shaarawi, Gaddafi’s regime had a hand in the coup that unseated Sankara.

General Gilbert Diendere, a Republican Guard commander who staged a coup in September 2015 to block the country’s transition towards democracy, is now standing trial on charges of murdering President Sankara in 1987.

During the Diendere-led coup, Republican Guard troops took both the transitional president, Michel Kafondo, and his prime minister hostage for a few days. The Republican Guard has now been disbanded.

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