The country has remained stable under long-serving President Compaore, but now elections are looming. The transition could be tricky, a new report says, and attempts to amend the constitution to enable Compaore to run again could spark a popular uprising
Burkina Faso, a landlocked country of the SaheI, has since 1987 been ruled by President Blaise Compaoré, who established a semi-authoritarian regime, moving from a repressive military rule to a formal multiparty democratic system, but one fully controlled by the president. This enabled him to stabilise a country marked by five coups between 1960 and 1987.
With less than three years left for presidential elections due in 2015, a new report is asking President Compaoré to facilitate a smooth transition and at the same time calling upon international partners, in particular Western allies, to focus no longer exclusively on the mediation role in Mali and the monitoring of security risks in West Africa.
“They should also pay close attention to domestic politics and the promotion of democratic consolidation in Burkina Faso,” says the report by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.
The Crisis Group report rereleased on July 22 simultaneously in Brussels and Dakar warns that any attempt to amend the constitution, which does not allow the president to contest the presidency in 2015 and run for a fifth term, might provoke a repeat of the 2011 popular uprisings.
On the other hand, even if Compaoré abides by the constitution and leaves power in 2015, his succession may still prove challenging as he has dominated the political scene for decades, placing severe restrictions on political space, says the report and asks international partners to encourage him to uphold the constitution and prepare for a smooth, democratic transition.
“Preserving Burkina Faso’s stability is all the more important given that the country is located at the centre of an increasingly troubled region, with the political and military crisis in neighbouring Mali possibly spilling over into Niger,” says the report.
“Burkina Faso has been spared upheaval so far thanks to its internal stability and solid security apparatus”, says Rinaldo Depagne, Crisis Group’s West Africa Senior Analyst. “But deterioration of the political climate in the run-up to 2015 could make the country less immune,” he adds.
“Burkina Faso has significant diplomatic influence in West Africa”, stresses Gilles Yabi, Crisis Group’s West Africa Project Director. “The president and his men have succeeded in positioning themselves as indispensable mediators in the resolution of regional crises. Turmoil in Burkina Faso would not only mean the loss of a key ally and a strategic base for France and the U.S., it would also further weaken the capacity of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to deal with conflicts and political crises.”
The report points out that President Compaoré is the only actor capable of facilitating a smooth transition. By upholding the constitution and resisting the temptation of dynastic succession, he could preserve stability, which is the main accomplishment of his long rule. Any other scenario would pave the way for a troubled future. “Similarly, the opposition and civil society organisations should act responsibly and work to create conditions for a democratic process that would preserve peace and stability,” adds the report.
In fact, there are few alternatives for democratic succession notes the report. The opposition is divided and lacks financial capacity and charismatic, experienced leaders; and none of the key figures in the ruling party has emerged as a credible successor. “If Compaoré fails to manage his departure effectively, the country could face political upheaval similar to that which rocked Côte d’Ivoire in the 1990s following the death of Félix Houphouët-Boigny,” cautions the Crisis Group.
Another threat to Burkina Faso’s stability is social explosion, the report says. The society has modernised faster than the political system, and urbanisation and globalisation have created high expectations for change from an increasingly young population. However, despite strong economic growth, inequalities are widespread and the country is one of the poorest in the world.
Repeated promises of change have never been fulfilled, and this has led to broken relations between the state and its citizens as well as a loss of authority at all levels of the administration. Public distrust sparked violent protests in the first half of 2011 that involved various segments of the society, including rank-and-file soldiers in several cities.
The report continues: For the first time, the army appeared divided between the elites and the rank and file, and somewhat hostile to the president, who has sought to control the defence and security apparatus from which he had emerged. The crisis was only partially resolved, and local conflicts over land, traditional leadership and workers’ rights increased in 2012. Such tensions are especially worrying given the country’s history of social struggle and revolutionary tendencies since the 1983 Marxist-inspired revolution.
The Crisis Group analysts are of the view that Blaise Compaoré’s long reign is showing the usual signs of erosion that characterises semi-autocratic rule. Several key figures of his regime have retired, including the mayor of Ouagadougou, Simon Compaoré – not a relative of the president – who managed the country’s capital for seventeen years; and billionaire Oumarou Kanazoé, who until his death was a moderate voice among the Muslim community. In addition, the death of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, a major financial partner, was a blow to Compaoré’s regime.
President Compaoré has responded to these challenges with reforms that have not met popular expectations and have only scratched the surface. Further, he has remained silent on whether he will actually leave office in 2015. He has concentrated power, in the country and within his Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) party, in the hands of a small circle of very close allies and family members, including his younger brother François Compaoré, who was elected to parliament for the first time on December 2, 2012. The president’s silence and his brother’s political ascent continue to fuel uncertainty, says the Crisis Group.
* This article was first published by Indepthnews.
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