Burkina Faso: Nine Months to Complete the Transition

Burkina Faso: Nine Months to Complete the Transition

International Crisis Group



Blaise Compaoré’s resignation on 31 October 2014, the day after a historic insurrection, came as no surprise. Growing old and out of touch with reality, his regime has given way to an uncertain transition, led by a military-civilian government that must work with provisional, weak institutions. The government has nine months to organise presidential and legislative elections scheduled for 11 October 2015. International partners must help Burkina Faso achieve this goal, while maintaining a dialogue with the army to ensure it does not remain in power at the end of the transition. They also must not repeat the mistake of turning a blind eye to poor governance and supporting the Compaoré regime to safeguard their own strategic interests.

Burkina’s four key actors – the army, the former political opposition, civil society and citizens – have agreed on the necessity of a peaceful and inclusive transition to stabilise the country. Lieutenant-Colonel Yacouba Isaac Zida, a member of Compaoré’s former presidential guard, is the most powerful figure. Although the military has shown worrying signs of authoritarianism, Burkina is not governed by a junta. The army’s power is limited by a charter that requires it to share executive power with civilians, including President Michel Kafando. The military must also take into account a mobilised civil society and population as well as a vigilant international community that is providing the financial aid necessary for the survival of the current government.

However, three contradictions threaten the future stability of Burkina Faso: the tension between aspirations for a radical change of governance and the realistic or reformist desire for stability; the contrast between the short time available to complete the transition and the enormity of the task at hand; and the difficulty of organising elections and implementing reforms at a time when the government lacks funds. Finally, poor management of the dissolution of the former presidential guard, the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP), could pose a serious threat to the transition. Without consultation on this issue, elements from this elite unit, the best armed in the country, could react with violence.

After 27 years under a semi-authoritarian regime, popular expectations for change are high. Another risk that could derail the transition is increasing discontent if these expectations are not met. Justice should be served in the 1998 murder of Norbert Zongo, a journalist who was investigating the unresolved murder of David Ouédraogo, the driver of Blaise Compaoré’s brother. This case symbolises the abuses of the Compaoré regime and its resolution has been a longstanding demand of civil society. The improvement of living conditions is also a key demand of the people in one of the poorest countries in the world.

The government will not be able to simultaneously act on all fronts. As of late, it has pandered to popular demands by promising future reforms, but the more significant the promises, the harder it will be for the government to abide by them. Blaise Compaoré’s departure does not mean that Burkina Faso is out of the woods. Several measures are needed to guarantee the country’s stability during the transition.


To rebuild trust between the people and the authorities

To Burkina Faso’s transitional authorities:

  1. Define clearly the government’s priorities for the next nine months along four lines: rebuilding trust between the authorities and the population; improving the electoral law; elaborating a new draft constitution; and reforming the army.
  2. Follow up on the promises made by President Michel Kafando in his New Year message by finding resources to fund the program to tackle youth unemployment and by recruiting qualified health-care personnel.
  3. Conduct investigations into the murder of journalist Norbert Zongo and of David Ouédraogo and, if need be, ask for extradition of the perpetrators and sponsors of these two murders.

To the Economic Community of West African States, France, the U.S., European Union and Taiwan:

  1. Contribute to the swift implementation of the program to tackle youth unemployment announced by President Kafando.

To improve the political and electoral system

To Burkina Faso’s transitional authorities:

  1. Amend the electoral code to authorise independent candidates to contest local and legislative elections, and set a limit for financial contributions to legislative and presidential election campaigns.

To the Independent National Electoral Commission:

  1. Communicate with and encourage the involvement of young people in the elections.

To the second sub-commission in charge of constitutional, political and institutional reforms:

  1. Elaborate a new draft constitution that restricts the president’s prerogatives and includes a non-revisable article that sets a two-term limit.

To the Economic Community of West African States, France, the U.S., European Union and Taiwan:

  1. Provide immediately adequate funds to support the electoral process, in particular for revision of the voter rolls.

To make Burkina Faso’s military a force respectful of democratic values

To Burkina Faso’s transitional authorities:

  1. Dissolve the Presidential Security Regiment, in consultation with a majority of its members, and guarantee them continued payment of salaries, pension rights and career progression.
  2. Complete the government report on national defence in order to define security and defence issues for the next ten years.

To the Economic Community of West African States, France, the U.S., European Union and Taiwan:

  1. Maintain a dialogue with the army and the military officers in power to ensure they return to barracks at the end of the transition.

Dakar/Brussels, 28 January 2015

Africa Report N°222


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