Burkina Faso’s democratic, post-transition elections at the end of 2015 launched Roch Marc Christian Kaboré into his current role as president. The next elections are rapidly approaching, and President Kaboré is seeking his second and, constitutionally, final term. How are things shaping up for the November 2020 contest?
Kaboré’s party, the MPP (Mouvement du Peuple pour le Progrès), won a plurality in the 2015 legislative elections, electing to form a coalition with the Burkindlim parliamentary group to ensure majority support in the legislature. Like France, Burkina Faso has a semi-presidential political system, with both a popularly elected president serving a five-year term, and a prime minister/cabinet bound by legislative responsibility. Paul Kaba Thiéba was appointed prime minister in January 2016; after a reshuffle in February 2017, Thiéba resigned in January 2019, leading to the appointment of Christophe Dabiré in January 2019.
Kaboré and the new government faced high expectations in the wake of the 2015 transitional government and Blaise Compaoré’s exit in 2014. The government quickly announced an ambitious national project of economic and social development (Plan national de développement économique et sociale, PNDES). In it, the government identified three fundamental problems facing the country: matters of governance, the quality of human capital, and the structural transformation of the economy. These underlying issues were intended to serve as the keystones of programs to address health and education reforms, as well as changes in the government’s policies designed to attract business investments.
Kaboré and his government’s efforts to implement these policies have been plagued by the escalating security crisis throughout the country. Shortly after naming his first PM and government in 2016, the attack on the Hotel Splendid and Cappucino restaurant signaled a new stage in the violence that has continued to expand in the years since. Polls conducted by the Burkinabè CGD (Centre pour la gouvernance démocratique) as early as year two in Kaboré’s term already revealed the disappointment of many Burkinabè regarding the government’s performance, with a majority of respondents saying they were dissatisfied with the president, and about half saying they lacked confidence in the PNDES. While there has been progress on certain elements, such as free healthcare for women and children under five and the modernization of fiscal administration, Kaboré’s record remains mixed.
One of the most pressing issues facing the upcoming elections is an August 2020 modification to the electoral code, which ruled that election results could be validated even in the event that some areas were unable to vote due to insecurity. The modification to the electoral code was passed with 107 out of 120 of the deputies at the National Assembly in favor. The majority argued that the modification allows the preservation of democracy, with the opposition arguing that the modification is anti-democratic and deprives many of their right to vote. The repercussions of this electoral modification are already being felt by Burkinabè, as some 400,000 citizens in 17.4% of electoral units were unable to register to vote, which will exclude them from voting in November altogether.
Other recent developments for the presidential elections include the provisional validation of 14 presidential candidates by the CENI (Commission électorale nationale indépendante) on 10 October 2020, and the announcement by the MPS party (Mouvement Patriotique pour le Salut) that their candidate for the presidency, former transitional Prime Minister Yacouba Isaac Zida, would not be permitted to enter the country. According to a statement released by the president of the MPS, Burkinabè authorities announced that if Zida were to return to Burkina, he would be arrested at the airport in Ouagadougou for “desertion in a time of peace and insubordination.” Zida was previously a member of Compaoré’s presidential guard (RSP), before he assumed his role in the transitional government and helped to disband the RSP.
The main challenges for the incoming president remain quite similar to those that faced the Kaboré administration in 2015. Insecurity due to the expansion of violent extremist activity throughout the country remains a major obstacle to other political efforts to reduce poverty and increase economic prosperity. The Kaboré government has attempted to address the longstanding question of the role of community-based armed groups, such as the Koglwéogo, with its creation of the VDP (Volontaires pour la défense de la patrie) in January 2020. The bill was passed unanimously by the deputies of the National Assembly. The government cites a desire to prevent these groups from acting as militias, but it remains to be seen whether the formalization of their role helps to reduce the accusations of ethnically-based attacks on groups such as the Fulani in the northern regions of the country. Ethnic affiliation in Burkina has not traditionally been particularly politically salient or at the root of violence, but recent reports suggest that violence against certain groups presents a risk moving forward.
Establishing some measure of security is key for all other projects touted by presidential hopefuls, including public health and education priorities, as well as in key industries such as mining. While Burkina Faso has managed the COVID-19 pandemic much better than many other countries, public health initiatives remain limited by the climate of insecurity, making gains in the fight against various diseases and the expansion of care challenging. Insecurity has also resulted in the closure of many schools – in January 2019 it was estimated that 1000 schools had been destroyed or forced to close due to violence, leaving roughly 150,000 children without access.
No matter the outcome of the November elections, the next president and government will find that the challenges they face resemble those facing the Kaboré regime in 2015. Until the violence and insecurity is minimized, it will be difficult for Burkina’s leaders to focus on the social and economic projects they envision.