Category Archives: Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso – Interesting constitutional innovations

It’s here – Burkina Faso’s new draft constitution. The constitutional review commission presented the results of its deliberations on January 10th. The 92-member commission — with representation from the ruling MPP-party, opposition parties (including the CDP of former President Blaise Compaoré) and civil society (including labor unions and traditional authorities) — was officially seated on September 29, 2016 by President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré. The commission is charged with proposing a new constitution that will institute the country’s Fourth Republic.

So what is in this proposed new constitutional text? What are its key provisions in terms of presidential power, executive-legislative relations and term limits?

First of all, the intent is to keep a semi-presidential regime, with a directly elected president and a prime minister accountable to the legislature. The president must appoint a prime minister “from within the legislative majority,” after consulting with that majority (Article 66). Those provisions are the same as in the current constitution from 1991, last amended in November 2015 by the National Transition Council.

Interestingly, Article 56 of the new draft constitution specifies that in the event that the prime minister is backed by a legislative majority which does not support the president, “both have to determine by consensus major policy orientations in the greater interest of the Nation.” Article 56 continues: “In the absence of consensus, it is the Government [i.e. the prime minister and cabinet] that determines and conducts the policy of the Nation.” This is an innovation compared to the current constitution.

In other words, in the event of a conflictual cohabitation between a president and a prime minister from opposing parties, executive power would swing to the prime minister. On the other hand, the president would retain the power to dismiss the prime minister “in the higher interest of the Nation” (Article 66), as is also currently the case. As in the present constitution, a new prime minister and cabinet would require legislative approval within 30 days of being appointed (Article 87), through a vote on the government’s policy statement.

The president’s power of initiative to dismiss the prime minister would keep Burkina Faso in the camp of president-parliamentary regimes, per Shugart and Carey’s (1992) definition. The president may also dissolve the legislature and call for new elections (Article 70), but cannot do so again till 12 months have passed since the last dissolution (same as today’s constitution). Conversely, it would only take 25 percent of legislators to initiate a censure vote against the government (Article 115), as opposed to 30 percent in the current constitution.

The president would keep his reserved policy domain, in the area of defense policy. The head of state is the commander in chief and appoints the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces. The president is thus responsible for determining the strategic orientations of the national defense policy and for chairing the National Defense Council (Article 72). This would be a significant power to retain, in the event of cohabitation.

The proposed constitution maintains presidential term limits at two 5-year terms. It was the attempted removal of this term-limit provision which brought about a popular uprising that led to the fall of former President Compaoré in October 2014. An absolute majority of votes is required to win the election, with a run-off if no candidate is able to secure such a majority in the first round (Article 57). An important innovation is the “locking” (‘verrouillage’) of presidential term limits by including them among those intrinsic democratic elements of the constitution (listed in Article 192) that cannot be changed (along with the republican and lay nature of the state, multipartism, and the integrity of the national territory). Another interesting novelty is the introduction of term limits also for legislators (a maximum of three 5-year terms, Article 101). Furthermore, a deputy may serve a maximum of two terms as president of the national assembly (Article 107).

Finally, changing the constitution without recourse to a referendum would become more challenging: it would require a 4/5 legislative majority of members of parliament (Article 190) to pass changes without the need for a popular vote, compared to 3/4 of the members of the legislature as is currently the case.

Next steps: the draft constitution will be discussed in popular forums to be held in all 13 regions of the country and also shared with the diaspora in countries with a significant concentration of Burkinabe immigrants.  The text will thereafter be given to the president for comment and then finalized by the commission before submission to a popular referendum. It will be interesting to see if the proposed innovations – notably with regards to the division of executive powers in the event of disagreements between president and prime minister from opposing parties – will survive in the final version.

Constitutional reforms underway in West Africa

A number of countries in West Africa are undergoing a constitutional reform process, in pursuit of stronger, democratic institutions: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali. Senegal held a constitutional referendum earlier this year. In stark contrast to recent constitutional changes and ongoing debates in the Central Africa region – Congo Brazzaville, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo – where focus has been on extending presidential terms, the declared intent of some of these reforms is to build bulwarks against presidential overreach and overstay.

The constitutional changes in Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali follow the violent overturn of democratic processes in all three countries, albeit under very different circumstances. In Benin and Senegal, constitutional reform was a promise of the presidential campaigns of Patrick Talon and Macky Sall, respectively.

Constitutional review commissions in Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire are preparing completely new constitutions. A principal concern in Burkina Faso is to find ways to “lock in” presidential term limits and to better balance strong presidential powers. It was former President Blaise Compaoré’s attempt at removing presidential term limits that led to his overthrow in October 2014 in a popular uprising. A 92-member commission representing the ruling party, opposition parties (including the CDP of Compaoré) and civil society (including labor unions and traditional authorities) was seated in early June. Its members have two months to present a new draft constitution. The draft will undergo popular consultations, go to the president for comment and be finalized by the commission before submission to a popular referendum. Opposition parties have demanded, however, that the decisions of the constitutional commission be reached by consensus, threatening to walk out on the process otherwise.

In Cote d’Ivoire,  President Ouattara appointed a commission of 10 experts at the end of May, giving them a month to make proposals for a new constitution. During the month of June, Ouattara himself undertook consultations with opposition parties, civil society, traditional leaders and others to receive their suggestions before scheduling a referendum to take place before the end of the year. Key expected changes include the introduction of a vice-presidency and the rewording of article 35 which requires a presidential candidate to be born of both parents of Ivorian origin. The constitutional review process is controversial, however. Opposition parties criticize it for being insufficiently participatory, rushed and ill-timed, as the country has yet to fully heal and reconcile after the 2010 election-related violence.

In Mali, a 13-member expert commission is charged with proposing revisions to the 1992 constitution to incorporate provisions of the 2015 Algiers peace accord signed between the government of Mali and former rebel groups. The constitutional commission will have six months to complete its job. The 1992 constitution is the consensual product of the 1992 National Conference and is vested with significant popular legitimacy. It is unlikely to be completely scrapped and replaced.

The constitutional revision that passed by referendum in Senegal in March of this year shortened presidential terms from seven to five years, and added wording to clarify that “no one can serve more than two consecutive terms” (Art. 27). Other articles were amended to provide for greater oversight by the National Assembly and Constitutional Court, although changes affecting presidential powers are overall fairly minor.

In an even more radical move, newly elected President Patrice Talon of Benin has suggested that presidential terms be limited to one single term. A 35-member commission with representation from political parties and civil society was charged with proposing a series of political and institutional reforms. The commission submitted its report on June 28. The report includes two constitutional scenarios – one where the current two five-year terms are maintained, the other where they are replaced by one single six- or seven year term. The commission was divided on the issue, as some members were concerned a single term would not provide sufficient incentives for accountability.

The process and focus of these various constitutional reforms vary and reflect different priorities and political realities in each country. Overall, however, the combined picture is one of democratic dynamism that contrasts sharply with the institutional atrophy witnessed in other regions of the continent.

Burkina Faso – Analysis of local election results

Burkina Faso held local elections on May 22 for more than 19,000 councilor positions. The councilors subsequently choose the mayors for 386 towns.  Preliminary results to be confirmed by the highest administrative court (Conseil d’Etat) indicate that the ruling party MPP (Mouvement du Peuple pour le Progrès) may win control of as many as 75 percent of the mayor’s offices across the country.

The elections marked the end of the transition following the ouster of former President Blaise Compaoré in a popular uprising in October 2014, with new institutions now in place at all administrative levels. A total of 85 political parties and groupings fielded candidates. The elections were peaceful overall, but had to be postponed in three districts due to acts of vandalism and tensions. According to the independent election commission (CENI), voter turn-out among the 5.5 million registered voters was 48 percent; this is well below the 60 percent turnout for the November 2015 presidential and legislative polls and significantly lower than the 75 percent turnout for the last local elections in 2012.

A total of 43 political parties and groupings won representation, some securing seats only in a single commune.  The winner by far was the ruling MPP of President Roch Marc Kaboré (59 percent of seats), followed by the UPC (Union pour le Progrès et le Changement) of Zephirin Diabré (16 percent) and the CDP (Congrès pour la Démocratie et le Progrès), the former ruling party under Compaoré (11 percent). The top 10 are [with scores in brackets reflecting results in the 2012 local polls]:

  • MPP – 11,217 seats [did not exist in 2012]
  • UPC – 3,091 seats [up from 1,615]
  • CDP – 2,144 seats [down from 12,340]
  • NTD – 605 seats [did not exist in 2012]
  • NAFA – 454 seats [did not exist in 2012]
  • ADF/RDA – 317 seats [down from 1,746]
  • UNIR/PS – 290 seats [down from 396]
  • PDS/METBA – 282 seats [down from 506]
  • RDS – 163 seats [up from 109]
  • PAREN – 126 seats [up from 27]

The order of the top three political parties mirrors the order in which parties won seats in the November 2015 legislative polls. Among the top five scoring parties, three (names bolded in black) did not exist in 2012, illustrating that the reconfiguration of the political scene following the ouster of Compaoré is also reflected at the local level. The NTD is allied with the ruling MPP, while the NAFA is part of the opposition, with many members formerly belonging to the CDP or the ADF/RDA. The NAFA’s leader, Djibrill Bassolé, is currently under arrest, under suspicion of having supported a coup attempt against the transition government. The big losers in these local elections, compared to 2012, were not surprisingly the former ruling CDP as well as the ADF/RDA which stood with Compaoré in his bid to remove presidential term limits from the constitution.

Mayors in Burkina Faso are indirectly elected, by the councilors. In 253 out of the 363 communes for which results have been published, the MPP reportedly has enough seats to directly elect its candidate for mayor. Adding 25 communes more where the MPP can count on support from councilors from allied parties such as the NTD and UNIR/PS, the presidential majority should be able to control 278 (or 75 percent) of the mayor’s offices in the country according to Salif Diallo, interim MPP chairman. Only two out of 13 provincial capitals, Ziniaré (birthplace of Blaise Compaoré) and Dori (hometown of now defunct party leader Arba Diallo of the PDS/METBA) went to other parties, the CDP and PDS/METBA respectively. The position as city mayor of the capital Ouagadougou is likely to go to Armand Béouindé of the MPP, with the support of councilors from allied parties, while the UPC in alliance with the CDP could win control of four arrondissements (boroughs) of Ouagadougou.

With the electoral cycle now complete, Burkina Faso’s newly elected representatives at all levels face the challenge of delivering on the significant expectations of improved governance raised by the success of the 2014 popular uprising. The MPP, with the likely control of 75 percent of local governments, will be under particularly close scrutiny as to its ability to deliver on those expectations.

Africa – Presidential term limits and the third term tragedy

Africa is currently in the middle of a third term crisis. As presidents come up against the presidential term-limits included in many multi-party constitutions, a significant number are refusing to leave power gracefully. Instead, a number of leaders have sought to secure a third term. So far, this trend has taken in countries as otherwise diverse as Burkina Faso, Burundi, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda, and now, it seems, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In most cases, they have tried to do so through official channels, in other words by changing the law or appealing to the judiciary, rather than simply suspending the constitution and ruling by fiat. One reason for this is that there is strong domestic and international support for presidential term limits. Afrobarometer data suggests that typically over two-thirds of Africans support term limits, although there is considerable variation, with a high of 90% in Benin and a low of 44% in Algeria. As a result, leaders feel compelled to tread carefully, and to legitimise their strategies by pursuing them through formal channels.

Yet despite this, attempts to secure a third term have often triggered political unrest and in some cases widespread civil conflict. In both Burkina Faso and Burundi, efforts by unpopular presidents to stay in power come what may triggered mass protests and ultimately (very different forms of) military intervention. At the time of going to press, a further crisis appears to be brewing in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the President, Joseph Kabila, looks set to pursue an unconstitutional third term in office. On Thursday 5 May, the former Governor of Katanga, Moise Katumbi, announced that he would be contesting the presidency as the candidate of the three main opposition parties. Just hours later he tweeted that the president – his former ally – had sent the police force to surround his house and that he had appealed to the United Nations mission in the country to protect him. Unconfirmed local reports later suggested that it was only the intervention of UN soldiers that prevented Katumbi’s detention.

If so, the DRC has had a lucky escape. Opposition supporters have already been involved in violent clashes with the security forces in protest against the prospect of a prolonged Kabila presidency. The arrest of Katumbi would raise the political temperature yet further, increasing the prospects for conflict in the coming months. As allegations and rumours circulate unhindered, the threat of a broader political rupture becomes ever more likely.

The growing number of third term tragedies on the continent raises three important questions. First, when do presidents seek a third term and when do they not? Second, when are they successful? Third, when are a president’s attempts to serve a third term most likely to result in political conflict?

Should I stay or should I go

Despite the recent headlines it is important to remember that considerably more presidents have respected term limits than have broken them. For every Uganda there is a Zambia, for every Burundi there is a South Africa, for every Rwanda there is a Kenya. There are a number of factors that appear to encourage presidents to seek third terms. First, the quality of democracy matters. Presidents in less democratic states who face weaker institutional checks and balances are more likely to try and break – or at least change – the rules. Good recent examples include Congo-Brazzaville and Djibouti.

Second, it is more feasible for presidents who govern countries that are more politically and economically independent from western influence to ignore international protests. As a result, leaders who enjoy greater international leverage because their countries feature valuable natural resources or are of considerable geo-strategic importance, try to secure a third term much more frequently than those that are much more dependent on Western trade. This is one of the reasons that President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, a country that recently found large oil reserves and is a key ally of United States in the war-on-terror, is able to stay in power indefinitely.

Third, presidents who enjoy greater political control are more likely to judge that it is possible to secure a third term, and hence more likely to risk pursuing one. Political control comes through two main routes: the ruling party and the security forces. Presidents are far more likely to try and secure third terms in dominant-party states in which the ruling party secures over 60% of seats in the legislature, such as Namibia and Rwanda, and when they have tight control over the army and police, as in Djibouti and Uganda. Under these conditions, it is often possible to both change the constitution through the legislature and silence any opposition to this strategy.

You can’t always get what you want

Of course, presidents do not always get it right and a number of third term bids have been unsuccessful. In countries such as Nigeria and Zambia, presidents failed in part because they could not take their own parties with them. As a result, they struggled to pass the necessary legislation, and, facing strong opposition from civil society groups and other parties, abandoned their plans. Rather than undermining democracy, this process can actually give it a short in the arm, and deter future presidents from pursuing similar strategies.

However, unsuccessful attempts to stay in power can also have far more problematic consequences. In Burkina Faso and Burundi, leaders overestimated their political control and underestimated the strength of opposition. As a result, they struggled to push through their third term ambitions. In Burundi, for example, President Nkurunziza lost a critical vote in the legislature to change the law, which forced him to put pressure on the judiciary to interpret the constitution in a way that would allow him to stand again. Although the Supreme Court ultimately ruled in his favour, it was immediately apparent that it only did so as a result of high levels of intimidation, further undermining the president’s credibility. As a result, the verdict did little to dampen opposition protests against his actions.

Limited political control undermined the position of President Nkurudiza in a second way. In the midst of the public protests in May 2015, a group of army officers launched a coup attempt. Although it appears to have been a poorly coordinated effort and was eventually put down, the mutiny demonstrated the lack of unity within the armed forces, and the potential for the president’s limited control over the security forces to contribute to political instability.

The bigger they are the harder they fall

To date, presidential term limits have not tended to be the source of major political conflict when presidents have either a) been willing to give up on their ambitions in the face of widespread opposition (Nigeria, Zambia) or b) have enjoyed the political control needed to be able to force through their will with relatively little resistance (Uganda, Rwanda). The “problem category”, for want of a better term, is those cases in which conditions are not favourable to a third term bid but leaders try and force one through regardless.

In turn, this is most likely to happen in states in which presidents have most to gain from staying in office, and most to lose by giving up power. Good proxies for the benefits of office are the level of corruption and the presence of valuable natural resources, the combination of which can make a leader extremely wealthy. A decent proxy for the costs of leaving power is whether a country has a history of political violence, which tends to decrease the level of trust between rival leaders, and increase the potential that the head of state will be prosecuted for human rights violations when they step down.

This is not great news for the DRC, which is a highly corrupt resource rich state with a history of political conflict. Unless President Kabila bucks the continental pattern, he is unlikely to step down voluntarily. And if he proves to be willing to risk everything to stay in power, sending the police to surround Katumbi’s house is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg.

@fromagehomme

Burkina Faso’s New Government – Change and Continuity

On January 13, newly elected President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré named his cabinet, led by Prime Minister Paul Kaba Thieba. What are the key characteristics of this 29-member government? To what extent does it represent a break with the past? A closer look at the composition of the new cabinet reveals both significant political change and important institutional continuity.

This is the first instance of a real coalition government since multipartism was first introduced in Burkina Faso in 1970. There have been other governments into which the ruling party invited cabinet members from other parties, as did former President Blaise Compaoré in an effort to broaden his governing base and co-opt opposition. However, this is the first time that the president’s party does not by itself control a majority in the National Assembly. Kaboré’s People’s Movement for Progress (MPP) only won 55 of the 127 legislative seats, and thus had to form a coalition with a number of other, smaller parties, to secure a governing majority under Burkina Faso’s semi-presidential system [see earlier post on the results of the November 29, 2015 presidential and legislative elections here, and final results validated by the constitutional council here].

Seven smaller parties with a total of 14 seats – UNIR/PS (5 seats), NTD (3 seats), PAREN (2 seats), MDA (1 seat), ODT (1 seat), PDS/METBA (1 seat), RDS (1 seat) – have formed a parliamentary group, Burkindlim (which means integrity in mooré), that has become part of the presidential majority. The second largest party in parliament, the UPC with 33 seats, chose to remain in opposition. The opposition also includes the CDP, Compaoré’s party, which saw its representation slashed from 70 seats in the 2010 National Assembly to only 18 in the newly elected legislature.

The newly appointed cabinet thus includes four members from the three largest coalition partners – Nestor Bassière (Environment) and Somanogo Koutou (Water and Animal Resources) from UNIR/PS, Souleymane Sama (Transports) from the NTD, and Tahirou Barry (Culture) from PAREN.

The MPP has kept the strategic ministries of Defense (of which President Kaboré has taken charge himself as did Blaise Compaoré before him) and Interior. MPP-members also manage the ministries of Labor, Higher Education, Health, Agriculture, Water & Sanitation, Infrastructure, Commerce & Industry, Youth, Women’s Affairs, and Urbanism. A majority of the MPP cabinet members have previously served in elected or appointed positions under Compaoré, as CDP deputies or mayors, ministers or in other high-ranking posts in the administration. Kaboré himself had been both prime minister and chairman of the national assembly. This was before the creation of the MPP in early 2014 as a scission of CDP stalwarts disillusioned with Compaoré’s intent to remove presidential term limits.

Several technocrats with a background in international development have also joined the government. This includes Minister of Economy & Finance Rosine Coulibaly (a high-raking UN official) and Prime Minister Kaba Thieba himself.  Though maintaining a close friendship with Kaboré, Kaba Thieba has spent most of his career outside of Burkina Faso, serving for more than 20 years with the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO). There is not a single member from the military. Women take seven cabinet seats, most of which are centered on the economy and budget, including the Ministry for the Development of the Digital Economy.

Two well-known private media journalists, who were not afraid to provide often critical coverage of the Compaoré government, are in charge of the ministries of Foreign Affairs (former RFI-correspondent Alpha Barry) and Communication (Rémis Fulgance Dandjinou). An indication of the higher value placed on communication by Kaboré, compared to his predecessor.

Though there are many new faces in this government, about two thirds of its members have prior experience in elected or appointed positions or as career civil servants within the Compaoré administration.  This is not a government of civil society activists. “Balai Citoyen” (civic broom), one of the civil society organizations that played an important role in the demonstrations that brought down Compaoré, is only indirectly represented through the minister of Justice & Human Rights, René Bagoro. Bagoro is a friend of Guy Hervé Kam, the spokesperson for Balai Citoyen; they have both in the past headed the Union of Magistrates of Burkina Faso (SBM).

The MPP owes much of its success at the polls to its ability to win over former CDP-supporters, leveraging organizational structures, experience and contacts developed while its leading triumvirate – Kaboré, Salif Diallo (the new chair of the national assembly) and Simon Compaoré (minister of the Interior) – were in commanding positions within the CDP, before they separated ways with Compaoré.

This element of continuity may bode well for Burkina Faso’s prospects of consolidating recent, significant democratic gains. Unlike most of the Arab spring countries, Burkina Faso was not a hollowed-out state, when the October 2014 uprising swept away Compaoré. The election commission and constitutional council remained legitimate and facilitated the transition. Opposition political parties were organized and ready to participate in competitive elections. Citizens took to the streets and loyalist forces blocked a coup attempt by pro-Compaoré elements within the presidential guard trying to derail the transition in September 2015, days before the scheduled presidential poll.

Kaboré’s government thus has much to build on – and high expectations to fulfill. The new government will have to secure improvements in human development, notably in terms of access to quality education where Burkina Faso lacks woefully behind, ranking 49th out of 54 countries on the continent, according to the Mo Ibrahim Index. Kaboré and his team will also have to strengthen internal security in the face of extremist threats following the January 15 terrorist attack in Ouagadougou, while at the same time reforming the military. The government will be closely monitored by an active civil society and a parliamentary opposition of a significant size. It will have to demonstrate its capacity for change.

#Burkinavote – Analysis of presidential and legislative election results

Burkina Faso has a president-elect, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré and a newly elected legislature. Kaboré won in Burkina Faso’s first democratic presidential poll in 37 years held on November 29, 2015, with 53.5 percent of the votes in the first round. Fourteen presidential candidates vied for the support of 5.5 million Burkinabe voters. In legislative elections held on the same day, 3,529 candidates representing 81 parties and 18 political groupings ran for the 127 legislative seats.

Results of the presidential election were made public in the early morning hours of December 1. The runner-up, Zéphirin Diabré who secured 29.7 percent of the vote, conceded defeat via twitter even before the election commission had time to announce the results. Voter turn-out was 60 percent. The official results were validated by an independent parallel vote tabulation exercise conducted by a civil society election monitoring coalition, CODEL.

These peaceful, well organized polls were a major feat for a country emerging from a 13-month transition following the ousting of former President Blaise Compaoré in a popular uprising last year, and after an attempted coup by Compaoré supporters just six weeks ago. “For once I am relieved to have witnessed a boring election on the African continent,” said Dr. Chris Fomunyoh, Senior Associate for Africa at NDI – a sentiment echoed by many observers of elections on the continent.

So who is Roch Marc Christian Kaboré? He is certainly a seasoned politician, having served in a number of positions under Compaoré, whose government he first joined as minister of transports in 1989. Kaboré was prime minister from 1994 to 1996, chairman of the national assembly from 2002 to 2012, and president of the ruling party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), from 2003 to 2012.

By some accounts, he was Compaoré’s anointed successor, until relations soured as Compaoré’s brother François gradually took control of the CDP. The situation came to a head in January 2014, when Kaboré and two other CDP heavyweights – former mayor of Ouagadougou Simon Compaoré, and former presidential advisor Salif Diallo – left the party to form the People’s Movement for Progress (MPP). The impetus for the break-up were the maneuverings by Compaoré and his supporters aimed at removing constitutional term limits and allowing Compaoré to run again in this year’s election, after 27 years in power. See earlier post on the coalescing of forces opposing another term for Compaoré here.

His solid CDP-roots notwithstanding, Kaboré has promised “a complete break with the old system.” He certainly faces great expectations and was quick to reiterate campaign promises of reviving the economy and improving access to public services, in an interview hours after being designated the winner.

Kabore’s knock-out in the first round did not translate into a legislative majority for his party, the MPP, however. Preliminary legislative results published by the election commission on December 2 give the MPP only a relative majority in the newly elected 127-seat national assembly:

Party Seats
MPP 55
UPC 33
CDP 18
UNIR/PS 5
ADF/RDA 3
Smaller parties Remaining 13 seats

In Burkina Faso’s semi-presidential system with its dual executive, this means Kaboré will have to collaborate with other parties in the legislature to select a prime minister, notably the Union for Progress and Change (UPC) of Zéphirin Diabré. This need for coalition building promises a welcome change from the past. Among the priorities of the new government will be the delicate task of facilitating an inclusive constitutional reform process, a piece of unfinished business left over by the the transition government.

Francophone Africa – Important election year ahead

Francophone Africa will see six presidential elections take place this year, many of which in countries emerging from crisis and violence. Legislative and local polls are scheduled in five and six countries, respectively. 2015 will thus be a bellwether of democratic development trends in Central and West Africa over the next several years. Will democratic gains be consolidated in countries such as Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea, which last time saw significant election-related violence in contested presidential polls? Will presidential and legislative races in the Central African Republic (CAR) finally bring peace and stability following the March 2013 coup? Will Burkina see a complete renewal of its political leadership through upcoming national and local polls, following the ouster of Blaise Compaoré in a popular uprising in October 2014? How will debates around presidential term limits evolve in Togo and Burundi (and the two Congos scheduled to have presidential polls next year)?

Table 1: 2015 elections in Francophone Africa

Country Presidential Legislative Local polls
Benin April (TBC) March (TBC)
Burkina Faso October October TBD
Burundi June May May
CAR July (TBC) TBD
Chad TBD
Cote d’Ivoire October
DRC TBD
Guinea Conakry June (TBC) TBD
Mali TBD
Togo March

As indicated in Table 1 above, the Togolese will be the first to kick off the Francophone presidential contests, in March – preceded by their Anglophone brethren in Zambia (January) and Nigeria (February). Faure Gnassingbé will stand for a third term, as presidential term limits were eliminated already in 2002 under his father’s rule. Without the reintroduction of term limits, which opposition parties are clamoring for, Faure – who is only 48 years old – could well top or even surpass his father’s 38 year rule. The opposition may feel validated by the findings of a recent Afrobarometer polling of Togolese across the country. The survey found that even among the president’s supporters, 78% of those interviewed are in favor of presidential term limits.

In Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza will similarly stand for a third term using a technicality – that he wasn’t directly elected the first time – to justify his candidature. The fragile peace in the country could be threatened by shrinking political space and the apparent collapse of the powersharing agreement enshrined in the 2000 Arusha Peace Accords, following opposition by Tutsi-led Uprona to Nkurunziza’s third bid for the presidency. According to Afrobarometer (Figure 2), a slight majority (51%) of Burundians agree with the opposition on the desirability of term limits.

In Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire, presidents who came to power five years ago in highly contested polls marred by violence, particularly in Cote d’Ivoire, will stand for a second term – Alpha Condé in Guinea and Alassane Ouattara in Cote d’Ivoire. In highly polarized political environments, characterized by deep mistrust between supporters of the incumbents and their leading rivals, the independent election commissions have a huge responsibility for the organization of well administered polls that can build confidence in the credibility of the electoral outcome. In both countries, continued dialogue between government and opposition can help build consensus around the electoral calendar and abate tensions.

In CAR, hope is high that the upcoming presidential poll can help bring stability to the country. However, there is concern among some Central African civic and political leaders that the transition process is overly driven by the international community, which is pressuring for a compressed election calendar – with presidential polls to take place in the middle of the rainy season, in July. Greater ownership of the transition and electoral process by the Central Africans will be important for ensuring the legitimacy of the newly elected leaders of the country.

In Burkina Faso, interim president Michel Kafando has recently announced coupled legislative and first round presidential polls in October, with the presidential run-off to take place in November, if there is one. These will be the most competitive elections in nearly three decades. Some Burkinabe are worried, however, that the military maintains undue influence over the process, following the nomination of Lt. Col. Isaac Zida as prime minister. Zida was second in command of the presidential guard and appointed as transition leader by the military in the days following Compaoré’s ouster, though he was forced to rapidly relinquish power to a civilian by significant domestic and international pressure.  The transition roadmap is unclear on the relative distribution of authority and responsibilities between president and prime minister and some civil society activists are quite cozy with the military. So it will be important for independent-minded civil society groups to maintain an active monitoring of the transition process, and for political parties to remain united in their effort to push for transparent, credible polls.

All in all, 2015 promises to be an interesting election year. The stakes are high for the individual countries discussed here, and their election outcomes will influence the prospects for strengthening democratic institutions and practices across the continent.

Burkina Faso – President Compaoré swept away by people power, what next?

Blaise Compaoré announced on Friday, October 31, that he was stepping down “to preserve democratic gains and social peace.” In a rare demonstration of people power in Sub-Saharan Africa, Compaoré was forced out by massive, sustained demonstrations over the past week, with hundreds of thousands of people protesting his move to remain in power by amending the constitution.

The demonstrations culminated on Thursday, Oct. 30, the day the National Assembly was expected to change constitutional term-limits, Compaoré having secured the allegiance of enough parliamentarians for the vote to pass. The amendment would have allowed Compaoré to stand for office again in 2015, after 27 years in power. Instead, the National Assembly, having lost all legitimacy in the eyes of the population, was burned down.

Activists from “Balai citoyen” (“citizen broom,” a reference to sweeping away corruption) – an organization led by two singers and inspired by the Senegalese youth movement “Y’en a marre” – were among those leading the demonstrators.  The vast majority of those in the streets were youth – and a recurring complaint that in their lifetime they have never known any other president than Blaise.

In a last-ditch effort to maintain control of the situation, Compaoré withdrew the proposed constitutional amendment, dissolved the government and declared a state of emergency, Thursday afternoon. Too little, too late. By midday on Friday he was gone. Who has taken over in his place?

Who will guide the transition? Reflecting the suddenness of this unexpected outcome, top military brass and civilian leadership from opposition parties and civil society groups scrambled on Friday to present a common front and a coherent message. For most of the day, the country appeared rudderless, as looting of homes, hotels, banks and stores belonging to members of Compaoré’s family, the ruling CDP and allied parties intensified across the country.

First the army chief of staff, General Honoré Traoré declared himself head of state and president of the transition. Then the second in command of the presidential guard, Lt. Colonel Isaac Zida, said he was the one in charge. Zida had earlier in the day served as spokesperson for the armed forces, informing the population of Compaoré’s departure, but he apparently saw another role for himself.

The confusion was lifted, at least from the army’s perspective, Saturday morning, as the joint chiefs of staff and other officers of the armed forces declared Zida their unanimous choice as leader of the transition. Opposition party and civil society leaders do not, however, see it that way, and demand that a civilian be charged with leading the transition.

While the opposition is unified in resisting recuperation by the armed forces of the popular uprising, which by some accounts has cost 30 people their lives, there seems to be a lack of consensus as to who should then preside over the transition. Ouagadougou lived through another chaotic day on Sunday, as two separate presidential candidates – retired General Lougué and opposition party leader Saran Sérémé –  were brought to the national radio and TV-station to declare themselves president. None of them with the coordinated blessing of opposition political parties that seemed to have lost control of the situation. As demonstrators amassed outside the TV-station and the situation appeared to be spinning out of control, the army dispersed the crowd and blocked access to the Nation’s Square – rebaptized Revolutionary Square by the demonstrators. A demonstrator was killed.

Finally, Sunday afternoon Zida began to engage in direct dialogue with representatives  from the coordination of opposition political parties and civil society groups, diplomatic representatives, including the ambassadors of France, the EU and the US, and former president Jean Baptiste Ouedraogo. Talks are to continue next with representatives of religious and traditional authorities as well as unions and other civil society components.

The coming days will be crucial for determining the further course the transition will take. Already, Burkina is celebrated on twitter (#Burkina, #lwili) as an example by civic and political activists in other countries on the continent where incumbents are considering tinkering with constitutional term limits (the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo Brazzaville and Rwanda). All the more reason for Burkinabe democrats, regional bodies (the AU and ECOWAS) and international partners (the UN, France, the EU and the US) to maintain pressure on the military leadership of the country to do the right thing.

Burkina Faso – Mounting Opposition to Another Term for President Blaise Compaoré

President Blaise Compaoré’s pillars of support are quickly eroding, as the 2015 presidential election approaches. In early January, 75 members of the ruling party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), abandoned the party, including three political heavyweights – former chair of the National Assembly Roch March Kaboré, former mayor of Ouagadougou Simon Compaoré, and former presidential advisor Salif Diallo. The three had been sidelined as Blaise’s brother François gradually took over control of the CDP, over the past two years. Their example was followed by 14 more desertions last week, including the high profile stepping down of CDP-member of parliament Victor Tiendrebeogo – a leading traditional chief and representative of the Moro Naaba, the king of the Mossi (Blaise himself is a Mossi).

The reasons put forward by those who have resigned include complaints about lack of internal democracy within the party, and the apparent intention of the sitting president to run again – after nearly 27 years in power. The current constitution, last amended in January 2002, includes a two-term presidential term-limit (Article 37). Blaise Compaoré was elected for the second time under that constitution in December 2010 and should therefore not be eligible to stand again. However, the CDP has been pushing for a revision of this article of the constitution, and the president himself has not excluded the possibility of asking the ‘sovereign people’ of Burkina Faso for their opinion on the matter, through a referendum.

A related matter is the seating of the recently created Senate. Political opposition parties have long argued that this institution is another convenient tool for pushing through a constitutional amendment eliminating presidential term-limits. Opposition parties have cleverly crafted their criticism of the Senate in terms of budgetary concerns, striking a chord with many Burkinabe citizens who suffer under “la vie chère” (the high cost of living).

Joining forces with other opposition leaders, the ex-CDP barons organized the country’s biggest demonstration in decades, on Saturday, January 18, taking place simultaneously in the capital, Ouagadougou, and the country’s second largest city, Bobo Dioulasso. Opposition party activists were joined in the streets by civil society members belonging to organizations such as “Balai citoyen” (“the citizen broom,” a reference to sweeping away corruption) – a citizen movement led by two singers and inspired by the Senegalese youth movement “Y’en a marre.” The protests remained peaceful, as marchers chanted slogans against the Senate and against revising Article 37 of the constitution.

The next presidential poll in Burkina Faso is still 22 months away. Tentatively scheduled for November 2015, the election is already starting to feel like a race, however, with opposition to President Blaise Compaoré steadily gathering steam. The loss of support by the traditional chiefs and by respected CDP leaders is a heavy blow to Compaoré. Against what appears as mounting popular opposition to his staying on for another term, he may choose to nurture his statesman’s image earned through his role as mediator in regional crises. Compaoré may also remember how quickly things got out of hand only three years ago, when popular protests against rising prices combined with a military mutiny spreading to barracks all across the country to severely threaten his rule. He may have more to win by stepping down, than by insisting on another term. After all, the legislature already passed an amnesty law in 2012, granting Compaoré and all other presidents of Burkina Faso since independence from France in 1960 immunity from prosecution.