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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.