Tag Archives: popular uprising

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.

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.