Burkina Faso holds the president’s vote in ‘a climate of fear’ among jihadist attacks

Burkina Faso goes to the polls on Sunday in the presidential and legislative elections in the midst of a deteriorating security situation. Jowharinterviews an expert on the country’s choices and challenges.

While much of the world’s attention was focused on the US presidential race, 2020 has been a hectic election year for West Africa, with a number of countries going to the polls in elections with high domestic and regional geopolitical efforts.

In Guinea, the incumbent, Alpha Condé, was declared the winner of the October 18 presidential election, giving the 82-year-old politician a third term after a controversial constitutional referendum that restored his two-time limit.

On the Ivory Coast, the economic hub of Francophone West Africa, President Alassane Ouattara was also declared the winner – with more than 94% of the vote – in the vote on 31 October. Like its Guinean counterpart, the Ivorian sitting oversaw a constitutional amendment that restored the political calendar, annulled Ouattara’s first two presidential terms, and reduced his term to zero.

Tiny, locked Burkina Faso is the latest to join the West African constituency 2020, which will end in Niger on December 27.

Unlike its neighbors, Burkina Faso’s presidential election on Sunday is not overshadowed by constitutional disputes. However, the security situation in this nation has decreased dramatically by about 20 million people. Jihadist attacks in the wider Sahel region have spread to northern and eastern Burkina Faso over the past five years, claiming more than 1,200 lives and forcing about one million people out of their homes.

The declining security situation has aroused nostalgia for the stability the country enjoyed under the former strongman, Blaise Compaoré, who ruled Burkina Faso for 27 years before being fired in a popular uprising in 2014. Compaoré – or “Beau Blaise” (Beautiful Blaise) he received his nickname in his youth – has lived in exile in the Ivory Coast neighborhood. But his shadow has woven large over the campaign track 2020.

The leader of Sunday’s election, President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, has campaigned on a platform for “peace and victory for our people.” But growing terrorist attacks and jihadist victories during his five years in office have undermined his election promises.

Kaboré faces a tough challenge from Zéphirin Diabré, a former Burkinabe finance minister and second in the 2015 presidential election.

The 2020 campaign would have seemed like a 2015 round if it were not for a newcomer among the 12 presidential candidates. Eddie Komboigo, a 56-year-old wealthy accountant, is on a ticket to the CDP (Congress for Democracy and Progress) – Compaoré’s party.

Once perceived as a stable West African nation, the fate of Burkina Faso is now closely linked to the Sahel region, where 5,000 French troops are deployed during Operation Barkhane and cooperate with a new European Operation Takuba force. Jowharspoke with Tanguy Quidelleur, an expert on Burkina Faso, at the Institute for Social Sciences’ Policy on Sunday’s elections.

FRANCE 24: In 2015, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré’s election aroused much hope as it seemed that the country was turning a historic page after Blaise Campaoré’s 27 year in office. How is the situation today?

Tanguy Quidelleur: There is a kind of disillusionment after putting so much hope into the post-Blaise Campaoré era. In the face of the deteriorating security situation, the lack of economic prospects, there is sometimes nostalgia. Some voters who were basically anti-Campaoré are now wondering if it was worth the effort. The political climate is quite gloomy and there is not much tension over the votes.

When you talk to Burkinabes on the street, you see a form of resignation and the majority of the people have no real hope of change with this election. They are already struggling to cope with daily life. The concerns revolve around the cost of living and access to basic necessities. It is many [internally] displaced people and that the Covid-19 epidemic has affected many activities.

Roch Marc Christian Kaboré has been criticized for the security situation. He is also criticized for relying too much on customer list networks. He has campaigned for the development of infrastructure and roads, especially in areas where jihadist groups operate.

Q24: The choice is made in the middle of an extremely uncertain security situation. Has this affected the campaign?

TQ: During the campaign, it was extremely difficult to ensure the candidates’ security and access to certain areas. Jihadist groups targeted civil servants, civilians, community leaders and religious leaders, which also gave rise to tensions between communities.

The campaign was marked by violence and a climate of fear. The campaign was called off on November 11, when 14 soldiers were killed in an ambush. A Member of Parliament’s vehicle was also aimed a few days earlier and killed the driver.

Q24: Given this context, could it affect turnout on Sunday?

TQ: There will be a gap between city centers – which are well secured and where voters will be able to go to the polls on Sunday – and the countryside where people in many places will not be able to go to the polls. There are also almost one million displaced people living in camps.

To alleviate this situation, an amendment has been made to the Electoral Act: if the election cannot be held in certain polling stations in exceptional cases, it can still be validated.

This means that some of the voters are excluded. People will not feel represented and this raises questions about the legitimacy of the vote.

Q24: The other big issue has been “national reconciliation” after the fall of Blaise Campaoré. Despite his physical absence, is the former president still an inevitable presence?

TQ: The Burkinabe political class was educated and nurtured by Blaise Campaoré. Some political actors do not hesitate to talk about the former head of state’s return to the country as part of what they call “national reconciliation”. This is essentially a strategy to seduce those who are nostalgic for the old regime and to lift CDP votes. This call for return is above all symbolic – it is part of the political game, because in reality the former president will have no choice but to face justice. [if he returns to Burkina Faso]. This return and this “national reconciliation” therefore remains very hypothetical.

This article has been translated from the original into French.