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Burkina Faso on The Brink of Political Crisis Ahead of Presidential Election

Less than a year ago, Burkina Faso's president of 27 years was forced to resign, a transitional government has been in charge, and now presidential elections may be delayed

by Pierre-Louis Caron
Jul 10 2015, 9:49pm

Image via Sputniktilt/Wikimedia Commons

Political observers fear Burkina Faso is headed for a new political crisis, less than a year after former president Blaise Compaoré was forced to resign following a civilian uprising over his re-election bid.

Compaoré was head of the landlocked West African nation, whose name translates as "land of honest men," for 27 years. According to the BBC, the economy is based on cotton, subject to droughts and fluctuations in the market, and the country is considered poor even by West African standards. A transitional government has been in charge for the past year.

With that government gearing up for a presidential election on October 11, many fear recent tensions between Prime Minister Yacouba Izaac Zida and the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP) could delay elections and have a devastating effect on the West African nation.

Instead of a highly anticipated televised address by transitional president Michel Kafando, the government announced plans to form a "consulting group of wise men" to "defuse social tension." In a statement released during the night between Thursday and Friday, the president explained that the role of the council would be to find solutions to ease the political tension that has gripped the country since February.

Compaoré was forced to step down last year, on October 31, following mass civilian protests against a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed him to present himself for re-election after 27 years in office.

The previous day, protesters had stormed the country's National Assembly in the capital, Ouagadougou, just as parliamentarians prepared to discuss the proposed amendment. Following the torching of parliament, violent protests had erupted around the country, forcing the president into exile.

Interim president Kafando and prime minister Zida — a former Burkinabé military officer — have been overseeing the transition in the lead-up to the October 11 elections. During Compaoré's rule, Zida served as deputy commander of the RSP — a 1,300-strong elite military unit that was widely considered to be the president's "iron fist."

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The transition is threatened by the fight opposing prime minister Isaac Zida and the members of the Regiment of Presidential Security (RSP) — an elite army unit that played a central role in the October 2014 crisis.

Despite Zida's long-standing history with the regiment, current members of the RSP have been calling for Zida's resignation since February, after the prime minister had tried to disband the regiment, before changing his mind. Zida had also announced that a dozen RSP officers would be moved to different units — a decision that had triggered an intense, if short-lived, political crisis.

Tensions rose again on June 28 when the government allegedly foiled a plot by some RSP officers to overthrow Zida. According to the RSP, Zida himself started the conspiracy rumors "in order to foment discord and remain in power."

Less than two weeks after this game of political bluff, rumors of the prime minister's resignation surfaced Monday, the day after a meeting between Zida and Kafandao to discuss a way out of the current crisis. Zida put an end to the rumors the next day, and claimed he would "hold on tight" to his position in government.

Speaking to VICE News Friday, journalist Cyriaque Paré said that Kafando's newly appointed council of wise men included officials from the country's traditional and religious authorities — plus attorneys and an economist.

According to Paré, the founder of lefaso.net, Burkina Faso's first information portal, the council's summit started on Friday and was expected to last "all day and perhaps all weekend." The journalist explained that, while it had specifically been set up to deal with the current crisis, the council could play the role of mediator up until the upcoming elections.

"We can but hope for swift and positive results," said Paré, adding that elections would likely not be delayed, "unless the situation deteriorates."

"Burkina Faso might finally experience its first democratic change through the ballot box," said Rinaldo Depagne, a senior analyst for West Africa at International Crisis Group. But for Depagne, the country's future stability "largely depends on how the elections are carried out."

Additional reporting by Pierre Longeray.

Follow Pierre-Louis Caron and Pierre Longeray on Twitter : @pierrelouis_c et @PLongeray

Image of Rood Woko, Ouagadougou's central market via Sputniktilt/Wikimedia Commons