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Civilian Rule Restored in Burkina Faso as Former UN Ambassador is Named Interim President

The retired diplomat's nomination was announced just a few hours before officials signed a transition charter to guide the country towards elections scheduled for 2015.

by Melodie Bouchaud
Nov 17 2014, 10:25pm

Imagen vía AP/Frank Franklin II

Following two weeks of intense negotiations between political and military leaders in Burkina Faso, the committee in charge of the governmental transition announced on Monday that it had chosen Michel Kafando as the country's interim president. Kafando, a retired diplomat, will serve as transitional leader until November 2015, when elections will be held.

Kafando's nomination was announced just a few hours before officials signed a transition charter to guide the country towards elections scheduled for 2015. On Saturday, lieutenant-colonel Isaac Zida, who had been designated interim ruler by the army after a coup at the end of October, announced that the constitution had been restored. The army had taken over after long-time President Blaise Compaoré fled Burkina Faso 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.

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Kafando is 72-year-old, career diplomat who served as minister of foreign affairs of Upper Volta — Burkina Faso's former name — from 1982 to 1983. He resigned his post in 1983, when the military leader Thomas Sankara rose to power, and moved to Paris to pursue his studies, completing a thesis on "West-African diplomacy and the Eastern block." He served as Burkina Faso's ambassador to the United Nations (UN) from 1998 to 2011, before retiring to his farm, where, according to international news agency AFP, he worked as a consultant.

In his first speech as interim president, Kafando declared that he would "spare no effort to fight the challenges that undermine the country's credibility." He also pledged "to build a new society, a truly democratic society based on social justice and tolerance."

Kafando was chosen over four other candidates, including army-backed Joséphine Ouédraogo — a former cabinet minister who served in the Sankara government from 1984 to 1987 — and outspoken Compaoré detractor Cherif Sy. Despite being endorsed by the opposition and by the people of Burkina Faso, Sy was ultimately hindered by his lack of influence in the international sphere.

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Kafando, who was also backed by the army, was allegedly chosen because of his long career as a diplomat. Opposition leader Zephirin Diabré, who served in the electoral college, explained the committee's decision to French radio station RFI, saying "one of the determining factors was the presentation he gave. He immediately raised the issues of corruption and impunity. This chimes completely with the expectations of the revolution."

The new president seems to have met with domestic and international approval. The African Union welcomed "the appointment of a civilian," and François Hollande declared that France "stood side by side with Burkina Faso during this key moment in its history." France's roll in Compaoré's flight from Burkina Faso remains unclear to this day.

Following the suspension of the constitution last month, the international community had threatened economic sanctions on Burkina Faso unless civilian rule was restored. Speaking to RFI on Sunday, Tulinabo Mushingi, the US Ambassador to Burkina Faso, voiced the American government's conditions for the leadership transition. 

"We did lay down certain conditions," he said. "For civilian rule to be restored, for the new political body to be mindful of the constitution, and for the 2015 presidential and legislative elections to take place within a certain timeframe."

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