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Burkina Faso, Five Years After “Revolution 2.0”

In October 2014, following 27 years of rule by President Blaise Compaoré, Burkinabe citizens took to the streets to protest Compaoré’s decision to seek an extension of presidential term limits to enable him to stay in power. These protests contributed to Compaoré’s resignation and dissolution of Parliament, and establishment of a transitional government as the country prepared for elections.

Image by Cordelia Persen, licensed through Creative Commons

Dubbed by activists as “Revolution 2.0”, the transition in Burkina Faso signaled hope that long-standing autocratic regimes in Africa would follow suit and reverse a trend of “president for life” that threatened democratic processes in Africa.

Five years after the protests filled the streets of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso has since held the national election that activists demanded, marking a new era in Burkina Faso’s democracy. Nevertheless, challenges both old and new continue to plague the country’s socioeconomic growth and democratic development.

Credible electoral processes, but constitutional uncertainty

On November 29, 2015, Burkina Faso held presidential and legislative elections that were generally considered free and fair by international observers, electing Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, a former Prime Minister and head of the National Assembly, as President. Over 3 million citizens voted, marking a 60% turnout, and just under 100 political parties received votes in the legislative elections. The national elections were followed by two successful municipal-level elections in 2016 and 2017, marking the first opportunity for Burkinabe citizens to vote for local-level representation after the transition.

A constitutional referendum was scheduled for March 2019 for voters to decide on whether to adopt presidential term limits, but was ultimately postponed due to security concerns relating to violent extremism. Without the term limits, Burkina Faso remains a country in transition without an adequate legal framework to support its growing electoral interest.

Burkina Faso’s presidential elections are anticipated for late 2020, and the constitutional question remains a critical consideration in establishing the governance infrastructure needed to consolidate democratic gains.

Threats of violent extremism and socioeconomic challenges in the Sahel

Like much of the Sahel, Burkina Faso faces rising threats from extremist groups. Most notably, in 2016, an attack on the Splendid Hotel resulted in the death of 28 individuals. Similarly, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for a series of coordinated attacks that occurred in 2018.Within the past year, spillover from conflict in Mali has threatened security across northern Burkina Faso, resulting in the displacement of nearly half a million Burkinabe citizens.

The Burkinabe government has taken steps to address some of these concerns, including changes to its legal framework to address terrorism-related cases and development of a counterterrorism task force. However, lack of resources and capacity to address these issues leave the country vulnerable to threats.

Resulting from these challenges of instability, issues of malnutrition, maternal mortality, and limited access to education continue to challenge the country. In 2019, stemming from security issues, 1,035 public schools were closed, limiting school access for 141,000 students. As Burkina Faso is scheduled to undertake its next census process in late 2019, it remains to be seen how these political factors are impacting socioeconomic development.

How Can International Aid Help?

To assist Burkina Faso in emerging from its stage of arrested political development, the international community should support three critical areas: elections, civil society, and security and rule of law.

Burkina Faso will require support throughout the upcoming electoral cycle, not only with ensuring the proper logistical preparations are being made, but also to strengthen electoral regulatory frameworks ahead of the election. to ensure the establishment of term limits in the constitution, as well as to ensure full and open participation by all voters without undue voting restrictions on the diaspora. Additionally, ensuring women’s full participation both as candidates and voters in the election will be critical, as women comprise less than 10% of the national assembly and are severely underrepresented in political life. As violence and instability continue to threaten the region, international development aid can also help map the threats resulting from electoral violence to assist the country in anticipating these challenges and reducing their impact.

While there is a long-standing and active civil society, support from the international community supporting civil society, should increase. Added support could foster new civil society initiatives to advocate for democratic governance given the political opening, as well as capitalize on the recent developments to further create space for effective civic engagement. Following the broad-based grassroots mobilization that led to “Revolution 2.0”, Burkinabe organizations face limits on freedom of expression and require additional support to effectively coordinate with the government on political and social issues.

The weaknesses of the security services and anti-corruption mechanisms are mutually reinforcing, with insufficient training and appropriate justice mechanisms contributing to widespread extrajudicial killings in response to threats of violent extremism. These issues, coupled with sweeping corruption, particularly in the extractive industries, have hampered Burkina Faso’s development. Burkina Faso has made marginal gains in reducing corruption,  and strengthening both legal frameworks and enforcement mechanisms would be an effective way to continue capitalizing on this progress and set a chart forth for Burkina Faso’s future.

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Monica OHearn

Monica O’Hearn is a Program Manager at Counterpart International, where she manages technical and operational implementation of programs which advance transparency and accountability, human rights, and civil society strengthening. She is also currently a Penn Kemble Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.

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