Burkina Faso: Parliamentary Elections Twelve Days from Now

On December 2, Burkina Faso will hold elections for seats in its 111-member National Assembly, along with elections for local government positions. Parliamentary elections take place every five years, and the previous election occurred in May 2007. Presidential elections also take place every five years, but on a different track – the last presidential vote happened in 2010, when President Blaise Compaore was re-elected for the fourth time. The President’s party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP, whose official website is in French here), currently controls 73 seats in the National Assembly.

Here are several resources you can consult for information on the upcoming vote and Burkina Faso’s political landscape:

  • The Assembly’s official website and a list of members elected in 2007 (both pages are in French);
  • The Assembly’s Wikipedia page;
  • The website (French) of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI). Here, you can read about the reformulation of CENI in July 2011 in the wake of several months of protests and mutinies in Burkina Faso. You can find more on the reformed CENI and its new president, Barthélémy Kéré, here (French);
  • The International Foundation for Electoral Systems’ overview of elections in Burkina Faso;
  • and Freedom House’s 2011 “Countries at the Crossroads” report on Burkina Faso.

Given the paucity of news sites that focus on Burkina Faso, it is difficult for me to get a sense of the campaign from a distance. This article (French) reports on the campaign of a relatively new party, the Union for Progress and Change, to win the mayor’s seat in Tenkodogo (map) as well as legislative seats in the surrounding province. This article (French), meanwhile, reports on the Socialist Party’s campaign.

As the ruling CDP, under its National Security Assimi Kouanda, mobilizes its partisans for the elections (French), it seems likely – given President Compaore’s dominance and the substantial majority the Party enjoys – that they will hold the majority. Yet the election bears watching as the first contest held under the new CENI, the first vote since the crisis of spring 2011, and one possible indication of the country’s political trajectory as we look toward the 2015 presidential election.

Africa News Roundup: Nigeria’s Oil Export Problems, Somalia’s New Cabinet, Karim Wade Questioned in Senegal, and More

BBC (video): “Nigerian Military Chief Sets Out Mali Plan.”

Jeune Afrique (French): “The MNLA Launches an Offensive against MUJWA in Gao.”

Reuters:

Nigerian crude oil export delays have lengthened, traders said on Friday, a sign that a raft of recent output problems caused by oil theft and flooding are increasingly holding back supplies from Africa’s biggest producer.

BBC:

Nigeria’s military has killed a top commander of militant Islamist group Boko Haram in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri, an army spokesman has said. Ibn Saleh Ibrahim was killed in an exchange of fire with six of his lieutenants.

On Tuesday, Somalia’s Federal Parliament approved the new cabinet.

VOA: “In Somalia, Political Battle Over Newly Liberated Regions.”

The Economist: “The question of what to do with the charcoal, perhaps worth $40m, could affect the fate of Somalia’s new government.”

Senegalese police summoned Karim Wade, a former cabinet minister and son of former President Abdoulaye Wade, for questioning on Thursday, and have forbade him to leave the country.

BBC (video): “Is Biofuel a Solution for Burkina Faso?”

Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, wounded in a shooting on October 13, continues to convalesce in France.

What else is going on?

Mali and Multi-Level Negotiations

On November 6, two meetings – one in Ouagadougou, one in Bamako – brought developments that could portend changes for the situation in Mali. If taken at face value (and there are reasons to do so), the results of these meetings point toward two very different paths the crisis in northern Mali could take. Those paths are negotiation or war. If the meetings themselves are viewed as gambits in a deeper, less explicit sort of negotiation, then they communicate something different about the positions of the key players who will shape the future of northern Mali.

The meeting in Ouagadougou was between representatives from the Islamist movement Ansar al Din, which controls part of northern Mali, and regional mediators led by Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore. Following talks on Tuesday, Ansar al Din’s delegation “agreed to commit to peace talks with Mali’s government and observe a ceasefire,” and also pledged to allow aid agencies into territory the movement controls. As AFP has reported, mediators have urged Ansar al Din to cut its ties to Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which is part of Ansar al Din’s Islamist coalition in northern Mali, and Ansar al Din’s actions on that front could determine the viability of negotiations. While the delegates in Ouagadougou made no commitments regarding AQIM, they did stress their group’s “independent” nature, which AFP calls “a signal” of their potential willingness to abandon AQIM. As AFP notes in a separate article, Ansar al Din also has envoys in Algeria for talks.

Ansar al Din has offered to negotiate with authorities in Bamako before (French), but the movement’s demand for the country-wide application of shari’a seemed to make the idea a non-starter. Malian Foreign Minister Tiéman Coulibaly (French) has said that “the territorial integrity, secularism/laicite, and republican character of Mali are not negotiable.” Shari’a has, from what I have read, not come up yet in this round of talks, except perhaps through veiled references.

The Tuareg-led, ostensibly secular rebel group the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA, where “Azawad” refers to northern Mali) has a presence in Ouagadougou, and welcomed Ansar al Din’s willingness to negotiate.

In Bamako, meanwhile, military commanders from member states within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have developed a “military blueprint” for retaking northern Mali by force. The plan goes next to presidents from ECOWAS members, and then to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on November 26. On October 12, the UNSC “held out the possibility of endorsing, within the next 45 days, an international military force to restore the unity of the West African country.”

As AP notes, however, any military offensive in northern Mali is unlikely to happen before 2013. The deployment of troops may be contingent on the completion of new elections for a national Malian government – a process that will pose its own severe logistical difficulties.

So who is serious, and who is bluffing? Is everyone bluffing? And who speaks for whom?

If we take things at face value, Ansar al Din is ready to talk, and ECOWAS is ready to fight. Perhaps ECOWAS’ threats have scared Ansar al Din into coming to the negotiating table, and perhaps ECOWAS doubts Ansar al Din’s sincerity. ECOWAS leaders such as Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan have expressed their preference for talking rather than fighting. But perhaps ECOWAS’ leaders hold little hope that Ansar al Din will repudiate AQIM, or that talks will materialize, or that talks will get past Ansar al Din’s insistence on shari’a – and so ECOWAS continues to mobilize, or give the appearance of mobilizing.

One can read the whole process, then, as a form of negotiation. In this view, all parties expect the conflict to end at the negotiating table, not on the battlefield. And so ECOWAS mobilizes in order to strengthen its hand at the table, and Ansar al Din hints at future concessions while the Islamist coalition still makes sure to demonstrate its capacity to strike at “border” towns like Douentza, all more or less as a form of positioning. I’ve even heard the theory that the war as a whole started off as a bid for a strong negotiating position – ie, that the MNLA never expected matters to go this far, but rather hoped to win concessions from the new president of a post-Amadou Toumani Toure Mali.

Ansar al Din, of course, does not demand the break-up of Mali, but its (deeper) Islamization. Are the cooler heads in the Islamist coalition, then, looking toward a future, reunited Mali, and angling for a) a say in determining the role Islam plays in government at the national and local levels and b) continued political influence, official and unofficial, in northern Mali, even beyond religious affairs?

The danger with all the levels of negotiation taking place, or potentially taking place, is that the various sides may well misread each other’s signals, with the result that more blood is shed. Even if all sides proclaim a desire for peace and a willingness to talk, there are so many sticking points – shari’a, elections, etc. – that the conflict seems likely to endure for quite some time.

Burkina Faso Debates Its Family Code

Several former French colonies in West Africa have witnessed major struggles over the content of “family codes” and “personal status laws,” statutes that deal with marriage, divorce, inheritance, and related matters. These struggles have pitted ostensibly secular governments (influenced by legacies of French secularism or laicite) against constituencies from what you might call “Muslim civil society.” One such struggle occurred in Senegal in the 1970s, while another broke out in Mali from 2009 to 2011.

In 1990, Burkina Faso* implemented a “Code for Persons and the Family,” the text of which I have been unable to locate. Recently the country’s Ministry for Women’s Advancement commissioned a study (French) on amending the Code. A new debate concerning this law has begun. It will be important to see who joins the debate and how it proceeds. Here are two perspectives from the Burkinabe press:

One author (French) says, “Even though perceived as being an advance in favor of the rights of women, it is noticed more and more that this text includes clauses that discriminate against women and girls” with regard to inheritance, property, and other matters. She goes on to cite discrepancies between the Code and the international statutes on women’s rights that Burkina Faso has ratified. The article, quoting an official from the Ministry for Women’s Advancement, suggests that the age of marriage may be a key focus of debate.

Another commentator (French) focuses on the renewed debate in the country concerning polygamy, which remains legal. The author questions whether such a debate is “opportune” for the country at a time when “the worries of Burkinabe women are far from this [issue].” Women have more pressing material and economic concerns than polygamy, the author continues. “How can one find this debate on polygamy opportune when female circumcision, obstetrical fistulas, and the weak attendance at maternity wards are still a reality?” The author goes on to discuss the issue of indigenous versus foreign cultural values, suggesting Burkina Faso must rely on its own values.

The portions of the Burkinabe press that are accessible online give us only a limited glimpse into popular opinion in the country. But it is noteworthy that neither of the linked articles discusses religion at length, focusing more on questions of national culture and its interaction with international norms. We will see if Muslim associations and constituencies (or Christians and other non-Muslim groups!) begin to put forth arguments with a specifically religious character.

*where Muslims represent a smaller proportion of the population (60%) than Mali (90%) or Senegal (94%).

Africa News Roundup: South Sudanese Oil, ECOWAS Meeting in Mali, Flooding in Nigeria, and More

AP: “South Sudan ordered oil companies to restart production Thursday and officials said oil export could resume in about 90 days, ending a nearly nine-month shutdown following a dispute with Sudan over borders and oil.”

IRIN with a piece that is worth thinking about in the context of how the Islamist coalition in northern Mali works to attract support:

Hundreds of displaced northerners in southern Mali are risking life under Sharia law to return home, lured by the prospect of jobs, free water and electricity, and in some parts, relatively cheaper food, Malians in the north and south told IRIN.
Islamist groups have removed taxes on many basic goods, say traders in the region, provide erratic electricity and water services at no charge, and have fixed the price of some basic foods. They are also paying youths to join their ranks, as talk of intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) mounts.

A major meeting of ECOWAS, the African Union, the European Union, and the United Nations took place in Bamako yesterday.

Lagun Akinloye on recent flooding in Nigeria.

Garowe writes that talks between the Ethiopian government and the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front have hit “deadlock.”

The United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and others have raised the possibility that al Shabab, now that its major strongholds in southern Somalia have fallen to African Union forces, may seek to establish more of a presence in Puntland. The BBC reports on a seizure of weapons imported into Puntland that were apparently meant for al Shabab.

Yesterday I wrote about border issues in Niger, but neglected to mention that this week Niger and Burkina Faso were at the International Court of Justice to settle a border dispute. It’s worth noting how colonial legacies still come into play: “During the hearings, Burkina Faso explained that the delimitation of the disputed part should be based on a 1927 French colonial decree, when both countries were part of French West Africa, while Niger contended that the decree was not precise enough to define the frontier in certain areas and asked the Court to delimit it by using a 1960 map of the French Institut Géographique as adjusted with factual evidence of territorial sovereignty.”

What else is happening?

Africa News Roundup: Protests in Nigeria and Sudan, New PM in Ethiopia, Senate Scrapped in Senegal, and More

Following protests in Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere this week, Muslims protested yesterday in Jos, Nigeria and Khartoum, Sudan against an inflammatory anti-Islamic video. The Chief Imam of Jos Central Mosque called for restraint and discouraged the turn to street protests.

Ethiopia is expected to name a new prime minister this weekend, to replace the late Meles Zenawi.

IRIN: “Kenya’s Deadly Mix of Frustration, Politics and Impunity”

Senegal’s National Assembly voted Thursday to disband the country’s Senate as a means of freeing up funds for flood relief.

Also in Senegal, a Gambian opposition group sets up shop.

Burkina Faso will hold legislative elections on December 2. The opposition (French) has written to President Blaise Compaore complaining that only 55% of voting-age citizens are registered to vote, and calling for a delay of the elections until 2013.

Leaders from the northern branch of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement were in Washington, DC this week, meeting with officials at the State Department.

What else is happening?

Africa Blog Roundup: Clinton in Africa, Oil in Uganda, Senegal and Habre, and More

Habiba Osman: “On Hillary Clinton’s Recent Visit to Africa.”

I am therefore not surprised that this African tour has come up now considering the diminishing role that the US is now finding itself in with the Chinese almost taking over as the biggest African donor and trade partner. Sub Saharan Africa, especially, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi in the South have felt the presence of the Chinese greatly with infrastructure being built everywhere in these countries, courtesy of the Chinese government.

Politically, Clinton’s visit is therefore timely as some of most African states have openly declared that they are in favour of the Chinese donations, which seem to have no strings attached. By strings, I mean, adherence to the rule of law, respect for human rights and observance of good governance. Africa’s relationship with China has gained international attention and is a sure factor in destabilising America’s role as the sole super power.

Tony Otoa Jr. on oil and civil society in Uganda.

Lesley Anne Warner: “Kenya’s Coast Province Could Be Flashpoint in Run-Up to Elections.”

Amb. John Campbell on recent violence at a South African platinum mine.

Peter Dorrie on President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso:

To adequately judge Blaise Compaoré’s record of bringing development and prosperity to his people, it is first of all important to remind oneself that he has been in power since 1987, a full quarter of a century. More than half the population of his country has only known his rule.

Despite the period of peace that Burkina experienced during this time, and a comparatively generous 13 Billion US Dollars in international development assistance, the country still ranks only 181st out of 187 countries in terms of human development. All of the other bottom ten countries in the HDI ranking experienced devastating civil wars during this time – except Guinea, which instead had to put up with a brutal military dictatorship. To put it bluntly: Blaise Compaoré is the only African head of state who managed to dramatically limit the development of his country without declaring outright war on it.

Jason Stearns asks, “When Will Donors Un-Freeze Aid to Rwanda?”

Writing in Nigeria’s Daily Trust, Idang Alibi comes out against Senegal’s planned trial for former Chadian leader Hissene Habre.

Anne Campbell weighs in on the issue of African presidents and overseas educations.

Baobab on electricity in Somalia.

Last but not least, a reflection from Carmen McCain on fasting during Ramadan as a non-Muslim.