Burkina Faso’s presidential elections, coupled with legislative elections, are now less than two months away (November 22). The elections will take place under heavy constraints due to mass violence, especially in the north and east, and mass displacement affecting an even wider swath of the country.
Incumbent President Roch Kaboré, who was elected and took office in 2015 following the 2014 popular revolution against longtime incumbent Blaise Compaoré, is seeking re-election. His party is the People’s Movement for Progress (Mouvement du Peuple pour le Progrès, MPP).
Who are the other main candidates? A Deutsche Welle headline from this summer puts it well: “Roch Kaboré Facing Compaoré’s Close Associates.” Or you could put it this way: “One ex-Compaoré associate faces others,” given that Kaboré was, until a 2012 rupture and his 2014 move into the (then) opposition, a key member of the dictator’s team.
Here are a few notable candidates, in chronological order of their formal party nominations:
- Gilbert Noël Ouédraogo, a relatively young candidate (b. 1968). He is head of the Alliance pour la démocratie et la fédération – Rassemblement démocratique africain (Alliance for Democracy and Federation – African Democratic Rally), a long-standing party that supported Compaoré, especially from the 2000s on. He was excluded from contesting in 2015 through a law that banned Compaoré’s close associates from running. His formal candidacy came particularly early in this cycle – April 1, 2019.
- Zéphirin Diabré, the runner-up in 2015 and formal leader of the country’s opposition under Kaboré. He is running as the candidate of his party, l’Union pour le progrès et le changement (the Union for Progress and Change, UPC). He was formally invested as their candidate on July 25.
- Eddie Komboïgo, an accountant who has led the ex-ruling party, the Congrès pour la démocratie et le progrès (Congress for Democracy and Progress, CDP), during the post-Compaoré era. Blocked from running in 2015 over Compaoré ties, he reportedly received backing from the ex-president amid intra-CDP power struggles over the past year and more (see below). He was invested as the party’s candidate on July 26.
- Kadré Desiré Ouedraogo, an ex-prime minister from the Compaoré era (he was PM from 1996-2000), who lost out in the intra-CDP power struggle. He is now the candidate of Agir ensemble (“Act Together”) and allied parties, and was designated as their candidate on September 6.
- Yacouba Isaac Zida, who played a key role in the opaque power struggle amid and during Compaoré’s fall, then was interim prime minister during the 2014-2015 transition. In the late Compaoré era, Zida was second-in-command of the Presidential Security Regiment, an infamous unit within the military, now disbanded. Zida is scheduled to be invested on September 25 as the candidate of the Mouvement patriotique pour le salut (Patriotic Salvation Movement, MPS). In exile in Canada amid legal troubles back home, he faces complicated questions about whether to return to Burkina Faso and possibly face a court summons or even detention.
Some candidates are not just tied to Compaoré by virtue of their resumes, but also in their messaging. For example, leaders of Ouedraogo’s Agir Ensemble have explicitly evoked a kind of nostalgia for the “stability” of the Compaoré era. This message may have some real appeal for a significant swath of voters – although that does not mean that specific candidates will receive support just because they proclaim they will restore stability.
If polling is an indication, Kaboré is highly vulnerable. But the circumscription of the vote (due to violence, displacement, and/or the electoral law, in whatever proportion you weight the different factors’ impact) may be one factor in increasing his chances of re-election. Another, equally important factor may be the profiles of his opponents – although the “political class” of Mali has come in for a lot of (domestic and international) scorn this summer amid the protests and then the coup there, Mali is not the only country with a relatively stale political class.* Voters’ sense of apathy or disgust with the whole political class could be, on balance, another factor that boosts Kaboré’s chances. I expect him to win.
*Readers, has anyone measured this? Is there a “political class freshness index” out there? It’s easy for me (and others) to say that the Malian or Burkinabè political classes are stagnant, but it’s not as though there is a shortage of long-serving politicians in the United States (Biden, Pelosi, McConnell…).