Roundup on the Eve of the Vote: Analyses and Reports on Burkina Faso’s Electoral Landscape

Burkina Faso will hold the first round of presidential and legislative elections on November 22. If no candidate clears 50%, then there will be a second round within about six weeks, if I understand correctly, based on the electoral code’s provisions pertaining to various steps regarding the validation of the first round results.

There are thirteen candidates for the elections, including incumbent President Roch Kaboré, the last election’s runner-up Zéphirin Diabré, the former ruling party’s candidate Eddie Komboïgo, and the former transitional Prime Minister Yacouba Isaac Zida. I expect Kaboré to win, possibly on the first round.

For general background, see International Foundation for Electoral Systems, “Elections in Burkina Faso – 2020 General Elections – Frequently Asked Questions” and the Trans-Saharan Elections Project‘s country page for Burkina. The website of Burkina Faso’s Independent National Electoral Commission is here, and the Constitutional Council’s website is here.

Here are a few recent analyses and reports:

Ornella Moderan, “Burkina Faso’s Voters Should Be Offered More Than Security,” Institute for Security Studies, 18 November. A quote:

The electoral campaign was an opportunity for parties and candidates to clearly articulate their plans for addressing the full range of problems affecting millions in Burkina Faso. But most of them missed the boat. Their inability to confront the complexity of the situation and propose holistic responses doesn’t bode well for the policy changes the country needs. Rather it reveals the piecemeal mindset that has underpinned government’s overly securitised responses to the crisis for years – an approach that has shown its limits.

See also, from ISS, Ibrahim Maïga and Habibou Souley Bako, “Lessons from Mali as Burkina and Niger Head for the Polls,” November 10.

Rida Lyammouri, “Burkina Faso Elections, Another Box to Check,” Policy Center for the New South, November. An excerpt (p. 7):

The November 22 national elections take place in a context marked by the increased importance and expansion of vigilante groups, namely the Koglweogo and the newly formed VDP [Volunteers for the Defense of the Homeland]. Representatives of both groups stated in interviews conducted in August 2020 that they are apolitical, and their objective is to secure areas [where they are present] and to help establish peace in the country. Simultaneously, they also pointed out that each member is free to support a candidate or a political party of their own choice. One of the key criticisms of Koglweogo and VDP is that they are ethnically based and don’t necessarily represent all communities. Participants in the interviews agreed that ethnic affiliation has a significant influence when it comes to choosing the political leader and/or political party. When asked if presidential and parliamentary candidates would use ethnic affiliation to generate support, the answer was automatic: “Of course, ethnic affiliation matters. We have parents who are running in the different elections, we are not forcing our communities, but the majority of our votes will go to these people. They know our realities and our challenges and will therefore know how to defend them for us”.

Sam Mednick, “Burkina Faso moves ahead with vote despite extremist attacks,” Associated Press, November 18. Two few key paragraphs:

The National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) used helicopters to reach places inaccessible by road and registration was extended after coronavirus movement restrictions temporarily halted the process in March. Despite the challenges, Yacouba Bambyam Ouedraogo, communications director for CENI said that 95% of the country was covered adding more than 1 million voters.

But local officials say the more than 1,000 villages that were not reached, is where most of the population lives. Four of 11 communes in Sanmatenga province weren’t fully covered and a lot of people were missed, Youssouf Ouedraogo, president of the municipal electoral commission in Kaya told the AP.

Sophie Douce, “Elections au Burkina Faso : en « zone rouge », une campagne sous le signe de la menace terroriste,” Le Monde, November 18. A translated passage:

Several days out from the elections, the candidates hold more and more meetings across the country, a third of whose territory is in a state of emergency. Mined roads, risk of kidnapping or targeted attack… Certain sectors remain inaccessible to the authorities. On November 8, the driver of a candidate in the legislative elections was killed on the Gorom-Gorom route (in the north). “When you move from one zone to another, you find yourself in a no man’s land and if you don’t alert the authorities in advance, what happened before could happen again,” warned Ahmed Newton Barry, the president of the Independent National Electoral Commission, after the attack.

Amaury Hauchard, “In Jihadist-Hit Burkina Areas, No Elections — and No State,” AFP, November 18.

“The victory of the jihadist groups is not so much a military one as having installed a fear that makes people’s lives extremely difficult,” Rinaldo Depagne of the International Crisis Group said.

[…]

“It’s only around the towns that the soldiers are present. In the camps in the bush, there are none left, everybody has gone,” [Burkinabè analysts Mahamoudou] Savadogo said.

“The state has no more control there. Whole tracts of the country will be unable to vote.”

Looking Ahead to Burkina Faso’s 22 November Presidential and Legislative Elections

On 22 November (as announced in February), Burkina Faso will have simultaneous presidential and legislative elections. The presidential election will pit incumbent President Roch Kaboré against what I assume will be a host of challengers. The legislative elections will determine the occupants of the 127 seats in the country’s unicameral National Assembly. Municipal elections will follow in 2021.

Kaboré was elected in 2015 following the country’s 2014 revolution against longtime dictator Blaise Compaoré (in office 1987-2014). Kaboré and several other key figures, most notably Salif Diallo (d. 2017) and Simon Compaoré (no relation to Blaise that I know of), broke with Compaoré in 2012 and formed their own party, the Mouvement du Peuple pour le Progrès (People’s Movement for Progress, MPP) in 2014. Simon Compaoré is currently president of the MPP.

Kaboré may be in a bit of trouble in terms of re-election prospects. Objectively, the situation in Burkina Faso appears quite bad on several fronts: 2019 was the most violent year of the country’s ongoing insurgency, and in addition to the conflict zones in the north and east, violence may be poised to tick upwards in the southwest, site of a recent joint operation between the security forces of Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire. Largely due to the conflict, over 900,000 people have been displaced, most of them since the start of 2019. The security forces are accused of committing regular and serious human rights abuses against civilians, and the government is formally investigating the recent, alleged extrajudicial killings of 12 civilians in an eastern town called Tanwalbougou. Meanwhile, COVID-19 has had a substantial impact on the country, especially the economy – the World Bank (.pdf, p. 105) initially projected that Burkina Faso’s gross domestic product (GDP) would grow by 6% in 2020, but has since revised that forecast to just 2%.

In the national Présimètre poll, whose most recent iteration just came out, clear and sometimes dramatic majorities of respondents voice dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of key issues. On Slide 24, for example, 79.7% of respondents express dissatisfaction with the security situation in the country, and 83% are dissatisfied with the cost of living. Not everything is bad news for the government – on Slide 30, you can see that respondents’ confidence in key institutions is ticking upward after hitting a low in the June 2019 poll. But confidence is still under 40% for the government, the parliament, and the political parties. Furthermore, 73% of respondents plan to vote in the next election (Slide 32), but over 65% of respondents have not yet decided whom to vote for (Slide 34). 63% of respondents are dissatisfied with Kaboré’s performance (Slide 40), compared with 66% who were dissatisfied a year ago. Although respondents acknowledge that Kaboré inherited a tough situation, they also feel he “lacks the firmness that is required.” The average score that respondents gave his overall performance, on a 10-point scale, was 4.53 – his lowest score yet, in iterations of the Présimètre poll, since 2017.

Nevertheless, and perhaps quite expectedly, the MPP’s Simon Compaoré expresses confidence that Kaboré will win re-election easily. In a recent interview, Compaoré called it “a realistic ambition” to re-elect Kaboré “with a comfortable score of at least 60% of the votes.” That would mean avoiding the type of run-off that has proven electorally fatal for several West African incumbents over the years, for example Senegal’s Abdou Diouf in 2000 and Diouf’s successor Abdoulaye Wade, in turn, in 2012. Like many other West African countries, Burkina Faso has a two-round election system; if the incumbent fails to obtain 50% in the first round, it gives the (often fractured) opposition a chance to unite against him (it’s always been a him in Burkina Faso, so far) in the second round.

A few challengers have emerged so far:

  • Zéphirin Diabré, president of the Union for Progress and Change (l’Union pour le progrès et le changement, UPC), runner-up in the 2015 election;
  • Eddie Komboïgo, candidate of the former ruling party the Congress for Democracy and Progress (Congrès pour la démocratie et la progrès, CDP);
  • Gilbert Ouédraogo, president of the political party The Alliance for Democracy and Federation/African Democracy Rally (l’Alliance pour la démocratie et la fédération/Rassemblement démocratique africain, ADF/RDA);
  • Former Culture and Tourism Minister Tahirou Barry, who is supported by a coalition of parties called the Movement for Change and Rebirth (Mouvement pour le changement et la renaissance).

In the legislature, the MPP hopes to increase its share from the current 55 seats it has (out of 127). The UPC holds 33, the CDP 18, and no other party holds more than 5 seats.

The MPP is now looking ahead to its extraordinary congress on July 11, when it will formally invest Kaboré as the party’s candidate.

Various questions remain to be settled: Will the displaced be able to vote, and if so, how? Will credible voting be able to proceed in conflict zones? Will any candidacies be invalidated, and on what basis? Will a unifying figure emerge from within the opposition?

For now, if I had to predict, I would guess that Kaboré will be re-elected – despite the very low scores he and the government received in the Présimètre poll, I think that the advantages of incumbency, combined with the fragmentation of the opposition, will help him across the finish line. I also think he may benefit, electorally, from the displacement and the insecurity – and I say that not in a conspiratorial sense, not in the sense of accusing the government of fostering instability for political advantage, but rather in the sense that a smaller electorate can benefit the incumbent even if that incumbent is trying, in however flawed a manner, to address the conditions that shrink that electorate. But in any event, there is a lot of time, politically speaking, between now and November.