• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, www.sahelblog.wordpress.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
Last spring, Burkina Faso experienced weeks of protests by trade unions and students, with an overlapping series of mutinies by soldiers and police. For a time it looked as though President Blaise Compaore, who has ruled the country since 1987, might be losing his grip on power. In June, a combination of personnel changes, policy reforms, and crackdowns on mutineers brought the nation’s intersecting uprisings to a close. But nearly a year later, Burkina Faso and its rulers are still sorting through the fallout of last year’s explosion – and looking ahead to 2015, the year of the next scheduled presidential elections.
The 2011 uprisings were back in the news last week when the government announced the firing of over 100 policemen accused of joining the mutinies. A list of the fired officers (in French) shows that most came from units in Ouagadougou, the political capital, and Bobo-Dioulasso, the economic capital. Both cities were centers of protest last year. Given earlier disciplinary firings of mutinous soldiers, the firing of mutinous police came as no surprise (French).
The firings suggest that last year’s uprisings are still on the government’s mind, but also that the government is feeling relatively strong. International actors seem to share that view of the Compaore regime’s strength. The US State Department‘s conclusion regarding the 2011 uprisings is, “As of late July, the government’s actions had produced greater calm and stability.” The IMF’s December review of loan programs to Burkina Faso makes no mention of the uprisings, but generally depicts the country as stable and making progress on the IMF’s desired reforms. The IMF does say, however, “In view of the Burkinabè economy’s vulnerability to exogenous shocks that affect the most vulnerable in the population, the authorities need to place special emphasis on the preparation of a social safety net.” This is noteworthy because two frequently cited drivers of the uprisings were the post-electoral crisis in neighboring Cote d’Ivoire and increases in the price of basic foods.
The Africa Report adds more perspective on the regime’s new strategy and how it has been received internationally:
The new government has increased its actions, most notably by reducing prices of fast-moving consumer goods and agricultural input products, promoting civil servants or suspending unpaid penalties for delayed electricity bills.
In pole position is Luc Adolphe Tiao, who has embarked on a campaign to seduce Burkinabes and economic partners. The former journalist and diplomat has a somewhat pedagogical approach to his duties.
They also seem to desire an improvement in governance, social dialogue and the economic environment, in line with the recommendations of the World Bank.
Moreover, while meeting in Paris in the beginning of February, international partners gave their support to the Burkinabe government’s social and economic programmes, with a total budget of US$14.3bn for the period 2011-2015.
Their ambition is to reach a two-digit GDP growth, the only lever to real sustainable poverty reduction.
Many observers, then, agree that calm has been restored for the present. But those same observers are questioning whether stability can hold. The Africa Report wonders whether population growth will overwhelm economic growth. Morale among soldiers and police may have taken a hit from firings. And the shocks – particularly rapid increases in food prices – that contributed to crisis not only last year, but also in previous episodes, could return.
Some uncertainty about Burkina Faso’s political future centers on the president and his intentions. In Jeune Afrique (in French), Marwane Ben Yahmed writes that Compaore is facing pressures (including from abroad) to step down when his term ends in 2015, but also getting encouragement (especially from his circle) to remain. Ben Yahmed writes (my translation) that Compaore already knows what he intends to do, but that “he cannot commit himself to leave, at the risk of undermining his authority and launching a premature war of succession, just as he could not, evidently, announce that he will cling to power.” The guessing game about the president’s intentions, which could run for over two years, will ensure that a hint of tension remains in Burkina Faso’s politics for some time to come.