The opposition in Burkina Faso wants to negotiate with Islamist terrorist groups, President Kaboré is against. The security situation remains tense.
OUAGADOUGOU taz | All of a sudden, election fever broke out in the center of Ouagadougou. Around 20 supporters of Zéphirin Diabré and his Union for Progress and Change (UPC) meander through the narrow streets of the huge market district.
They are on foot and on yellow bicycles and hold up posters with the party emblem, a lion’s head against a blue background. You hope that the 61-year-old Diabré will be the main opposition candidate in the presidential election next Sunday in the runoff against incumbent Roch Marc Christian Kaboré from the People’s Movement for Progress (MPP). Parliament is also re-elected.
According to a poll, 63-year-old Kaboré was 42 to 43 percent in October, far from an absolute majority in the first ballot. Five years ago, Kaboré defeated Diabré with 53.5 to 30 percent – in Burkina Faso’s first free election since the popular uprising that had put an end to the regime of long-term president Blaise Compaoré a year earlier.
At that time there was hope and optimism. Today there is disillusionment. The change of power has brought neither more work for the young generation nor a sustainable economic upturn.
State of emergency in many provinces
Instead, Burkina Faso has become the “red zone” in the fight against Islamist terrorist groups, among which armed bandits have long since mixed. The state of emergency applies in 14 of 45 provinces. The non-governmental organization ACLED has counted 2,730 dead in the past twelve months as a result of attacks, riots and violence against civilians. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 1,049,767 people are on the run in Burkina Faso, out of a population of 21 million. It is already clear that more than 1,330 of the almost 22,000 polling stations will not open on Sunday for security reasons.
Eddie Komboïgo speaks bluntly of war. The 56-year-old businessman, who studied financial accounting and taught at the University of Ouagadougou, sits on his light gray leather sofa in his villa in the Zone de Bois district. A young man carries large suitcases into the house. Komboïgo has just returned from his campaign tour, in Gourcy and Ouahigouya, hundreds of kilometers by car. Now, when he returns, numerous people are waiting for him and want something. He put a group of young people off for the next day.
In Burkina Faso, the fighters are not recruits from outside. You are part of the population
Komboïgo mixes up the choice. He leads Compaoré’s party Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), which for decades practically exercised sole rule. In 2015, after Compaoré’s fall, she did not nominate a candidate. Now she wants to return to power with Komboïgo. His chances are good, he thinks, if President Kaboré had a “catastrophic record”.
The dominant issue in the election campaign is the security situation. Komboïgo accuses the incumbent of having made no effort in the past five years to find out who is attacking the country and why.
He advocates a dialogue with the terrorist groups: “How else can hostages be freed? But not through armed force. ”In fact, in March and October, after negotiations with Islamist groups, several hostages were released in Mali, some of whom had been kidnapped in Burkina Faso. When asked what should be negotiated, he reacts angrily: “You first have to know what they are asking for.”
Local fighters with hardly any prospects
Talks with the Islamist underground: That is the key question in the election campaign. Diabré also recently emphasized that armed violence alone has never successfully combated terrorism. In his view, a dialogue is inevitable.
In Burkina Faso, the fighters are not recruits from North Africa or the Middle East, but locals or at best Malians. They are part of the population in a region that has hardly any prospects to offer and is also severely affected by climate change and the associated deterioration in living conditions.
President Kaboré has said several times that there will be no deals under him. To position yourself differently now would be an admission of a wrong strategy. In conversations in Ouagadougou it always comes through: Peace and security are more important to many people than rigid positions. In any case, consensus solutions play an important role in Burkina Faso’s political culture.
Ex-President Compaoré always held talks on Islamist terror groups and is said to have concluded several agreements with them. Burkina Faso was still considered stable under him when neighboring Mali had long since overturned in 2012. The attacks only increased massively from the end of 2015.
Regarding the question of how Compaoré dealt with the Islamists, Komboïgo waves it aside: “Nothing was signed.” Only before the 2013 elections in Mali was there an agreement with Tuareg groups. But Compaoré managed to bring about peace in Burkina Faso, emphasized his successor as party leader. It is unclear to what extent the ex-president, who lives in exile in Ivory Coast, will continue to act as a puller at the CDP. Komboïgo keeps a low profile and answers curtly: “He gives advice.”
Rumors of deals with Islamists
It is questionable whether there were actually no talks between the government and the Islamists under Kaboré. An observer in Ouagadougou speaks of possible non-aggression pacts in the northern Sahel region, which borders Mali and Niger. Near the local city of Djibo, state security forces and suspected terrorists are said to have left alone. It is not clear to which group they belong and whether they are organized at all.
In any case, many rumors cannot be verified. Unlike in Niger, for example, there have been no kidnappings of employees of non-governmental organizations in the past few months, but attacks on the army. Also targeted have been moderately known religious representatives such as the Imam of Djibo, whose body was found by gunmen in mid-August a few days after his kidnapping.
Issa Diallo, President of the National Commission for the Language of the Peul (known as Fulani in Anglophone West Africa) also calls for the security situation to urgently improve. “All Peul who live in rural areas currently feel terrorized. You sleep poorly or not at all, ”he says. The ethnic group, known throughout the region for their livestock farming, would be attacked by state security forces.
The human rights organization Human Rights Watch reports on massacres in Djibo. There is also danger from the self-defense militias that have been set up in recent years among members of other ethnic groups. In the beginning they just protected their villages from raids, today they have nationwide structures and the blessing of the government. The discussion is whether they should ensure security around the polling stations on Sunday.
Diallo says the militias scare the Peul. The Peul have one thing firmly in mind: They want to vote wherever possible. “It will be the first time in history that they will cast their votes in large numbers,” Diallo is certain. More than usual have applied for voter cards in advance. “After all, voting is the only way to change the situation in the country.”