Expectations for Change Face Burkina Faso's President Kabore

  • President-elect Kabore served in government almost 30 years
  • Vote marks first democratic transition since independence

Burkina Faso’s voters this week elected a new president, Roch Marc Christian Kabore, a familiar presence in the government of Blaise Compaore who ruled Africa’s fourth-biggest gold producer for almost three decades until protesters chased him from power.

A trained economist, Kabore, 58, has served as prime minister and speaker of parliament and was seen as Compaore’s chosen successor until he was removed as the ruling party chairman in 2012. His victory over Zephirin Diabre by a 54-to-30 percent margin in Sunday’s vote marked the first democratic change of power since the West African nation gained independence from France in 1960.

Roch Marc Christian Kabore waves to supporters

Photographer: Isouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images

“There’s the risk of getting the same system with different guys, and people will take to the streets again if that happens,” Cynthia Ohayon, an analyst on Burkina Faso for the International Crisis Group, said by phone Tuesday from Senegal. “He knows that expectations of change are really high and that he will be in trouble if he doesn’t deliver.”

Revolution was in the air in Ouagadougou, the capital, in October 2014 when demonstrators filled the streets to oust Compaore. The revolt inspired protest movements from Burundi to the Democratic Republic of Congo by people unhappy with rulers clinging to power. A year on, voters appeared to choose stability over radical change.

Trained Economist

“His overwhelming victory shows voters were not looking for the candidate that was least connected to the old regime,” Cailin Birch, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said in e-mailed comments. “He is a trained economist who started his career in finance, and he will have to put those credentials to use in order to restore investor confidence and develop the private sector.”

Widespread Poverty

Landlocked Burkina Faso ranks 181st out of 187 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index.

Kabore, commonly known as Roch, began his career at the age of 27 during what’s known in Burkina Faso as the revolution -- the four-year rule of army captain Thomas Sankara. Sankara, who seized power in a 1983 coup, appointed Kabore as director-general of Burkina Faso’s International Bank. After Sankara’s assassination in 1987, his deputy, Compaore, took over. 

Kabore held four consecutive ministerial posts before being appointed prime minister in 1994, an office he held for two years until he quit over a disagreement with Compaore. He was elected speaker of parliament in 2002 and served for 10 years.

Kabore Defects

Kabore publicly defected to the opposition in January 2014 when it became clear that Compaore sought to change the constitution and seek a fifth term in office. Together with two other senior officials, he founded the People’s Movement for Progress.

The switch was probably motivated by unhappiness over his marginalization in the ruling party and the realization that “the tide was turning” against Compaore, according to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

“Expectations are high in terms of the fight against corruption and against impunity, which he might not be able to do because it can possibly incriminate people in his own entourage,” Ohayon said. “Just because there were peaceful elections doesn’t necessarily mean change is going to happen.”

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