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Burkina Faso: "The future is finally bright"

For the first time in half a century, free democratic elections have been held in Burkina Faso. Diakonia has played a key role in this crucial step towards democracy. 

12/21/2015 Publisher: Lena Hansson

“The future is finally bright. I’m really hopeful,” says Luther Yameogo, Diakonia’s country manager in Burkina Faso.

The historic election was a success. And Diakonia played a key role throughout the entire process – before, during and after the election.

“Probably the most important thing was that we brought together the civil society organizations in a coalition, Codel,” says Luther Yameogo.

This united the strong democratic forces in the county, which worked together for a successful election. Their work included educating voters in the election procedure and why people should vote. 

During the election period citizens were able to send information, including about any irregularities, by mobile phone from the polling stations to Codel’s election observation headquarters. There Codel also held press conferences and received visitors, including the prime minister, the speaker of parliament, ministers, ambassadors and senior UN officials.

During the election Codel’s website, burkinavote.com, was the most visited website in the country. Around 6,000 election observers sent information via their mobile phones to the website during the election.

Codel also carried out a parallel vote count. The fact that the results tallied with the official results reduced suspicions of vote rigging and prevented violence.

The path to democratic elections has been long and winding

Former president Blaise Compaoré came to power in a coup d’état in 1987, and has run the country with an iron hand. Just over a year ago it was suggested that the constitution be changed so that he could stay in power for a further period of time. Burkina Faso’s impoverished and hard-tested people then had enough.

Up to one million people took to the streets to protest. The military responded with violence, with 16 people losing their lives. The people went to the Parliament and made it past all the obstructions.

“They went in with their hands up, shouting ‘Shoot us if you want’,” says Luther Yameogo.

That’s when the president realised he couldn’t win. The government withdrew the proposal for the law to be changed. But it was too late. The people demanded the president’s resignation. And he resigned.

In September this year some of his henchmen in the military tried to carry out a coup and seize power. The people took to the streets again and the attempted coup was quashed. Eleven people were killed in the demonstrations.

“That was a difficult time. I was extremely worried how it would go,” says Luther Yameogo.

He was himself out on the streets, demonstrating.

“I was scared – we were all scared. But we didn’t back down,” he says.

Now that the election is over and the first steps have been taken on the path towards democracy, new challenges are emerging.

“Burkina means integrity and Faso means country. Now we have to make sure that our Burkina Faso lives up to its name – The Country with Integrity,” says Luther Yameogo.

After almost 30 years of violence and unjust systems, it is also necessary to address the problem of corruption.

“Now we want a functioning legal system and reconciliation process,” says Luther Yameogo.

The country’s organisations, what is known as civil society, must be permitted to take part in the development of the society. Today 20 percent of the population are rich while 80 percent live in poverty. Previously the rich have made most of the decisions, and it’s now time for the poor to take part in the development process.

“Democracy is not just elections,” says Luther Yameogo. “We now have to follow up on the new political leadership to make sure they actually do what they’ve promised to do.”

Codel will look closely at development when it comes to security issues, food security and education. 

“We’ve set up a website where people can get involved and contribute their experiences,” says Luther Yameogo.

In six months’ time the people will be able to send in their evaluations of how the new president is doing.

“What has happened over the past year has given people a more in-depth understanding of democracy. But we must continue to be on the alert,” says Luther Yameogo. “The democracy is new and fragile.”