In the second interview of the PRIF blog series on the elections in Burkina Faso, Simone Schnabel and Antonia Witt talked to Ouiry Sanou. Ouiry Sanou is a long-time activist and the secretary general of the Burkinabe youth organization “Organisation Démocratique de la Jeunesse du Burkina Faso” (ODJ), which is dedicated to respecting and protecting the democratic and social rights of young people in Burkina Faso. It also supports residents in mining regions in their struggle for land and social rights.
The interview was held in France and translated to German and English.
What do you think are the challenges for the elections in Burkina Faso in 2020?
Generally speaking, many young people in Burkina Faso do not believe in these elections at all. Frankly, I do not believe that the elections on 22 November can lead the country out of the current situation, and this is because the political forces involved are not discussing real alternatives for the social concerns of the people in Burkina Faso. For the ruling party MPP (Mouvement du Peuple pour le Progrès), the first priority is to do everything possible to win the elections and remain in power. That means, above all, avoiding the CDP (Congrès pour la Démocratie et le Progrès), which was ousted by the 2014 uprisings, from taking power again – which could lead to acts of reprisal. The aim of the CDP is to restore the state apparatus which was lost in 2014, with all the economic and political benefits this entails. There have been numerous financial scandals with the CDP involved which have never been investigated. People believe that the members of the CDP want to come back into power to retaliate and to continue what they did before, namely looting. And yet, there are important questions and issues that need to be discussed if we want to lead our country out of the current situation. But if we look at the behaviour of the competing parties in context of the elections – they act like a mother amusing her children with little puppets, it is just a game. It has nothing to do with the problems of the population.
From the point of view of Burkinabe youth, what are the main problems that the new government should address and deal with?
After the end of the 2014 uprising, people thought that the new government would find a solution to the political and economic crimes committed previously, with their share of embezzlement, and that those who had stolen the money would be brought to justice and the property would be resumed and made available to the people. To this day, no one raises any questions who actually benefits from the national wealth. We have never been able to ask this question, nor does the current election. We are told we are producing tons of gold every year, but we see none of it. It is these questions that the competing political parties refuse to ask publicly. The question of work and employment, for young farmers, with reliable solutions, the questions of access to land and agricultural production. The medieval exploitation of peasants in our country, especially of cotton producers, farmers, etc. The question of rural and urban land ownership. There are so many questions like these, including of course the question of security, which is really an immediate problem for young people. If you follow the situation in Burkina Faso, you know that there are currently many struggles, concerning the farmers, concerning cotton cultivation and access to land, there are many struggles with regard to mining, as well as struggles in the urban areas on the question of land ownership – there are many emerging movements at the moment.
But if you look at the political forces that are now competing for power, they are not at all interested in these struggles. What they are interested in is winning the election and securing their political positions. Young people realize that their concerns do not coincide with those of the political forces. In their speeches, some of the parties running for election may indeed make people believe that they will find solutions. But from everyday experience, young people realize that they do not participate, that they do not support the struggles, the movements. They could support them and say that they will find a solution. But they themselves do not participate in the movements. Many representatives even despise or criminalize youth movements. This makes it difficult for young people to have hope in these elections. There is neither hope nor expectations from the youth in these elections. That also hampers the youth from being really engaged in the elections. The basic idea is that the elections are about the distribution of political power, profit and plunder.
What do you think is the greatest potential for conflict regarding the elections and their outcome?
Some political parties want to stay in power at all costs, they know very well that if others come to power they could take revenge, and so on. As for the main opposition forces, they are concerned with regaining the lost paradise. But there are risks, which can indeed lead to confrontations. In any case, one specific buzzword is currently used by all political forces: They speak of national unity, national cohesion. But if you look closely, it is as if there is a contract between them. The main thing therein seems to be that the current regime accepts the fact that those who were driven out of the country by the uprising in 2014 – members of the CDP – will come back and reclaim their property, and that elections will be held. But behind all this, there is the goal of either remaining in power or regaining power, whatever the cost. These are the two trends that can lead to confrontation.
What must the newly elected government do to regain the confidence of the youth?
I do not believe that the government that will emerge from these elections will be able to win back the confidence of the youth at all, because it does not even have the means or the political will to do so. None of them touches the political problems that are very important for the status of our country – namely, that Burkina Faso is a dominated country, a country where imperialism denies the right to determine its economic, social, and security policy and which ultimately lives only under the rule of institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and France. France relies on its local henchmen, this kind of bourgeoisie concentrated in the bourgeois political parties. If we do not address these issues, I believe that whoever takes power, the social problems faced by the youth will remain the same.
What role does the current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic play in the preparation and conduct of elections?
The pandemic has made it easier for the current regime. Before the pandemic, there was an emerging social movement, especially at the level of trade unions. There were large mobilisations to question workers’ rights and so on, which even reached into government circles. When the pandemic started, the government knew what to do and rushed in order to take measures to restrict freedoms and prevent demonstrations. Thereby, the regime could breathe a sigh of relief. The pandemic, which is still ongoing, has complicated the organization of large-scale demonstrations by trade unions and other organizations, which in turn allows political forces to simply carry on without facing pressure to deal with the social problems that the population is concerned about. Therefore, the pandemic is currently playing into the hands of those involved in the election campaign.
But does the pandemic have any impact on the elections?
For almost two months now, the political parties have been holding major rallies without any real protection measures being taken. So, I do not believe that the pandemic is really affecting the current mobilisation of political parties. I know that two days ago, the authority responsible for combating COVID-19 informed us that the political parties are responsible for the behaviour of their candidates for guaranteeing appropriate protection against infections during their rallies. And although such words are spoken, it is as if the political parties, including the one in power, do not even believe themselves that COVID-19 is something dangerous. This behaviour makes the youth wonder if COVID-19 was not invented at all in order to calm the crowds. Politicians have used the pandemic to fight against demonstrations by social forces, civil society organisations and trade unions, but they themselves are continuing their own activities just as before. So COVID-19 was rather used as a political instrument against those who are a disruptive factor for the government.