Burkina Faso Has A Prime Minister (at last)

Yesterday, newly-inaugurated President Roch Marc Kaboré announced that Paul Kaba Thieba will be the Prime Minister of Burkina Faso. Thieba flew into Ouagadougou in the afternoon and gave a press statement at the airport.


(Image credit Burkina 24)

He’s 55 years old, a long-time employee and former Assistant Director of the central bank of Francophone West Africa, the BCEAO, and is currently serving as Director of the (still infant) West African Monetary and Economic Union, a project of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which, despite its name, has had relatively little success in unifying the economies of the region. He has a doctorate from the University of Paris (in economics) and a master’s in management from the University of Grenoble. He went to high school with President Kaboré.  So, a personal friend of the president, with academic credentials and long experience in finance, which is the government’s biggest headache right now…why did it take them so long? Good question.

Thieba has 30 days to form his government, but the assumption from everybody I’m talking to is that the long delay in naming him the Prime Minister-designate was caused by feverish negotiations behind the scenes in which, again presumably, all the different factions got promises as to who was going to get which posts. At one point, earlier in the week, the name of another Burkinabè technocrat, a woman currently working for the UNDP, was floated as a potential Prime Minister, and this apparently represented last-minute maneuvering by coalition allies of Kaboré to weaken his direct control over the government. Maneuvering that Kaboré has now stymied with this announcement. At least if a government now gets named that can muster 64 votes in the National Assembly. We’re expecting a list of names of ministers within a couple of days.

Mustering smaller parties is one of two problems, actually. The MPP, Kaboré’s party, holds 55 of 127 seats in the Assembly. In order to form a government, they need 9 more seats. There are a number of smaller parties with 21 seats that have formed a common bloc and are widely assumed to have cut a deal with Kaboré. Satisfying all these smaller groups will take some doing. In addition, the MPP itself is a coalition. Unlike many political parties in third-world new democracies, the MPP is not just the party of Roch Kaboré. It was formed as a coalition of several former governing party barons who broke with Blaise Compaoré in early 2014 over his plans to change the constitution to allow himself another term in office. As the struggle against Compaoré grew in late 2014, though, some members of the “civil society” opposition joined the MPP. So internal factions have to be satisfied as well.

My own civil society friends at the neighborhood hangout were somewhat contemptuous of the choice of Thieba last night. They pointed out that for at least 20 years, Thieba has been working outside the country, in Dakar, Senegal, in the regional central bank. Senegal is a lot more developed than Burkina Faso in terms of infrastructure, economic development, good government, etcetera. Thieba has spent the last year in Ouaga, trying to get the economic union program of ECOWAS off the ground, but he is still relatively unfamiliar with Burkinabè realities. He is also relatively unfamiliar with politics here – hasn’t stopped me from offering my opinions, of course, but nobody is asking me to run the country. Not having a dog in any fights here, though, might be an advantage, admitted one of my informants. In addition, he has a good idea how a successful African economy and democratic political system functions, from having lived in one for many years. It’s not a job to be envied. The leader of the principal opposition party, Zépherin Diabré, whose party has 33 seats, was also rumored to be in contention for the job (in order to avoid the necessity of negotiating with that unwieldy coalition of smaller parties). He publicly distanced himself from the rumors, as much as saying out loud what everybody was thinking, that the prime minister will take the blame for any setbacks but not reap much in the way of political gains if the government succeeds in addressing Burkina Faso’s many problems. The Constitution, at least the one currently in force (the fourth since independence) gives a lot of power to the president and leaves the prime minister with major responsibility for government but not much independent authority.

Interesting, too, Kaboré is basically a politician rather than a technocrat, but his academic formation is also in banking. Obviously, there is going to be attention paid to fiscal reforms in this government. Needed attention, I should add. Good luck to Prime Minister Thieba and to the Burkinabè people.




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