In my last post about Burkinabè politics, I was wondering if anybody really cared about municipal elections. I pointed out that, while municipal government does a lot that affects people’s daily lives, the proportion of activities that are delegated to a lower level in the Burkina Constitution is less impressive than that delegated to localities in the American system. A mayor or city councilperson in America has a lot more power in relative terms than his or her Burkinabè counterpart – as well, of course, as having in absolute terms an enormously larger budget. Burkina Faso’s entire national government budget of US$ 2.7 billion is less than the budget of my home town of Portland, Oregon, at US$ 3.7 billion.
I should have remembered that passions are greater when the stakes are smaller. People are really up in arms, in a literal sense, over the municipal elections in ways that they weren’t over the presidential and legislative elections. I get the impression that everybody pretty much knew what the outcome of the national elections in December were going to be, but the municipal elections give the opposition, specifically the former ruling party and its divergent fragments, a chance to regain some legitimacy. As a result, there is outrage and readiness to react with violence that I didn’t see last December.
Just yesterday, a group of masked young men invaded the offices of the FASA alliance in my neighborhood, just across the square from a drinking establishment that I frequent, and trashed it. Notably, they did not inflict harm on any actual people: trashing buildings is a political statement but Burkinabè are unwilling to actually harm each other in a physical sense. This morning, the square was full of sheets of paper blowing about in the wind, remnants of the party’s lists of voters and so forth tossed out by the young thugs. The party that was attacked is associated with Djibril Bassolé, a former CDP leader who has been accused of participating in the September 2015 coup attempt and is currently in prison. His party denies any connection with anti-democratic politics and advances an agenda strikingly similar to all the other parties: a crack-down on corruption, investment in urban infrastructure, policies to encourage the private sector including tax abatements for industrial and commercial property, and financial support for social services that far exceed any reasonable expectation of government revenues. As I said in an earlier post, everybody here is a revolutionary; every party here seems to have read from the textbook of Dilma Roussef and Eva Morales. They could have worse role models but one wonders how they are planning to make their promises realities after the elections.
Here’s a photo from when NAFA opened its offices
Anyway, there is a lot of emotion invested in these elections, maybe more than in December. The attack on the party headquarters has been laid at the doorstep of the governing party, the MPP. They deny it, and have issued a statement calling for non-violence during the election campaign, a good move. None of the admittedly non-random sample of opinion that I collected yesterday afternoon believed them, though. Djibril Bassolé is one of those former CDP barons who could have been part of the current governing coalition if he had wanted to, but instead took a different path in cooperating with Gilbert Djendéré during the September coup against the Transitional Council. Former allies make the worst enemies. The MPP is increasingly blamed for the corruption and seeming paralysis of government in the last years of the Compaoré regime.
MPP candidates are also complaining of not having had access to the ballot for the municipal elections in several towns, thanks, one presumes, to the continuing power of the CDP at the local level. The CDP has missed out in at least one town, and accused their MPP opponents. And up in Dédougou, the civic paralysis has continued, with civil society activists against traditional chieftains and the gendarmerie, with the issue not only over the fate of one accused thief who died in custody but also the status of traditional authorities against the status of the state. I’m currently reading Stephen Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature, a fine book which will shortly be the subject of a book review. One point he makes is the importance of the transition from tribal or traditional society to the modern state as a way to bring down the level of violence. Burkina is at that cusp where traditional society is yielding to the power of the state, and it can’t happen fast enough.
The question of the kogl-wéogo is an essential part of this conversation. Do local communities have the right to have their own dispute resolution and law enforcement system? To what degree does this system have to be integrated with the formal systems of the state? To what degree should the state support and incorporate traditional leadership and their ideas of law into its system? There is such a thing as federalism; indeed, it is at the core of the American system. However, even in America, you can go too far towards local priority and self-service law enforcement.
And finally, perhaps to remind Americans of the importance of all these questions to their own security, the “Western Alliance” military exercise finished up today.
Image credit Burkina24
As a global power, the US was, of course, involved. Ambassador Mushingi, our very good and very well-loved ambassador here, was quoted in the Burkina press as calling for greater cooperation against terrorism. Burkina was a victim of terrorism only a few months ago, and most folks here, like Americans after 9/11, are in favor of anti-terrorism measure regardless of what they are. So a lineup of foreign military along with Burkinabè folks is a good thing from the point of view of most people. Not everybody is in agreement, though: I just listened to a student presentation about post 9/11 America from a radical point of view that was very interesting. They echoled many of the points that I made in my post. Good to know that somebody was listening (I’m assuming that they read the post, but who knows?)