Thousands of voters lining the streets, throngs of supporters, a swing-o-meter, constant political debate on TV and the air of suspense at a new dawn in Burkina Faso’s history.
Not here I’m afraid.
November 21st. Election day in Burkina Faso. When I was told the Presidential elections were this weekend, I genuinely felt a twinge of excitement thinking I would witness something remarkable and unique for someone from my part of the world. To understand my disappointment, you need to understand some history.
1987. Thomas Sankara, nicknamed the ‘Che Guevara’ of Africa, was ousted in a military coup. ‘Thom Sank’ is famed for changing the name of a country previously known as Upper Volta to Burkina Faso (‘Land of the Incorruptible’), introducing literacy, giving the country some financial grounding and ridding it of corruption. I see his name scrawled on a brick wall on my way to work every day. It simply says, “Thomas Sankara est en vie”.
Introducing Captain Blaise Campaoré. The captain led the military junta and in 1991, was elected as the sole candidate and President on the back of low voter turnout. 19 years later he remains President with little opposition, some controversy and consistently over 80% of the vote.
Today, Burkina Faso is 161 out of 169 nations in United Nations (UN) Human Development Index (a quote I have yet to see omitted from any article about BF). In other words, it is a very poor country, even by Sub-Saharan Africa standards. So why will Blaisé still be President when I wake up tomorrow morning? It may be a poor country, but Burkina Faso is also one of the most stable. Remember, we only hear the bad stuff on BBC and SkyNews and this is probably why many of us have never heard of Burkina Faso before. Blaisé is seen as a peace moderator in a region of Africa where countries seem to ‘love a squabble’. I read one voter say, “we don’t have anything, but we have peace”. I asked Antoine’s friend, Fernando, why he was voting for Blaisé. He just said, “C’est Blaisé”.
It’s not all ‘familiarity breeds content’ however. Others feel ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. But, no one can decide what to do about it. There are in fact six other candidates, but the chances of seeing an election campaign poster without President Campaore’s face on it, are about as good as finding a white guy in a red and white hooped jumper in Ouagadougou called Wally.
My biggest disappointment. As I write, Reuters are reporting a trickle of voters as the polls close. Only 3million out of a population of 16million are registered to vote; and of these, with the result a foregone conclusion, people are simply not bothered. If you allow me to saddle my incredibly high horse for one moment (the only time I promise), this is a real shame when you consider the effort put into and lives lost to get that vote. I went with Antoine to cast his at a local primary school this afternoon. I think the parent’s evenings see more action. Blaise was urging people to get out and ‘rock the vote’ this afternoon (he didn’t actually say ‘rock’ but you know what I mean). He needn’t bother. He won’t be phoning up the local estate agent tomorrow to move out of his big house in central Ouaga.
Whatever the outcome, I was ready to take my camera out on to the streets of Ouagadougou today and capture democracy in Africa, in action, and tell you all about it. More fool me. I had a Sunday afternoon snooze instead.