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Burkina Faso election takes place amid jihadist threat

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A woman casts her ballot for municipal elections at a polling station in Ouagadougou in 2016.
Peace, security and reconciliation are top priorities for many voters (archive photo)

Burkina Faso is holding an election in which some 400,000 would-be voters were unable to register because of a jihadist insurgency.

Brutal attacks have forced more than than one million civilians from their homes in the past two years alone.

Campaigning was halted for 48 hours last week following a deadly ambush on soldiers in the north of the country.

The threat of violence has meant hundreds of polling stations in the worst-affected areas have not opened.

Up to a fifth of the country is out of state control, estimates suggest, with rival jihadist groups battling for dominance and also attacks by other armed militias.

Peace, security and reconciliation are top priorities for many in this year’s elections, BBC Afrique’s Lalla Sy reports.

Well before the coronavirus pandemic struck, many businesses and schools were forced to close in parts of the country. In September, the UN warned that more than 500,000 Burkinabé children were acutely malnourished.

Who is taking part?

President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, who has governed Burkina Faso since 2015, is seeking a second term in office.

His main challengers are veteran opposition UPC leader Zéphirin Diabré, and Eddie Komboïgo, standing for the CPD party of ousted former President Blaise Compaoré.

Now living in exile, Mr Compaoré’s 27-year rule ended in October 2014 after a wave of popular protests.

Mr Kaboré once served as Mr Compoare’s prime minister, but gained popularity after opposing his bid to change the constitution and run for a third term. He left the ruling party and formed the MPP.

In all, 13 candidates are running for president – including the only woman in the race Yéli Monique Kam, former culture minister Tahirou Barry, Gilbert Noël Ouédraogo, Farama Ségui Ambroise and others.

The AFP news agency reports that almost all the opposition candidates support the idea of holding talks with the jihadists, and quotes Mr Diabré as saying “military action on its own has never been able to defeat terrorism in any part of the world”.

But President Kaboré has emphatically ruled it out, according to AFP, as has former colonial power France which has troops stationed in the country and whose President Emmanuel Macron reportedly said: “We don’t talk with terrorists. We fight.”

How does the election work?

Under Burkina Faso’s electoral rules, the winning candidate requires a simple majority to become president.

Nine presidential candidates and 22 opposition parties signed an agreement in August to rally behind any candidate who reaches the second round of the vote to boost their chances of unseating President Kaboré.

For the first time in Burkina Faso’s history, citizens living abroad will be eligible to vote, in accordance with demands from the populist uprising that ousted former President Compaoré. Ivory Coast is home to more than 1.7m potential voters.

Voters have until 18:00 local time (18:00 GMT) to cast their ballot.

Results are expected within days.

IS and al-Qaeda's JNIM are both active in the Sahel region where they compete for power
IS and al-Qaeda’s JNIM are both active in the Sahel region where they compete for power


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