Burkina Faso - Politics, government, and taxation



The state of Burkina Faso consists of an area that was controlled by the Mossi from the 14th century until 1895, when the French took control. It was made part of the Franc Zone and it was named Upper Volta in 1919 after having been marked out from the surrounding territory. It was divided in the 1930s to form 2 states but returned to a single unit in 1947, changes which led to the border disputes with Mali. Burkina Faso became independent in 1960 under President Maurice Yameogo.

The first administration ended due to economic decline, corruption, and increasing authoritarianism. Rigged elections caused public demonstrations and led to military intervention in January 1966, when General Sangoule Lamizana became the head of a military ruling council. He remained in control for 15 years, despite some civilian power-sharing in the 1970s. Party bickering and trade union unrest led to a bloodless coup in 1980, bringing Colonel Saye Zerbo to power. In 1982, when the constitution was suspended, political parties were banned amid corruption allegations. Army officers replaced Zerbo with Major Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo as president. The regime that followed was an uneasy coalition of army conservatives and young radicals.

The attempted ousting of Prime Minister Thomas Sankara in 1983 led to student, labor, and young officer unrest. Sankara himself became president via a coup, and the National Revolutionary Council (CNR) was formed. The CNR championed the redistribution of wealth to rural areas. Sankara renamed the country Burkina Faso in 1984. He aimed to reduce foreign dependence, shift the economy towards the productive sectors, and expand health care and education. Internal divisions unsettled Sankara's support, and in October 1987 Sankara and 13 of his entourage were killed in a violent coup by the self-proclaimed Popular Front. The party was led by Captain Campaore, who then declared himself head of state. The continuing violence employed by his regime led to diminishing internal support and international condemnation. International concern further increased in 1989 when 2 former ministers and 2 army officers were executed for plotting a coup to overthrow the Campaore regime.

Starting in 1990 and amid protests, Campaore opened the way for the liberalization of the regime. However, the government refused to convene a national conference with the opposition and drew up a new constitution on its own terms for multiparty elections. The constitution was approved in a referendum in 1991, albeit with a poor turnout. Campaore's ODP-MT party renounced its Marxist -Leninist ideology and embraced free enterprise policies instead. The opposition parties boycotted the December 1991 presidential election, and Campaore stood unopposed, winning on a 25 percent voter turnout.

The ruling alliance also dominated the 1991 legislative election, with the ODP-MT party winning 78 out of 107 seats in parliament and the fragmented opposition winning only 23. In 1996, ODP-MT absorbed several smaller parties (including some opposition parties) and formed the new Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP). With state office, large resources, and some opposition parties on their side, the CDP dominated the legislative election of 1997, winning 101 of 111 seats. Campaore was reelected in 1998 with a 56 percent turnout and 87 percent of the vote, with some of the opposition boycotting the elections.

In 1991, the constitution formally separated the state from the ruling party by creating separate executive, judiciary, and legislative branches; basing the government on a multiparty system; and ensuring freedom of the press. A civilian president would be inaugurated for a 5-year term. Although the president was only eligible to be reelected once in the original constitution, this was changed to allow a president to be reelected indefinitely. However, following public protest, this amendment was changed back in 2000 so that any president may now only be reelected once. In 2000, the Supreme Court was split into 3 High Courts, which oversee the judicial system, administration, and the audit of public finances.

The president selects the prime minister, subject to parliamentary approval. A parliament of 111 seats sits for 5 years. The constitution also allows for a 174 seat representative chamber.

Although salaried workers only account for a small percentage of the population, they exert a significant political effect due to unionization and their location near legislative centers. Students, who can also be a political influence, staged a 3-month strike in 1997 over political killings.

The presidential guard is a major force in Burkina Faso, although the transition to formal civilian rule and the loss of their uniforms has led to a reduction in their influence. However, tensions still exist in the military and the possibility of a future coup cannot be ruled out, especially in light of public protests in 1999.

Burkina Faso is a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and UEMOA. The UEMOA headquarters are based in Burkina Faso. Relations with Côte d'Ivoire have become increasingly difficult, with the latter wishing to curb migration from Burkina Faso. Relations with Mali have been controlled since a brief border dispute, but Campaore's support of rebel factions in Liberia and Sierra Leone has irritated his neighbors.

There is little recent information on taxation. In the 1980s, Burkina Faso raised tax revenue equivalent to 10 percent of the GDP, mostly from import duties. A further 1 percent of the GDP was received from the surpluses of state-owned enterprises, mostly the big utilities that operated as monopolies . With increased privatization, this source of revenue has diminished in importance. The government spends 30 percent of its revenue on social services (including health and education), about 30 percent on the armed forces, and the remaining 40 percent is absorbed by general administration.

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