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Burkina Faso votes in a general election on Sunday in the shadow of a growing jihadist insurgency. With 40 percent of the country under the age of 30, the young people’s vote could be an important factor in whether incumbent Roch Marc Christian Kabore secures a second term.

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Some 6.5 million people are called to vote in Sunday’s polls but at least 400,000 people – nearly 7 percent of the electorate – will not be able to cast a vote because they cannot access voting locations due to security risks.

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One-fifth of the country’s territory is in effect outside of the state’s control and subject to regular jihadist attacks.

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The violence has forced one million people – five percent of the 20 million population – from their homes in the last two years, and at least 1,200 have been killed since 2015.

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The security crisis in Burkina Faso has dominated the campaign and an undisclosed number of troops have been deployed for polling day in the landlocked West African country, one of the world’s poorest.

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13 candidates

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12 opposition candidates are running against Roch Marc Christian Kabore, who is seeking a second term.

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The incumbent promised development and prosperity but has failed to stem the bloodshed.

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However political scientist Drissa Traore said Kabore remains “the big favourite against an opposition which has not managed to unite behind a single candidate”.

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Kabore can avoid a run-off election by winning more than 50 percent of the vote in Sunday’s first round – as he did in the last election in 2015.

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The main challengers

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Kabore’s two main challengers are Zephirin Diabre and Eddie Komboigo.

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Diabre is the veteran opposition leader, runner-up in 2015 and has a lot of young support which could be decisive in a country where 40 per cent are aged between 18 and30.

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Komboigo, meanwhile, runs the party of ousted former president Blaise Compaore and enjoys the large funding network that provides.

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Both men sought to exploit the security situation, which could hurt the president. Many of his votes come from the countryside, from where so many have now fled.

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“Traditionally, cities are not favourable to the standing president. The current situation could reduce Kabore’s chances of winning,” Siaka Coulibaly from the Center for Public Policy Monitoring by Citizens in Ouagadougou told Reuters.

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Campaign-trail marked by bloodshed

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The three leading candidates all wrapped up their campaigns on Friday, with Komboigo telling a rally in the capital Ouagadougou that Compaore – who now lives in exile – would “return with all honours”.

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Kabore filled Ouagadougou’s largest stadium with tens of thousands of supporters wearing his ruling party’s orange.

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And Diabre told thousands in the economic capital Bobo Dioulasso that his proposals “can help our country get by”.

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The campaign was marked by bloodshed.

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Earlier this month, fourteen soldiers were killed in an ambush in the north claimed by the Islamic State armed group, one of the deadliest attacks on the military in the five-year insurgency.

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Days later, the IS propaganda arm published a picture of two jihadists killing a man wearing an army uniform – but the military denied there had been a new attack.

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Dialogue with jihadists?

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Almost all of Kabore’s challengers have called for dialogue with the jihadists to be explored – a suggestion Kabore has emphatically rejected.

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Diabre said that “military action on its own has never been able to defeat terrorism in any part of the world”.

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“Alongside military action, there must be other actions.”

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One of Kabore’s efforts has been the creation earlier this year of volunteer militias supervised by the state, called Volunteers for the Defence of the Nation (VDP).

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(with newswires)

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Orginally published on RFI

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