OUAGADOUGOU (AFP) – Career diplomat Michel Kafando was named on Monday as Burkina Faso’s interim president to steer the west African nation during a one-year transition back to civilian rule following the toppling of its veteran leader.
The appointment of the former foreign minister and UN ambassador is set to end weeks of uncertainty in the impoverished country after mass protests brought down the 27-year regime of president Blaise Compaore and the military seized power.
It came ahead of a deadline imposed by the African Union, which had warned the impoverished country would face sanctions unless it chose an interim leader by Monday. AU chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma welcomed Kafando’s appointment and praised the people of Burkina Faso “for their political maturity and sense of responsibility”, and called for “a smooth transition under the direction of civil authorities”.
Kafando, who will have to be confirmed by the Constitutional Council, previously served as ambassador to the United Nations from 1998 to 2011. He was also Burkina Faso’s foreign minister in 1982-3.
“It is an awesome responsibility that falls to me, I already foresee the pitfalls and the immensity of the task,” the 72-year-old told reporters, describing his appointment as “more than an honour”.
After hours of negotiations, a panel of 23 officials, mainly civilians, chose Kafando over other candidates who included journalist Cherif Sy and sociologist and ex-minister Josephine Ouedraogo.
Initially Paul Ouedraogo, the Catholic archbishop of the southern Bobo-Dioulasso diocese, appeared to be a frontrunner despite his reluctance, but the Church later announced “categorically” that he was not in the race.
“The consensus candidate is Michel Kafando,” said Ignace Sandwidi, a representative of the Catholic Church which was involved in the discussions to find a new leader.
Kafando’s appointment came after a weekend of activity that saw the military on Saturday reinstate the constitution that it suspended when it took over following Compaore’s ousting in a popular revolt.
On Sunday the military officially signed a “transition charter” – a sort of interim constitution hammered out between the military and civilian, opposition and religious figures last week.
Applause erupted after Lieutenant-Colonel Isaac Zida, the army-installed leader, initialled the document which marked his acceptance of a return to civilian leadership in the country of almost 17 million people.
Under the deal, the president will appoint a prime minister, either a civilian or a military figure, who will head a 25-member transitional government.
A civilian will also head a 90-seat parliament, known as the National Transitional Council.
According to a draft of the transition blueprint, no members of the interim regime will be allowed to stand in the November 2015 election. Mass unrest erupted in Burkina Faso in late October over Compaore’s bid to change the constitution, which would have allowed him to extend his 27-year rule of the landlocked former French colony.
Compaore was only 36 when he seized power in a 1987 coup in which his former friend and one of Africa’s most loved leaders, Thomas Sankara, was ousted and assassinated.
He held on to power in the following decades, being re-elected president four times since 1991.
His foiled attempt to extend his rule had been closely watched across Africa, where at least four heads of state are considering similar changes to stay in power, from Burundi to Benin and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Known in colonial times as Upper Volta, the country won independence from France in 1960 and its name was changed to Burkina Faso – “the land of upright men” – in 1984.