Electioneering Campaigns in Burkina Faso amid the COVID-19: Social Media to the Rescue

13 candidates are contesting the presidential elections of November 22, 2020 in Burkina Faso. The electoral campaigns have been conducted on the ground, but not with the usual enthusiasm and excitement. The need to respect COVID-19 protocols has forced the candidates and parties to exploit the power of social media and the online campaigns have proven sensational. Each candidate is deploying their strategy. Although some find it difficult to assert themselves on the internet, others stand out through their effective use of digital technology.

In the race for the presidential chair are Tahirou Barry (MCR), Zéphirin Diabré (UPC), Ségui Ambroise Farama (OPA-BF), Roch Marc Christian Kaboré (MPP), Monique Yéli Kam (MRB), Eddie Komboïgo (CDP), Ablassé Ouédraogo (Le Faso Autrement), Gilbert Noël Ouédraogo (ADF-RDA), Kadré Désiré Ouédraogo (Agir Ensemble), Kiemdoro Do Pascal Sessouma (Vision Burkina), Abdoulaye Soma (Mouvement Soleil D’Avenir), Claude Aimé Tassembédo (Independent candidate ) and Yacouba Isaac Zida (MPS).

Each candidate is more or less active on social networks, especially Facebook (the most popular network). The most active and followed on Facebook are Tahirou Barry, Zéphirin Diabré, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, Eddie Komboïgo, Yacouba Isaac Zida, Gilbert Noël Ouédraogo, Kadré Désiré Ouédraogo and Ablassé Ouédraogo.

Five of the candidates and / or their parties (Zéphirin Diabré, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, Gilbert Noël Ouédraogo and Yacouba Isaac Zida who lives in exile in Canada) are present on Twitter. It also the same group pf candidates are using websites. Thus, in form alone, we can note a contrast in the use of digital technology by candidates for the 2020 presidential election.

It is Eddie Komboïgo of the CDP (party of ex-President Blaise Compaoré), who was the first to start direct (or live) streaming on his Facebook page since the start of the electoral campaign on October 31, 2020. The others who were content to post photos and texts ended up following his lead. Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, the incumbent, began his campaign almost a week late (on November 4, his first direct date of November 5 at 2:56 p.m.) due to the funeral of his father who died on October 27.

In terms of the number of posts, the incumbent far exceeds the other candidates with an average of about twenty posts per day on Facebook. And on Twitter, it is still he, President-candidate Roch Kaboré, who is the most active, with an average of ten tweets per day. The publications of the various candidates on social networks mainly relate to their campaign activities. But some are distinguishing themselves through the creation of concepts or simply through retorts. Candidates, party militants and activists have also set social media abuzz with creative campaign statements relayed on Facebook.

For example, the expression “Hakuna Matata” (No problem in Swahili language in Kenya) was thrown up by Simon Compaoré, President of the ruling party (MPP) and national campaign director of Roch Kaboré, during a rally. CDP candidate Eddie Komboïgo was quick to respond: “Hakuna Chiida” (as if to say “there are problems” in the country). These two reactions were playfully posted on social networks (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube) by activists or activists.

A few days after this episode, Simon Compaoré showed himself in a widely circulated Facebook and WhatsApp video in which he almost made a mistake. Indeed, while intending to say President Roch Kaboré, he was heard saying: “President B…” . Comments have spilled all over the web to the effect that ruling party Chair almost mentioned former Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore. The same Simon Compaoré, in another campaign video posted on Facebook, confused the CDP and his party, the MPP: “There are people who have benefited from the projects of President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré and who swear that ‘he did nothing, that the CDP did nothing…”.

Another event that made the headlines of social networks during this campaign relates to the promise of Zéphirin Diabré, who said he wanted to build a tunnel from the sea to Burkina Faso. Over the next few days, the UPC leader retracted his words: “A Canal is one thing, and a tunnel is a different thing. If they didn’t go to a good school, it’s not our fault. We want to make a tunnel. We want to clear the weeds and desilt the various rivers to better benefit from them.”

Meanwhile, Abdoulaye Soma promises the creation of a state mining company and a Burkinabè monetary fund with 100 billion FCFA seed fund. Tahirou Barry, meanwhile, announces that he wants to turn the Sahel into a true milk processing plant, while at the same time Roch Marc Christian Kaboré pledges to win the bet for the security and stability of the country.

Between verbal jousts reported on the internet and targeted publications, the different candidates often send arrows at each other, being guilty of non-compliance with the pact of good conduct that they signed on October 26, 2020. And the situation worsens especially when these comments or facts are reported by the media, particularly online and on social networks.

The Pact of Good Conduct is considered as an additional legal means which enshrines the commitment on honor of political, media and civil society actors, to conform their conduct to the deep aspirations of peace and social cohesion. By the way, the mid-term review drawn up on November 12 by the Superior Council of Communication (CSC) of the media coverage of the campaign highlights 9 cases of violations of regulations, ethics and professional conduct by 8 media outlets including 3 online media. This is, among other things, relaying comments related to the security issue.

“If there is one region in Burkina Faso that has suffered for 5 years from the power of the MPP, it is the Eastern region. The MPP gave you up, abandoned you, and threw you to the terrorists and they are in Ouagadougou.” These words of Zéphirin Diabré reported by several press organs including the online media Burkina24 were considered by the Superior Council of Communication (CSC) as a breach and a violation of the Pact of Good Conduct. “There is someone who sat in Kossyam (presidential palace) to say that he received a certain number of people from the beginning in 2016. Go ask him the question, who knows who” (Eddie Komboïgo) , also relayed on its Facebook page the Omega radio station which was also pinned down by the CSC.

“Me, I say, I am totally inclusive, I am not a regionalist. For some time now, we have known that the power is in the Center. Regionalism is reprehensible. If Vision Burkina takes power in 2020, state power will devolve from the Center, and therefore to the Mossi ethnic group until 2030 necessarily. If we take power, we will propose Juliette Bonkoungou as president until 2030. We will reverse things, sometimes with presidents from the West, the North, etc. But also, Prime Ministers from the Mossi and other ethnic groups. We will choose the best to run the country. It is a state policy that I am proposing to appease all the components of this country.” These remarks made by Do Pascal Sessouma on Lefaso.net are also considered by the regulatory authority as a breach of the signed Pact.

In addition, if there is one fact that has so far marked this electoral campaign, especially on social networks, it is the spirit of solidarity expressed by the various candidates after the terrorist attack in Tin-Akoff on the 11th. November 2020. 14 Burkinabè soldiers lost their lives. This attack caused turmoil among the candidates who decided to declare two days of mourning and to suspend all campaign activity and even on social networks. The candidates made these announcements individually through social networks (Facebook and Twitter).

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