Roch Marc Christian Kabore was sworn in as Burkina Faso’s president on Tuesday, completing the troubled west African state’s transition after the overthrow of its longtime ruler, Blaise Compaore.
Burkina Faso’s first new leader in almost three decades hailed the “heroes” of the 2014 uprising that ousted Mr Compaore and pledged to “reform institutions and modernise the government, for more social justice, democracy, freedom.” Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in October 2014 when Mr Compaore sought to extend his rule, forcing him to step down after ruling the poor, landlocked country with an iron fist for 27 years.
Mr Kabore, 58, becomes only the third civilian president of the nine who have held power since the country’s independence from France in 1960.
“It’s a triumph of orderly transition, democracy and freedom,” said interim president Michel Kafando at the swearing-in ceremony, which kicked off the first of two possible five-year terms for Kabore.
Regional leaders from Benin, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger and Senegal were on hand for the event attended by some 5,000 people at a sports centre in the capital Ouagadougou.
Mr Kafando, a retired diplomat, led the transitional regime, but before completing a year in the post faced a foiled coup led by Compaore’s ex-chief of staff, General Gilbert Diendere, in September.
New street protests backed by part of the army put Mr Kafando back in the driver’s seat, and he organised the November 29 election won by Mr Kabore.
Mr Kabore on Tuesday hailed this uprising along with that of October 2014, saying the “blood spilt helped forge Burkina Faso’s destiny”.
Seen as a consensus figure by some and an opportunist by others, Mr Kabore has pledged to build “a new Burkina Faso” by fighting youth unemployment, improving education and modernising the health system in the country of 17.4-million.
Mr Kabore served as minister several times and prime minister in 1994-96, making him a fixture in Mr Compaore’s regime, but he ultimately became one of the leading figures of the opposition that helped oust the longtime leader from power.
His election showed he could bring together supporters of Mr Compaore as well as backers of the October 2014 uprising.
A devout Roman Catholic in a majority Muslim country, as premier he steered Burkina through hardship caused by the devaluation of the CFA franc currency.
For over a decade he led the ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) party and was seen as Mr Compaore’s likely heir, even counting himself among the group that in 2010 began amending the constitution to keep the strongman in power.
But Mr Kabore abruptly fell out of favour in 2012 and was thrown out of the leadership to become a mere “political advisor” — a move that eventually proved to be a blessing in disguise.
As a student in France, Mr Kabore was a committed leftist, and when Burkina Faso’s revered Marxist leader Thomas Sankara took power, he became the director of the International Bank of Burkina before he had even turned 30.
When Sankara was gunned down in 1987, Mr Compaore took the reins.
The shadow of the former strongman, now in exile in neighbouring Ivory Coast, will hang over Mr Kabore as he takes office.
On December 21 Burkina Faso issued an international warrant for Mr Compaore for his suspected role in Sankara’s murder.