OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - Burkina Faso named Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida as prime minister on Wednesday, four days after he restored the country’s constitution under pressure from the African Union and the West.
Zida declared himself head of state on Nov. 1 after mass protests toppled President Blaise Compaore who then fled the West African country. The African Union had given Zida two weeks to restore civilian rule or face economic sanctions.
As prime minister, Zida, a large, bespectacled man with a trademark red beret, said he will work with Burkina Faso’s newly appointed interime president, Michel Kafando, to appoint a 25-member government “within 72 hours” to rule until 2015 elections.
“This government of 25 will have the huge task of creating the basis for an inclusive transition with the primary task of organising free, fair and transparent elections as well as important reforms for the future of our country,” Zida told a press conference in the capital, dressed in army uniform.
Neither Kafando, a former foreign minister and ambassador to the United Nations, nor Zida, deputy head of the presidential guard, will be allowed to stand in next year’s presidential election, according to the terms of a transitional charter adopted last week.
Western diplomats had advised against Zida’s nomination, hoping Kafando would instead name a civilian figure to head the government.
In an apparent response to such critics, Zida asked for the support of international partners “without preconceptions” during the interim period.
Among members of Burkina Faso’s political class, the choice was generally welcomed.
“We have seen that he is a capable man. He has vision and he knows what he wants for the country,” said Ablasse Ouedraogo, president of the Le Faso Autrement political party.
Others were pragmatic. “Zida’s nomination was a useful compromise that allowed us to advance. We need the cohesion of the army to move forward with the transition,” Benewende Stanislas Sankara, head of the opposition UNIR/PS movement, told Reuters.
Compaore triggered protests against his rule last month when he tried to push changes to the constitution through parliament in order to extend his 27-year grip on power.
Compaore was a regional power broker and a key Western ally against Islamist militants. France has a special forces unit based in Burkina Faso as part of a regional counter-terrorism operation. The country has long been one of Africa’s cotton producers and is now also mining gold.
Writing by Emma Farge and Joe Bavier; Editing by David Lewis and Ralph Boulton